Like Jainism, Buddhism also held sway in ancient Kerala during the
reign of Asoka in the 3rd century B. C. Coming by sea, Buddhism was popular in coastal
districts, Karumati, Mavelikkara, Bharanikkavu, Pallikkel, Karunagappalli, Idappalli,
Dharmapattanam, Matayi and Pallikkunnu being its chief centres.
Many prominent Hindu temples of today like the
Vadakkunnathan temple, Trichur, and the Kurumba Bhagavati temple, Kodungallur, and even
the famous Ayyappa shrine atop Sabarimala are believed to have been at one time Buddhist
shrines. The most important centre of Buddhist pilgrimage was
Srimulavasam, which is now under the sea.
The Buddhist religion also began to decline from the 8th
century and finally disappeared in the 12th century following vigorous propaganda by Hindu
reformers like Sankaracharya. Both Jainism and Buddhism, who could not be easily
distinguished from each other even by the learned, made very little appeal the upper
classes. Their strength lay among the comparatively backward classes. Even to them in
course of time they tended to become less and less attractive.