Folk sculpture of Ayyanar at Gopichettipalayam.
|Tamil language||ஐயன், சாஸ்தா|
|Weapon||whip or scepter|
|Mount||Elephant, horse, tiger|
Aiyanar or Shasta (IAST: Aiyaṉār, Śāstā, Tamil: ஐயனார், சாஸ்தா) is a Hindu deity particularly praised by the Malayalis and Tamil speaking community of India and Sri Lanka. Sinhalese worship him in the name of Ayyanayake and in Kerala the name is Ayyappan. Some studies suggest that Ayyanar could be worshipped even in South east Asian countries in the past. He is primarily worshiped as one of the guardian folk deities of Tamil Nadu. The village temples of Ayyanar are usually flanked by gigantic and colorful statues of him and his companions riding horses or elephants. The well known shrine at Sabarimala is actually a Sastha temple though its main deity Ayyappan is now developed distinct from Ayyanar.
The Tamil word Ayyanār is derived from the root word Ayyan, a honorific used in all Dravidian languages to designate either respectable or elder people. Some people propose that Aiyan could be the Tamilized version of Sanskrit root Arya which means the same. There is a well known temple dedicated to Shasta situated in a village of Kerala, called "Aryankavu". Since Tamil Ayya sounds like the Pali equivalent of Ayya (Arya), the vice versa argument is prevalent. Another name of Ayyanar, Sastha, meets the same dispute. Although he appears as Shasta in Sanskrit scriptures, ancient Tamil records mention him as Chattan (சாத்தன்,Cāttaṉ). Though Śāstā is the term especially used to indicate Ayyanar nowadays, there are two other deities known in the same name. Buddha is also called Shasta and Brahma-Śāstā is the another name of Murugan. Shasta is a generic Sanskrit term for a teacher.
There are very few evidences available to construct the origin and development of Ayyanar. Since Sastha is the synonym of Buddha, some researchers assume Chattan could be immigrated to Tamil country with Buddhism. Some others oppose that Ayyanar still remains with his archaic dravidian nature and he is obviously a South Indian deity who might be absorbed into Hindu pantheon later in the name of Shasta. The earliest references to Ayyanar were discovered in the hero stones of hunting chieftains from Arcot, Tamil Nadu dated back to the 3rd century C.E. The phrase in the inscriptions which could be translated into "Ayyanappan; a shrine to Cattan" confirms that Ayyan and Chattan were the names of a single deity. A rock carving of the man and the horse in the Isurumuniya Buddhist temple of Sri Lanka, is identified with Ayyanar. Sinhala buddhists of Sri Lanka praise him in the form of a folk deity called Ayyanayake to the date.
According to Fred Clothey, Aiyanar is a Tamil adaptation of Aiyan, the chief deity of Ay chieftains who ruled parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the then Tamilakam. He also states that the term aayar meaning a cow herder and a protector is an appropriate appellation for both the Ay chieftains and their clan deity. Tamil Sangam literature often mention poets and traders with the name Chattan, who might revere Sastha as their clan deity. Tamil epic Silappatikaram, probably dated back to 4th century CE, records the temples and devotees of Cattan. The 7th century CE Saivite Nayanar and one of the initiator of Tamil Bhakti movement, Appar praises Shiva as the father of Chattan in his Tevaram (Tirumurai - 4:32:4). Sastha started to appear in northern sources from 7th century CE after Brahmanda Purana. It narrates the history of Hariharasuta, son of Hari and Hara, who was born to Shiva during his copulation with Mohini, the feminised form of Vishnu, after the churning of milk sea. Periya Puranam, a Tamil Saivite epic of 12th century CE tells that Aiyanar at Tiruppidavur exposed the Tamil song of Cheraman Perumal, a nayanar - cum - Chera king (800—844 CE) which was revealed by him in Kailash. From the Chola period (9th century) onwards the popularity of Aiyanar became even more pronounced and so many bronze images of him are available in this period.
Kanda puranam, 14th century Tamil version of Skanda Purana narrates the history of ayyanar in Maha chattan patalam which seconds the story told in Brahmanda purana. Here Ayyan, Kanda puranam tells, send his chief commander Mahakala to protect Indrani from the demon Surapadman. Mahakala chops down the hands of Ajamukhi, sister of Surapadman who tried to abduct Indrani for her brother. Sabarimala Sthala Puranam, a recent purana explains Ayyappan is the avatar of Ayyanar. Other records on Ayyanar tells that he has two wives popularly known as Purana and Pushkala. Shilparatna explains him with only one wife called Prabha and their eight years old lad known as Satyakan though his appearance with two wives is the widespread iconography in his South Indian temples. Kanda puranam and cholan bronzes describe his mount of white elephant. Horse is another mount abundantly seen in his local temples. Some folk beliefs explain that Ayyanar is awaiting to ride his horse to immediately help his devotees. After the popularity of Ayyappan cult, tiger is also identified as the mount of Sastha.
Connections with Ayyappan
Sabarimala is a temple in kerala dedicated to Ayyappan becomes famous recent times. The number of pilgrims going to Sabarimala increases year to year though Ayyappa is unknown in Tamil region before 1940s. A deity named "Ayyappan" is not recorded in any early sources in Tamil and Sanskrit. There are so many evidences to prove that Ayyappan is recent variant and he is none other than Ayyanar. Even the name Ayyappan reveals that it is the sync. form of Ayyan (Ayyanar) + Appan (father). Yogapatta bar around the knees of Ayyappan is the distinct character that can be seen in the Ayyanar statues of Chola period. The horse mount of Aiyanar is still visible in the flag staff of Sabarimala Ayyappan temple. No anyone denies the synonym Sastha of Ayyappan, which is obviously the synonym of Ayyanar. Another important association is the presence of Karuppa samy in the worship of both deities. Tamil devotees did not descriminate Ayyappan with Ayyanar and they believe that Ayyappan is the avatar of Ayyanar. It can be noted that Sri Lankan Ayyanar temples are being converted into Ayyappan temples following the outbreak of Sabarimala pilgrimage of Sri Lankan devotees in recent years.
The main iconographic aspects of Ayyanar include whip or scepter in his hand and a meditation band around his knees in a squat, known as Yogapaţţam or Vāgupaţţai. Weapons such as sword, trishula or a Vel are also associated with this deity. He can be seen seated alone or with two wives in either sides.His mount elephant or horse will be standing in front of him. In rural areas, Aiyanar is often represented with an escort, usually composed of the god's vassals, sometimes comprising demons. Consistent with this practice, terracotta horses are usually placed outside the temple. These are given up to the god as steeds for his night time perambulations.
So many temples are dedicated to Ayyanar can be seen all over the South India as well as Sri Lanka. Almost all villages of Tamil Nadu would have an Aiyanar kovil.Ayyanar shrines are usually located at the peripheries or boundaries of rural villages and the deity is seen riding a horse with a sword or whip. Ayyanar has both types of temples - Temples constructed in Agamic style and non-agamic open air shrines. Ayyanar in Agamic temple is usually called Sastha or Dharma sastha. Kerala retains its Ayyanar temples as Sastha temples. The attendant priest for the Aiyanar is generally from the potter caste who fashions idols and clay horses, although it is not uncommon for priests from other castes to officiate in the Ayyanar temples. Many castes of Tamil Nadu worship Ayyanar as their Kula deivam.
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