The Tradition of Yajña
Kerala is the home of Advaita and hence one would naturally expect the people to be the followers of jñānakāṇḍa. But paradoxically, both jñāna and karma co-existed here, the latter having upper hand at times. The Mīmāmsā tradition is traced to Prabhākaraguru. The Payyūr Bhaṭṭas were the most vocal exponents of the system in later period.
The first ever recorded reference to a sacrifice in this area belongs to the Sangham age.6 The Akanānūru (2c.B.CE) tells us of a sacrifice at Taliparambu (Cellūr) conducted by the legendary Parasurama. There are other references to sacrifices in Sangham works, though Cilapatikaram is silent of this tradition.
It is believed that the yajna tradition of Kerala traces its origin to Mezhathol Agnihotri7, one of the twelve sons of Vararuci. Whatever be the historicity of the account, the story itself is illuminating as it preaches universal brotherhood of all kinds of people - the Parayan, Pānan, Peruntaccan and others - tracing their origin to the same womb. This sense of co-existence is the most important contribution of vedic culture to Kerala. We have a beautiful description of the Cokiram village in the Unniccirutevicaritam which very well gives an idea of the influence of yaga in the early village life of Kerala in the 13th century.
The village is compared to a lotus flower arising from the naval of Vis.n. u. AḻvāncheryTamprākkal is equated to Brahma who resides in the lotus ; the eight adhyaghras form its petals. The other Brahmin families are its sepals, Brahmins being bees that hover around the flower. The chanting of Vedas is compared to the humming of bees and the knowledge to the honey.8
Nārāyana in his Dīpaprabhā commentary on Mahābhāṣyapradīpa refers to this land as one where the preceptors are well versed in Vedas. The Rājasūyaprabandha of Melputtūr, perhaps for the first time, gives a detailed description of the sacrifice performed by Yudhis.t.hira, giving first-hand information regarding the conduct of sacrifices in Kerala.
It is interesting to note in this connection that the 7th century social satire Mattavilāsa humorously compared the Yajñasālā to a toddy shop and the Manager to Yajamana and the like. This play had to pay a heavy price for this sacrilege in the post-sanskritised age. The Kūṭiyāṭṭam stage retained only the first two verses of this farce and left the rest to oblivion. Cultural monopoly is a drawback of the kind of enculturation propounded by the vaidikas. All
the different views were wiped out. Heterodox thoughts like Buddhism and Jainism which had deep roots here had either to surrender or to submit for alterations.
There were śālās attached to every temple where in two kinds of instructions were imparted – one on vedic and puranic literature and the other on military warfare. There were sabhāmaṭhams for each grāma and provisions were made by the kings/chieftains for the maintenance of these institutions. Thus the purity of vedic tradition was ensured by the instructions imparted to Brahmin students through the traditional method. The Brahmasvam maṭham at Trichur and Tirunāvāya still keeps up this tradition alive. The products of these institutions retain the best in the tradition. Those trained in śastra, perhaps, did not care for such simplicity. Being engaged in warfare and endowed with power their descendants led a loose life. This led to the later degeneration to a section of Brahmin community. The reference in Keraḻābharana seems to be aimed at these people. One of the positive contributions of these people, apart from the maintenance of the defence of the country seems to be the art form Sanghakaḻi which is almost extinct now.