Sreemoolavasam – an Ancient Buddhist Monastery in Kerala

Lokesvara in Kerala
A replica painting of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara Idol which was present in Sreemoolavasam Monastery 

This is a replica painting of the famed statue of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Lokesvara / Lokanatha) at Sreemoolavasam Mahayana Buddhist Monastery in Kerala around a 1000 years back. Avalokitesvara is flanked by (green) Tara and (yellow) Bhrikuti on two sides. There are no traces of the Monastery or these statues now, as almost everything to do with Buddhism had been wiped away from Kerala in the last millennium. Whatever we know about Sreemoolavasam Monastery are from the following sources:

 

    1. A palm leaf manuscript of Aṣṭa-sahāsrikā-prajñāparamitā-sūtra, made in the 11th century CE that contains the above picture with the title, Dakshinapathe Sreemoolavasa Lokanatha, as one of the holy places of Lokesvara in the Indian subcontinent. This manuscript was retrieved from Nepal and now preserved in Cambridge University.
    2. Paliyam Copper Plate Inscription of Vikramaditya Varaguna (9th-10th century),Ay king of South Kerala.
    3. Mushikavamsam’, by Mahakavya by Atula in the 11th century. 

Till around a 1000 years back, Kerala was a flourishing ground for Buddhism, particularly Mahayana. At that period, the southern part of Kerala was ruled by the Ay kings who had their capital first at Aykudi near Agastyakoodam (Potalaka/ Potikai – considered the abode of Avalokitesvara) and later at Vizhinjam in Trivandrum

 

Sreemoolavasam Monastery in Ay Kingdom (Source for Map: Wikimedia Commons – South_India_in_AD_300)

Vikramaditya Varaguna (9th-10th century CE), one of the most celebrated Ay kings gave an extensive grant of land to the Bhattaraka (Abbot) of Sreemoolavasam Monastery. Paliyam Copper Plate Inscription documents this grant. The following are some beautiful Sanskrit verses in praise of the triple jewels (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) and Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara from the Paliyam copper plate inscription. 

 

ॐ स्वस्ति |
य: कल्याणमय: स्वयम् वितनुते य: कल्पकस्य स्थितिं
यस्मादभ्युदितस्तमांसी हरते सद्दर्म्मघर्मद्युति: |
यत्पादाश्रयिणे भवन्ति सुखिनसर्व्वे गणा:प्राणिनान –
धेयान्मेरुरिवापरस्त्रिजगतीं सर्व्वां स शौद्धोदनि: ||

 

Om swasthi.
He who abides naturally in auspiciousness,
Who remains like a wish-fulfilling tree,
From whom comes the blazing light of saddharma
That dispels darkness,
Upon following whose feet
All classes of beings find happiness,
May he, the son of Shuddhodana, support
All the three worlds like Mount Meru!

 

आत्माकारग्रहणविमुखावाहृतापाङ्गलीलौ
प्रापौ नित्यं श्रुतिमवितृषानेकरूपावबोधौ |
देव्या भूमेन्निखिल कुमतिव्वान्तरोधान्विताया:
नेत्रायेतां जितकुवलयौ धर्म्मसंघौ चिराय ||

 

Turned away from the grasping to appearance of Self,
Detached from distracting glances,
Always engaging with the teachings without satiety, and
Possessing knowledge in various forms,
May the Dharma and Sangha, forever remain as
The two blue-lily-like eyes [of wisdom]
Of Goddess Earth who is covered by
The misleading words of foolish doctrines.

 

निष्यन्दमान करुणामृतवारिपूर:
निर्धौत निर्म्मलतरेव विराजमाना |
लक्ष्मीञ्चिराय भजतामवलोकितस्य
दिश्यात्तु न: शिशिरदीधितितुल्यकान्ति: ||

 

The glorious one who is
Cleansed and made stainless
By the overflowing stream of
The nectar of compassion,
(Bodhisattva) Avalokitesvara,
May his grace equal to
The splendor of autumn moon,
Bestow prosperity upon us forever!

 

Later, in the 11th Century CE, a historical Mahakavya named ‘Mushikavamsam’, by Atula narrates about the strong connections King Vikramarama and King Valabha maintained with this monastery. 

 

Exact location of Sreemoolavasam is unknown now, but many identify it as Trikunnapuzha due to local legends, and also since the ancient Buddha statues found in Kerala are mostly from near this area. However, none of the statues found in Kerala matches with the famed Lokesvara statue of Sreemoolavasam. It may remain a mystery for the archeologists to uncover in the years to come.

 

Additional Note: For those who wonder who Avalokitesvara, Tara and Bhrikuti are in Mahayana, they represent the Bodhisattva ideal. They are examples of how the naturally perfect nature of our own minds can manifest in inconceivably numerous ways for the benefit of oneself and others, as we cleanse the mind’s obscurations through compassion and wisdom. Avalokitesvara is the power of compassion to take care of all beings. Tara is the swiftness and vibrancy of the very space of our experiences to naturally turn everything to the benefit of all and dispel fears. Bhrikuti is the power of that very space to naturally dispel negativities and obstacles without a trace. For more information, see the article Avalokitesvara, the Magnificent Play of Compassion.

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