Skip to main content

Madras HC verdict on Thalaivetti Muniyappan opens up space for Buddhist history

A note distributed by Dalits Media Watch on the Madras High Court verdict on Thalaivetti Muniyappan, which opens up space for Buddhist history in Tamil Nadu and will impact India's history and historiography:

A Madras High Court verdict appears to add grist to the mill of historians of repute and Buddhists who had claimed that Buddhist places of worship and many of its rituals were appropriated (and destroyed) as Hindu gods and Hindu rituals. P. Ranganathan (deceased) argued in his petition that if the statue was that of Thalaivetti Muniyappan, like other Hindu Gods/Goddesses, it would have been depicted with some kind of weapon like a sword, aruval, spear, etc. Several important historians in India, including Romila Thapar, have proposed the theory that Buddhism had been appropriated and destroyed by Hinduism.
The verdict directing the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department to hand over 26 cents of land belonging to the Thalaivetti Muniyappan temple on Kottai Road in Salem to the Archeological Department of Tamil Nadu promises to rekindle the fire of the Buddhist movement in the State, opening up several possibilities.
The court further directed that all Hindu rituals in the temple must be stopped immediately based on a study of the idol that confirmed it was indeed one of Lord Buddha.
While the verdict’s potential to make an impact on everyday politics in Tamil Nadu is negligible, as the temple itself isn’t a popular place of worship, scholars and Buddhist activists believe that it is bound to have a significant impact on the history and historiography of India.
The court’s verdict appears to add grist to the mill of historians of repute and Buddhists who had claimed that Buddhist places of worship and many of its rituals were appropriated (and destroyed) as Hindu gods and Hindu rituals.
It said: “The mistaken identity cannot be allowed to continue after coming to a conclusion that the sculpture is that of Buddha. In view of the same, the original status must be restored and permitting the HR&CE Department to continue treating the sculpture as Thalaivetti Muniyappan, will not be appropriate, and it will go against the very tenets 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, it would have been depicted with some kind of weapon like a sword, aruval, spear, etc. He had also obtained a copy of a register of Periyeri village which revealed that the 26 cents of temple land originally belonged to a ‘Buddha trust’. He also founded a Buddha trust, which is now being managed by his son, R. Selvakumar.
In July, 2021, a joint inspection team from the Archeological Department noted that the sculpture 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 depicts several Lakshanas [physical characteristics] of the Buddha.
“The hands are posed in Dhyana Mudra, and the figure wears a sangati. The head shows Lakshanas of the Buddha, such as curly hair, ushnisa [ovoid shape at the top of the head] and elongated ear lobes. Urna [a spiral auspicious mark in Buddhism] is not visible on the forehead. The head was severed and reattached to the torso with cement and lime mixture a few years ago. However, due to human error, the head was not positioned properly.”
According to historians, the statue of Buddha is likely to have been sculpted in the 8 th or 9 th Century CE.
“The available historical evidence says that this is a statute of the Buddha. At some point before or at the start of British rule, the Buddha statue was refurbished as Thalaivetti Muniyappan. For over three generations, it has been worshipped as Muniyappan. The statue is likely to have been sculpted in the 8 th or 9 th Century CE. The pose and style (of the sculpture) is similar to that of the Pallava-Chola transitional period,” said, J. Barnabas, general secretary, Salem Historical Society.
Writer and historian Stalin Rajangam, who has written about the Thalaivetti Muniyappan temple in 2015, said, “Several important historians in India, including Romila Thapar, have proposed the theory that Buddhism had been appropriated and destroyed by Hinduism. However, this historical topic does not hold any value in everyday politics. The verdict (that the Hindu temple is, in fact, a Buddhist temple) by a court of law, which is an institution of the modern government institution, has historical significance and opens up several possibilities for Buddhists in modern India, who, so far, have only understood Buddhism as a political tool but not as a religion or coming together as a religious community.”
Though the Court accepted the historical evidence that Thalaivetti Muniyappan is Lord Buddha, the locals who visit the temple and the priest, who belongs to a dominant Hindu community, appear to believe that the statue and the temple have been around for the last 2,000 years. The story is that the Sultan severed the head of ‘Muni ayya’ and threw it into the well. More than a hundred years ago, one of the believers then found the head and attached it to the body of the statue.
The believers believe that their loved ones who are close to death recover if they come and worship him. ‘Muni ayya’ enters the body of his believers directly and tells them what to do,” said Munusamy, the temple’s third generation priest, and added that the Thirumalai Amman deity in the temple was believed be around 300 years old. He said believers donate chicken and goats to the deity.
Asked if the temple devotees are anxious about the recent court verdict, he said, “Many of them ask me about the court verdict. They ask how it is suddenly being called a Buddhist temple while they have been worshipping here for so many years. The HR&CE officials have told me that they will appeal against the verdict.”



Eight years of empowering tribal communities through water initiatives in Chhattisgarh

By Gazala Paul*   In the heart of Chhattisgarh, amidst the echoes of tribal life, a transformative journey has unfolded over the past eight years. The Samerth organization has diligently worked to elevate the lives of indigenous communities in the Kawardha district through the project, "Enabling Baiga Community to access safe drinking water." 

Regretful: Kapil Dev retired not leaving Indian cricket with integrity he upheld

By Harsh Thakor  Kapil Dev scaled heights as an entertainer and a player upholding the spirit of the game almost unparalleled in his era. In his time he was cricket’s ultimate mascot of sportsmanship On his day Kapil could dazzle in all departments to turn the tempo of game in the manner of a Tsunami breaking in. He radiated r energy, at a level rarely scaled in his era on a cricket field. Few ever blended aggression with artistry so comprehenisively. Although fast medium, he could be as daunting with the ball as the very best, with his crafty outswinger, offcutter, slower ball and ball that kicked from a good length. Inspite of bowling on docile tracks on the subcontinent, Kapil had 434 scalps, with virtually no assistance. I can never forget how he obtained pace and movement on flat pancakes, trapping the great Vivian Richards in Front or getting Geoff Boycott or Zaheer Abbas caught behind. No paceman carried the workload of his team’s bowling attack on his shoulders in his eras muc

Martin Crowe played instrumental role in making New Zealand a force in world cricket

By Harsh Thakor* Late Martin Crowe was the perfect manifestation of how mere figures could not convey or do justice to the true merit of a batsman. Crowe was arguably the most complete  or majestic batsmen of his era or the ultimate embodiment of batting perfection, or the classical batsmen. He perished 7 years ago, due to a rare and aggressive form of cancer, follicular lymphoma, which originated in 2012. In September, we celebrated his 60th birthday but sadly he left for his heavenly abode.

How the slogan Jai Bhim gained momentum as movement of popularity and revolution

By Dr Kapilendra Das*  India is an incomprehensible plural country loaded with diversities of religions, castes, cultures, languages, dialects, tribes, societies, costumes, etc. The Indians have good manners/etiquette (decent social conduct, gesture, courtesy, politeness) that build healthy relationships and take them ahead to life. In many parts of India, in many situations, and on formal occasions, it is common for people of India to express and exchange respect, greetings, and salutation for which we people usually use words and phrases like- Namaskar, Namaste, Pranam, Ram Ram, Jai Ram ji, Jai Sriram, Good morning, shubha sakal, Radhe Radhe, Jai Bajarangabali, Jai Gopal, Jai Jai, Supravat, Good night, Shuvaratri, Jai Bhole, Salaam walekam, Walekam salaam, Radhaswami, Namo Buddhaya, Jai Bhim, Hello, and so on.

1982-83 Bombay textile strike played major role in shaping working class movement

By Harsh Thakor  On January 18th, 1982 the working class movement commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Textile Workers Strike that lasted for 18 months, till July 1983. It was landmark event that played a major role in shaping the working class movement. With more than 2.5 lakh workers from 65 textile mills joining in this strike for almost two years, this strike became one of the most significant strikes in terms of scale and duration All democrats should applaud the mill workers’ united battle, and their unflinching resilience an death defying courage continues to serve as a model for contemporary working-class movements. Many middle class persons harboured opinions that the Textile workers were pampered or were a labour aristocracy, ignorant of how they were denied wages to provide for basic necessities. The Great Bombay Textile Strike is notably one of the most defining movements in the working class struggles in Post-independent India. Bombay’s textile industry flourished in

Towards 2024: Time for ‘We the People of India’ to wake up before it is too late

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  It is Constitution Day once again! We, the people of India, gratefully remember 26 November 1949 when the Constitution of India was passed and adopted by the Constituent Assembly. The Constituent Assembly comprised women and men of distinction, who were able to represent the heart and soul of the people of India without fear or favour. They gave of their best, so that we may a visionary Constitution, which would be the mainstay for and of democracy in India!

Ceasefire a tactical victory for Palestinian resistance, protests intensify across globe

By Harsh Thakor*  The Zionist leadership and Netanyahu’s government were compelled to concede the defeat of their first attempt after almost 50 days of daily fighting in the Gaza Strip.  Netanyahu was forced to concede that he was unsuccessful in suppressing the Palestinian Resistance; and that the release of the prisoners was only plausible because they accepted Hamas’ terms.

Odisha leadership crisis deepens: CM engages retired babus to oversee depts' work

By Sudhansu R Das  Over decades, Odisha has lost much of its crop diversity, fertile agriculture land, water bodies, employment potential, handicraft and handloom skills etc. The state has failed to strike a balance between the urban and rural sector growth; this leads to the migration of villagers to the urban areas leading to collapse of the urban infrastructures and an acute labor shortage in rural areas.  A large number of educated, skilled and unskilled Odia people have migrated to other states for higher education, quality jobs and for earning livelihood which plummet the efficiency level of government departments. Utmost transparency in the recruitment and promotion in the state government departments will improve governance mechanisms in the state.  "No near and dear one approach" in governance mechanisms can only achieve inclusive growth for the state on payment basis. This is a moral hazard. When so many educated young people seek employment outside the

Massive tropical deforestation: Big finance's $307 billion go to forest-risk commodities

A note on report by Forests & Finance coalition -- Rainforest Action Network, TuK Indonesia, Profundo, Amazon Watch, Repórter Brasil, BankTrack, Sahabat Alam Malaysia and Friends of the Earth US: *** A new report released on ‘Finance Day’ at COP28 by the Forests & Finance Coalition , provides a comprehensive look into the role big finance plays in driving deforestation, biodiversity loss, climate change and human rights abuses in tropical forest regions. The report reveals that since the Paris Agreement, banks have pumped over $307 billion into high risk forestry and agriculture companies linked to tropical deforestation, proving that the policies of major global banks and investors are failing to prevent continued widespread forest and biodiversity loss.

20% of Indian businesses have no emission plan in place despite climate emergency: Report

By Jag Jivan   New research underlines urgent need for strategies and transition plans to combat climate change, remain successful and meet stakeholder expectations.