Friday, May 20, 2016

Buddha Temple & Buddha Statues, Thiyaganur, Salem

Buddha Temple & Buddha Statues, Thiyaganur, Salem
The Budha temple and Buddha statues are found in the Thiyaganur village is the major attraction to visitors. It is located near Aragalur. Geographical Position of this village is 11.56093°N 78.779955°E. For the visitors who have extra time on their hand there is no shortage of temples, small and big, in this small village. There are 21 temples for the tiny population of Aragalur & Thiyaganur.

Bronze Jain statues were present in this village. They are probably moved to Salem museum. Thiyaganur is a small village in Talaivasal taluk in Salem district in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The major occupation of the people living at this place is agriculture. In 2011 it had a population of 2372.

The etymology of this village is not clear. "Thiyanam (meditation) oor" might have become Thiyaganur. Otherwise, "Thiyagam (sacrifice) oor" became Thiyaganur. The former may be more suitable due to the presence of early Buddhist elements present in this village.

Thiyaganur has more-than-1000-year-old heritage. The historical importance of this village comes from the presence of two Buddha statues. One statue is under worship and a temple was built recently. Dhyana Mandapam (meditation center) opened in 2013. In most ways, Thiyaganur is a typical village in Tamilnadu having matchbox houses with gleaming white walls and red earth tiles, fields with irregular patterns, a provision store that sells garishly coloured beverages, and the occasional bus chugging through. The lime-washed temple, in this village 80 km north-west of Tiruchi has a rich Buddhist heritage.

Inside this modest structure, framed by four granite columns, is a six-foot Buddha — cross-legged, contemplative and smiling. The hitherto unnoticed Peepal tree on the roadside, shading the temple, suddenly draws venerable attention. This is not the only Buddha that the villages of Thiyagnur are familiar with. Around them, in their fields, on their roads and in the many villages nearby, lie scattered centuries-old Buddha sculptures — seated calmly and smiling benignly.

The dense presence of Buddhas in this far-flung region is intriguing. Though Buddhism was widespread in Tamil Nadu, this region is not among the well-known Buddhist centres. The sculptures are a puzzle, and probably hold the key to an important part of history that is yet to be written. The Buddha, as the Buddhist texts describe, is strikingly handsome, serene and radiant as “a palm-tree fruit just loosened from the stalk”. His calm appearance, topped with coal-black hair, is profoundly impressive.

Villagers in Thiyaganur have not read these texts nor do they know about Buddhism, but they still vouch that these Buddha idols are kindly, attractive and bestow the boons one wishes for. This is not surprising. To these villagers, He is not Shakya Muni — as the rest of the world knows the Buddha — but one of their Hindu gods. They fondly wrap him with a silk angavastram (an upper garment worn by the Tamil upper class), apply a streak of sandal paste on his forehead, and make offerings of coconut, plantain and camphor. They often beseech him with prayers for good luck, well-being and quick cure for their ailments. They call him Buddha Sami (Buddha god).

Buddhism reached Tamil country during Emperor Ashoka's reign — Third Century BCE. Its emphasis on moral values and egalitarian ideals were widely embraced. For 700 years, Buddhism flourished and coexisted peacefully with Jainism, Ajivikas and various sects of Hinduism. During the Sixth Century CE, the Bhakti movement and its Tamil saints seriously challenged Buddhism; royal patronage shifted and Buddhism's influence became limited. When Hsuan Tsang, the Chinese traveller, visited South India in the Seventh Century, it was well past its prime.

But contrary to popular perception, Buddhism did not completely disappear after this period. The discovery of many 13th Century Buddhist bronzes in Nagapattinam, the presence of Virasoliyam (an 11th Century grammar text composed by a Buddhist), and references to eminent scholars such as Anuruddha and Dharmakirti in later Buddhist texts establish that the religion thrived at least until the 14th Century. Nor was Buddhism limited to big urban centres like Kanchipuram or Madurai.

The sculptures of Thiyaganur offer ample proof. These statues — described more appropriately as Perambalur Buddhas, after the nearest well-known town — are stylistically datable to approximately the 11th Century. They are the last of the few in-situ evidences that speak of the wide presence of Buddhism. Protecting them is critical for any attempt to restore and rewrite a balanced history of South India. But they are perilously close to being lost. Apart from half-a-dozen Buddha stone sculptures found in villages around Thiyaganur — and worshipped by villagers — the others have been either decapitated or are close to destruction.

Of the two Buddhas in Thiyaganur, the villagers worship one and ignore the other — a stunning, broad-shouldered Buddha, framed by a lone thin tree and seated under a canopy of blue sky — located in private property, amidst fields. The property owners continue to farm around the statue, without damaging it, but that may not be enough to safeguard it. The base of the sculpture is dangerously inclined, and it holds on to the earth precariously.

A relatively small-sized Buddha, overlooking a four-way junction in the nearby village of Paravai, fares somewhat better, as He is firmly cemented to a platform. But barring a few locals who garland him before leaving abroad to work, this Buddha is barely attended to. He has no canopy or cover over the head.

This is not the case with the Buddha in a Dalit colony in Veeraganur. Lakshmi and her husband Muthuswami, a retired schoolteacher, regularly clean the statue, sweep the street in front and apply sacred ash on the forehead and arms of the statue. There are no elaborate pujas or rituals, but often, in the silent night, people come to place a stone on the idol's head. To them, it is an offering that will help get rid of headache and related body pain.

Among all the Buddhas in the Perambalur region, the one in Ogalur is very popular, particularly with the `Friends in Dubai,' a loose group of locals who work in West Asia. Members of this group pooled their money and raised Buddha from the sidewalks of the street to a higher platform. On the eve of their departure, they climb the flight of steps to garland him without fail. They believe that this old practice brings luck and protects them.

These appropriations have not disfigured the icons nor have they forced a name change. The villagers address and know these sculptures as Buddha — the curled hair, the tuft, the long ears and robes are still identifiable. But this is poor consolation. The question is whether these historical treasures survive to see the future. Art alone is not at stake; historical geography is too.

Thiyaganur is located 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) southeast of Thalaivasal, 20 kilometres (12 mi) of Attur and 69 kilometres (43 mi) of district headquarters Salem. From Attur, town buses (no: 6 and 7) are available for every half an hour to reach Thiyaganur. Nearest Railway Station is located at Attur and Salem. Nearest Airport is located at Trichy & Coimbatore.