Wednesday, December 14, 2011

bodhidharma trained thodu varmam historical story

For a long time, I had heard of rumors that the martial arts of Japan and China have some relation to the Kalaripayattu and the Kalari’s of Malabar. I have been skeptical and when I mentioned this possibility to my sons they sniggered. They have of recent started to equating me with the dad in the ‘My big fat Greek wedding’ who had this tendency of connecting everything’s origin to ancient Greece. But well, it is worth a look anyway and so let’s us take a trip…

Of course we all know for fact that ancient Malabar was home to the Nair’s who were a warrior class. When and where they migrated from to ancient Kerala is subject of much discussion (one of them being of Tamil Pallava extract), but the fact was that their trade was combat, mainly with bows and arrows, swords & daggers and hand to hand. These masters of the trade were initiated into it at an early age and well trained in martial art schools called Kalari’s. Using the elements of nature like soil, flora and fauna was their forte and they could quickly vanish into the dense forests that were all over old Malabar. Stealth was key and honor was paramount in those combats. The major duels were face to face and were the ankhams (more about all that in another post), The Nairs of Malabar maintained their supremacy in matters of war until the advent of the Western armies in the 1500’s, but after they arrived, the modern forms of combat with weapons like muskets, revolvers, poison and cannons took over (honesty in dueling was lost as well). The Nairs retired to other passions like looking after their lands and getting educated in the western fashion. The Kalari’s declined and their death spiral was quick. Today they are mainly objects of tourist study and some lone travelers interested in the origins of martial arts. The Nair’s who once excelled in combat are now content with watching Bruce lee Kung fu and other action movies on the cinema screens of Malabar and of course in conducting vocal calisthenics on all worldly subjects rather than in any matter that involves body exertion of any kind.

But let us now go back to a time when it was not so, when trade was flourishing in Muziris and Quilon. A period actually even before the Nair’s, the 6th century when Pallavas and Chera kings ruled the south of India .A period when Calicut was still to become a free port, to a time well before the Zamorins. It was a time when the Kalingas ports were busy. It was the time when trade was conducted regularly with today’s Malaysia, Thailand & Indonesia. It was also the time when the Buddhists and Jains were well spread over south India, especially todays Kerala regions. It was a time when Budhist teachers also traveling far and wide to spread their beliefs and culture. It was the time when Bodhidharma lived.

Legend portrays him as a south Indian prince who left the household life and, upon attaining enlightenment (bodhi), became the 28th in a series of patriarchs through which the Buddha's original enlightenment experience had been transmitted directly without the mediation of ‘words and scriptures’. Upon bringing Ch'an to China, he became the first Chinese patriarch, and all subsequent Chinese Ch'an and Japanese Zen masters trace their master-disciple lineages back to him. According to the legend, Bodhidharma arrived in Canton via the sea route in 526, and was invited to the court of Emperor Wu, founder of the Liang dynasty in the south. Bodhidharma then left for the north, reportedly crossing the Yangtze River on a reed (boat), and arrived at the Shao-lin Temple. Finding the resident clergy weak and prone to the depredations of local bandits, he taught them exercises and self-defense, from which evolved the famous Shao-lin style of martial arts. He then sequestered himself in a cave for nine years and sat gazing at the wall.{Source: Buddhism Dictionary. A Dictionary of Buddhism, Oxford University Press, 2003, 2004}.

Another source puts it as follows - Bodhidharma, a member of the Indian Kshatriya warrior class and a master of staff fighting, developed a system of 18 dynamic tension exercises. These movements found their way into print in 550 A.D. as the Yi Gin Ching, or Changing Muscle/Tendon Classic. We know this system today as the Lohan (Priest-Scholar) 18 Hand Movements, the basis of Chinese Temple Boxing and the Shaolin Arts. Later, towards the 12th century, Zen Buddhism was adopted by the Samurai of Japan.

There has been much debate on how Kung Fu began at Shaolin, but the some consensus exits that it evolved from a series of exercises that Bodhidharma introduced at Shaolin. That brought me to the crux of the matter- A South Indian prince excelling in martial arts? Now who belonged to the Kshatriya class existing at that time in South India? Were they Nair’s? Were they Chera’s or Pallava’s? But it is still early to conclude so as we have not determined where Bodhidharma lived and if he was indeed from South India.

One clue is that he sailed to China via the Malay Peninsula. This establishes that he went out of a South Indian port, either from the Coromandel Kalinga ports or the trade ports of Malabar. Being destined to China, one must assume that the ship originated in Quilon or Muziris, the two most popular at that time. The other clue is that he was a trainer or one who was trained in the martial arts. Did Kalari’s exist in Malabar at that time? Or did they exist in Kanchipuram or other Pallavan centers? We have heard of some Perumals who embraced Buddhism and Islam in a previous article. It could be so that he was a Pallavan (there is a story that Nairs could have been Pallavans) or a Perumal. One must remember here that in those times, the biggest center for Budhism in South India at that time was at Quilon.

Krishnamurthy’s book states that he was indeed a South Indian royal who was ordained into Mahayanism by Pragnattara a Buddhist teacher. The book ‘Trust in Mind’ provides an interesting insight into the arrival of Bodhidharma to China and the events that transpired. It confirms that he meditated in the temple of Shaolin for 9 years and the evolution of Chan or Zen (Dhyan or Dhyanam).Then appears a reference (The Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy -Junjiro Takakusu Pg 159) that he was from Kanchipuram, and is the third son of the king. He is known as Pu Tai Ta Mo in Chinese or Daruma Daishi in Japanese.

Let us now look at a divergent view from Johnny Raj and a forum discussion on this matter - He is emphatic that the martial arts of Shaolin are more in tune with the Tamil Silambam that predates Kalaripayattu. According to him Kalaripayattu originated in the 13th century. He also believes that what Bodhidharma did was teach breathing & meditating techniques. He then points out that many other Indian visitors traveled the Buddhist routes from Tamil regions to China & other places, much before Bodhidharma.

But the encyclopedia of Thelma lays the argument to rest - According to a later text, the Xu Gao Sen Zhuan (Continued Biographies of Eminent Monks), written in 645 by Dao Xuan, Bodhidharma was born in what is now Kerala in southern India around 440 during the Pallava dynasty's rule. He is said to have been born as a clan prince in the poor hunter class and was well versed in martial arts (a form still surviving as Kalaripayattu).

But well – now we have boiled it all down to Pallava, Brahmin and Kshatriya. The hunter prince aspect took me back to the study of Vavar and Ayyan, and the Ayyan cult which had strong Buddhist traditions. So was he from Pandalam perhaps? How do they all connect? Though Dào Xuān wrote that Bodhidharma was "of South Indian Brahman stock," Broughton notes that Bodhidharma's royal pedigree implies that he was of the Kshatriya warrior caste. Mahajan argued that the Pallava dynasty was Brahmin by origin but Kshatriya by profession, and Zvelebil (1987) proposed that Bodhidharma was born a prince of the Pallava dynasty in their capital of Kanchipuram. Rajiv Srinivasan writing for rediff alludes to the fact that he could have been from Kodungallur.

Finally what has he got to do with tea and Daruma dolls? It seems that he was enraged at his difficulty in keeping awake while silently meditating, and legend has it that he ripped off his eyelids (so that they would not close ever again) and threw them down to the ground, where they sprouted as tea plants (WOW!!). In addition, his legs seemingly withered away because of his constant sitting pose. (This is the stated origin of the Daruma doll, a Japanese egg shaped doll that tilts back upright when knocked over. Its wide-open eyes and lack of legs come from the legends of Bodhidharma). These are all the myths that came into effect later.

It is a fact that all kinds of martial arts existed in South India at that time. It became a developed art of kalaripayattu in the 9th century or so with the advent of Nairs, however it was existent as a method much earlier, dating back to Vedic times (See Wikipedia article)

The Bodhidharma anthology by Broughton starts with the para that he was the 3rd son of a prominent South Indian King from the Western region. With that one could assume that he originated from Kodungallur (Muziris) and probably not Kanchipuram. Could he have been a Perumal who became a Buddhist and went on a pilgrimage? Much of the problem may have been due to Bodhidharma being confused with Boshisena since it appears that Bodhisena was a Brahmin from Kanchipuarm. The confusion over Tamil was due to the Pallava fact and of course the reason for Bodhidharma sailing out of Muziris or Quilon is because Buddhism was widespread in Kerala at that time (except for the Kanchipuram pocket). The final issue is what the monk knew, if it was Vajramushti, Kalaripayattu, Varmakalai or Silambam or indeed if all he did was teach breathing exercises. Let us choose to believe the Chinese if they have attributed Kungfu to Indian sources.

Bodhidharma died around AD 535. Some legends say Bodhidharma returned to India before his death. Others say he lived to be 150 and was buried in the mountains of Honan, China. Some say that soon after his death, a messenger named Sung Yun from Eastern Wei supposedly met Bodhidharma walking back towards India barefoot and with a single shoe in hand. His grave was later exhumed, and according to legend, the only thing found in it was the shoe he left behind.

In conclusion one must conclude that he did exist, in those nine or so years, in documented Chinese records. However much of what he said or did is either a myth or legendary.

Prof Tsutomu Kambe - Univ of Tokyo provided an answer - Documents published just after Tang dynasty (ending in 907) describe that the name of the Kingdom of Bodhidharma’s origin as expressed with two Chinese characters ’香至. A likely pronunciation is Kang-zhi (Kanchi).

But then Kanchi is not Westerly in India. Is it perhaps Kochi? Calicut was ‘Kuli’ to the Chinese. Cochin was Ko-Chih. Nevertheless, almost all indicators point towards Kanchipuram rather than Kodungaloor or Muziris. From many accounts Bodhidharma was a studious child who studied under his Guru Pragnattara. Hence it is very unlikely that Bodhidharma had serious martial arts training in Kanchipuram to have transferred it to the pupils in Shaolin, since they already had a fair exposure to martial arts for many decades. It could of course be that he taught them valuable breathing exercises, silambam stick fighting and forms of Yoga.

Research notes
The earliest historical record of Bodhidharma was compiled in 547 by Yang Xuanzhi, the Record of the Buddhist Monasteries of Luoyang, in which Yang identifies Bodhidharma as a Persian Central Asian (Wade-Giles: po-szu kuo hu-jen) (Broughton, 1999, p. 54, p.138). However, Broughton notes that Yáng may have actually been referring to another monk named Boddhidharma, not related to the historical founder of Chan Buddhism. This book is considered to be unreliable, full of exaggeration and mirabilia. John Jorgensen (Inventing Hui-neng, the Sixth Patriarch) believes that Yang just confused Pahalva with Pallava. Pahalva means Persian. Bodhidharma's disciple Tanlin identifies his master as South Indian Brahmin(Broughton, 1999, p. 8). The Biography is part of the Long Scroll of the Treatise on the Two Entrances and Four Practices, which Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki found in 1935 by going through the Dunhuang collection of the Chinese National Library. Bodhidharma's birth name Bodhitara. Throughout Buddhist art, Bodhidharma is depicted as a rather ill-tempered, profusely bearded and wide-eyed barbarian. He is described as "The Blue-Eyed Barbarian" in Chinese texts. His landing place was later called Xi Lai Chu Di ('first landfall on journeying from the west'), and is the site of Hualin temple. About his Kanchipuram origin - Bodhidharma, the founder of the Chan (Zen) school of Buddhism in China, is a prince of the Pallava dynasty, a contemporary of Skandavarman IV and Nandivarman I and the son of Simhavarman II. Other accounts say that he was black in color (this comes from the paintings on shaolin cave walls of a black Dravidian teacher). And why did he go to China in the first place? In 526, the 28th Buddhist patriarch Ta Mo (Bodhidharma) came to China by sea; the downfall of Buddhism in the country of its origin had forced him and many of his coreligionists to seek a new home in China, ‘cliicllyin Layong’, where 5000 Indians are said to have lived in the 6th century A.D. (India as known to the ancient world - Dr. G Banerjee). Sadly Bodhidharma was killed by poisoning, though the reports are not conclusive. According to Dàoxuān's chronology, Bodhidharma's death must have occurred prior to 534, the date of the Northern Wei Dynasty's fall, because Huike subsequently leaves Luoyang for Ye.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bodhidharma was from Kanchipuram. He was not from KERALA. Even if people claim that Dharuma is from Kerala, they have no possibility to prove it. Because, Kerala became a separate state only during 1st Nov, 1956. Till then the whole of Kerala and Tamil Nadu together were called as Madras Presidency. But some Malayalees, especially the Kalari Gurukkals and Practitioners claim that Dharum was well versed in Kalaripayattu and took it to China, which he taught them as Shaolin Kung Fu. But, the first record of Kalaripayattu was found during 16th Century AD. So it has been proved that Kalaripayattu is no older than early 12th Century AD. But, BodhiDharma lived between 5th Century AD - 6th Century AD which clearly proves that Bodhidharma had nothing to do with Kalaripayattu. Only after almost 700 years after the death of Bodhi Dharma Kalaripayattu came into existence. Before the 12th Century AD, there is no record or evidence of Kalaripayattu being practised.