HC verdict on Thalaivetti Muniyappan opens space for Buddhist history in state

Although it has no overt political implications, scholars believe the decision could have an impact on India’s history and historiography.

Although it has no overt political implications, scholars believe the decision could have an impact on India’s history and historiography.

The recent Madras High Court verdict ordering the Department of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) to hand over 26 cents of land belonging to the Thalaivetti Muniyappan Temple on Kottai Road in Salem to the Archaeological Department of Tamil Nadu promises to rekindle the fire of the Buddhist movement in the state, opening up several possibilities.

The court further ordered that all Hindu rituals in the temple be stopped immediately based on a study of the idol which confirmed that it was indeed that of Lord Buddha.

Although the verdict’s potential to impact day-to-day politics in Tamil Nadu is negligible, as the temple itself is not a popular place of worship, scholars and Buddhist activists believe it is bound to have an impact. significant on the history and historiography of India.

The court’s verdict appears to add grist to the mill of reputable historians and Buddhists who had argued that Buddhist places of worship and many of their rituals were appropriated (and destroyed) as Hindu gods and Hindu rituals.

He said: “The mistaken identity cannot be allowed to continue after concluding that the sculpture is that of Buddha. Considering the same, the original status should be restored and allowing the HR&CE department to continue to treat the sculpture as Thalaivetti Muniyappan, will not be appropriate, and it will go against the very principles of Buddhism.

The verdict is the result of a decade-long legal battle waged by P. Ranganathan (deceased), who approached the Madras High Court in 2011 and argued in his petition that if the statue was that of Thalaivetti Muniyappan, like other Hindu gods/goddesses, he would have been depicted with some kind of weapon like sword, aruval, spear etc. He had also obtained a copy of a register from the village of Periyeri which revealed that the 26 cents of the temple land originally belonged to a “Buddha trust”. . He also founded a Buddha Trust, which is now managed by his son, R. Selvakumar.

In July 2021, a joint inspection team from the Archaeological Department noted that the carving was made of hard stone and the figure was in a seated position known as ardhapadmasana on a lotus pedestal and concluded that the sculpture represents several Lakshanas [physical characteristics] of the Buddha.

“The hands are placed in Dhyana Mudra, and the figure wears a sangati. The head shows Lakshanas of the Buddha, like curly hair, Ouchnisa [ovoid shape at the top of the head] and elongated earlobes. Urn [a spiral auspicious mark in Buddhism] is not visible on the forehead. The head was severed and attached to the torso with a mixture of cement and lime a few years ago. However, due to human error, the head was not positioned correctly.

According to historians, the Buddha statue was carved in the 8 e or 9 e Century of our era.

“Available historical evidence indicates that it is a statute of the Buddha. At some time before or at the beginning of British rule, the Buddha statue was renovated as Thalaivetti Muniyappan. For more than three generations, he is worshiped as Muniyappan.The statue is likely to have been carved in the 8 e or 9 e Century of our era. The pose and style (of the sculpture) is similar to that of the Pallava-Chola transition period,” said J. Barnabas, secretary general of the Salem Historical Society.

Writer and historian Stalin Rajangam, who wrote about the Thalaivetti Muniyappan Temple in 2015, said: “Several prominent historians in India, including Romila Thapar, have offered the theory that Buddhism was appropriated and destroyed by Hinduism. . However, this historical subject has no value in everyday politics. The verdict (that the Hindu temple is, in fact, a Buddhist temple) by a court, which is an institution of the modern government institution, has historical significance and opens up several possibilities for Buddhists in modern India, which , until now, understood Buddhism only as a political tool, but not as a religion or as a religious community.

Although the Court has accepted historical evidence that Thalaivetti Muniyappan is Lord Buddha, locals who visit the temple and the priest, who is from a mainstream Hindu community, seem to believe that the statue and the temple have been around for 2,000 years.

“The story goes that the sultan cut off the head of ‘Muni ayya’ and threw it into the well. Over a hundred years ago, one of the believers then found the head and tied it to the body of the statue. Believers believe that their loved ones near death will recover if they come to worship him. ‘Muni ayya’ goes straight into the body of his believers and tells them what to do,” said Munusamy, the temple’s third-generation priest, and added that the Thirumalai Amman deity in the temple is said to be around 300 years old. He said believers gave chicken and goats to the deity.

When asked if worshipers at the temple were worried about the recent court verdict, he replied, “Many of them ask me about the court verdict. They ask what is it suddenly called a buddhist temple when they have been worshiping here for so many years. HR&CE officials told me they would appeal the verdict.