Ayyappan

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Ayyappan
MADRAS11.JPG
Malayalam അയ്യപ്പൻ
Affiliation Deva, son of Shiva and Vishnu's form as Mohini
Abode Sabarimala
Mantra

Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa' Om Shaasthre namaha om hariharaputraya namaha

Swami Saranam
Weapon Bow and Arrow, Lotus and Dandha
Symbols Bell, Yoga mudra
Mount Tiger, Horse, Elephant
Region India
Consort Poorna, Pushkala

Ayyappan, also known as Dharmashastha, Shastha, Manikandan and Ayyanar is a Hindu deity who is the son of Mohini, an incarnation of Vishnu, and Shiva. He is generally depicted in a yogic posture wearing a bell around his neck, and hence the name Manikantan which literally means 'person with a bell around the neck'.

The most prominent Ayyappan shrine is the one at Sabarimala - the abode of Lord Ayyappa - in the hills of Pathanamthitta in Kerala. The shrine receives over ten million pilgrims every year[1] making it one of the largest pilgrimage sites in the world. The pilgrims visiting Sabarimala fast and engage in austerities under the leadership of a Guru Swami (one who has undertaken the pilgrimage to Sabarimala for 18 years). The austerity period starts on the first of the fourth month of Malayalam calender and lasts for 41 days. During this period men are clad in distinctive ritual dhotis of black, saffron and dark blue colors and lead the life of a brahmachaari abstaining from family desires and tastes. The devotees address Lord Ayyappa as Sri Ayyappan respectfully. The mantra of Lord Ayyappa is Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa which translates to Lord Ayyappa, I seek refuge in you.[2]

Etymology[edit]

In ancient, the term Ayyan or Aiyan is a title of respect and the term Appan - which also means father - refers to senior members of the community as a mark of respect. Thus Ayyan and Appan put together - Ayyappan - refers to a senior respectable guardian deity of the community. There are varied arguments that the cult is so ancient that the deity represents Nature itself, which was the only matter of worship then, and that they personified Nature as Ayyappan and named him so with terms denoting respect. There is also a belief that the deities of Ayyappan and Aiyanar are one and the same as the divine consorts of Ayyappan are called Poorna and Pushkala whereas those of Aiyanar are called Poorani and Porkamalam (Golden Lotus). Further evidences in favour of this belief include the similarities in the unique seating style, with one/two legs folded and raised from the seat and the birth from the union of Vishnu and Shiva.

Ayyappan is also known as Hariharasutan - son of Hari and Haran in literal translation - because he is the son of Vishnu, also called Hari, and Haran, another name of Lord Shiva. He is also called Manikantan because when the king Rajasekara Pandiyan of Pandalam found little Ayyappan abandoned in a forest there was a Mani tied around his kantam - meaning neck in Malayalam.

Legends surrounding Ayyappan[edit]

A demoness called Mahishi undertook severe penance to avenge the death of her brother, the asura king Mahishasura killed by Goddess Durga. She pleased the creator God Brahma and asked for the boon of invulnerability to all men which He declined. She then pondered for a while and asked cleverly for the boon of invulnerability to all men but a son of Shiva and Vishnu. As both Shiva and Vishnu were male Gods there was no possibility of such an offspring and therefore this privilege would make her virtually indestructible. Emboldened by the boon she went on a rampage pulverizing people and plundering the world.

Elsewhere, Bhasmasura was granted the power by Lord Shiva that anyone whose head he placed his hand over would turn into ashes (bhasma) immediately. As soon as he was allowed his wish he wanted to test it and lunged forward to touch the head of Shiva Himself. Chased by Bhasmasura, Shiva requested Vishnu to help Him out of His plight and hid behind a peepal tree. Vishnu became aware of the events and decided that He would take the female form Mohini, the enchantress, and appear before Bhasmasura to trump the asura's powers. Such a fine enchantress she was, when Bhasmasura saw her he was bewitched by her beauty and asked for her hand at once, for marriage. She replied to him that she would marry him only if he could match her dance move for move. Bhasmasura complied and they started dancing together. The feat went on for days, Bhasmasura trying his level best to match Mohini's moves. Mohini concluded by striking a pose with her hand on top of her head. Oblivious of his boon Bhasmasura imitated her touching his own head with his hand and perished.

Vishnu explained the whole affair to Shiva. When Shiva expressed His desire to see Vishnu in the form of Mohini the enchantress Vishnu appeared thus. Shiva overcame with passion and united with her, and the divine child Ayyappan was born out of their union. The legend has it that the Gods then decided Ayyappan be raised by the king Raja Rajasekhara Pandiyan of Pandalam, a devotee of Lord Shiva.

During one of his hunting expeditions Rajasekhara heard the wails of a child on the banks of the river Pampa. He rushed to the spot where he heard the wailing from only to find a resplendent infant there, a beautiful baby boy with a radiant face and a bead (mani in Malayalam) around his neck. The king, who had no children, considered the boy as gift from the God for his fervent prayer for an heir to his throne and took Him along when he returned. Thus Ayyappan began His human sojourn as the son of the king of Pandalam.

Named Manikantan he grew into a boy well versed in academic lore and martial arts. As Manikantan was growing up in the palace the queen gave birth to a son. Nonetheless, the king regarded Manikantan as his elder son and decided to crown him as Yuvaraja (the heir to the throne) at the age of 12. Flustered at this decision the king's diwan, who had a deep seated animosity towards Manikantan, hoodwinked the innocent queen into believing that the throne actually belonged to her son and that ill would befall her if Manikantan was crowned Yuvaraja.

They conspired to get rid of Manikantan by hook or crook and hatched a plan. The diwan advised the queen to feign illness and grease palm the royal physician so that he prescribed the milk of a tigress as the only relief. The diwan knew that none could be deputed for a mission that was so patently suicidal and young Manikantan would be impelled to go to forest to fetch the tigress milk. So, one day the queen pretended to be afflicted with severe headache and stomach pain. Unaware of the developments, the king summoned the royal physician at the behest of the queen who immediately prescribed that only the tigress milk could cure her disease. As none came forward to undertake such a perilous mission Manikantan volunteered and, much against his father's wishes, set out for forests.

In the forest he encountered Mahishi, and in the ensuing fierce battle he prevailed over her. He climbed on to her chest and commenced dancing so violently that it reverberated not only on earth but also in the celestial world. Lord Shiva Himself witnessed the spectacle from a place called Kalaketty. Manikantan slew her on the banks of river Azutha. A beautiful woman named Leela, who had been cursed to be born as Mahishi, redeemed herself and requested Ayyappan to take her as His consort. Ayyappan being a celibate firmly refused and told her instead, she would be given a place in his abode at Sabarimala where she would be known as Maalikapurathamma. And He gave his word to her, that he would marry her the year no Kanni Ayyappan (a person who goes to Sabarimala for the first time or one who visits Sabarimala for the first time on or after turning 18) visits him at Sabarimala.

Pleased by the conquest, Indra offered to ride with him to the palace in the guise of a tiger and other female 'devathas' as tigresses. Mounted on a tiger, Manikantan entered the palace precincts with a pack of tigresses. Astonished and frightened, the people realized that Manikantan was no ordinary being. They were convinced of his divine origins, and prayed to him to be with them for their own salvation and for the safety of the kingdom. The schemers were frightened into confessing their nefarious plot. Enraged at the tricks played at Manikantan, the king ruled that the involved persons be punished severely. But Manikantan intervened saying that the incident happened as it was destined to happen and requested the king that they be acquitted.

Filled with happiness, grief, fear, wonder and bhakti and self-surrender, the king prayed for the mercy and blessings of Manikantan and implored that he be the protector guardian of the kingdom. However, Manikantan rejected his request and was determined to leave the kingdom as he had fulfilled his divine mission (of annihilation of the demoness Mahishi). Ayyappan consoled the king saying that:

I am to free you from all worldly sorrows and to grant you moksha. All those who are and would be born in your family shall have my blessings unfailingly. I am always accessible to bhakthi and only bhakthi.

He enlightened the king on the path of attainment of moksha (salvation). These words of the Lord are contained in Bhuthanathageetha.

When the king expressed his desire to build a temple for Ayyappan, Ayyappan drew an arrow out of his quiver and shot it. The arrow landed at Sabarimala, north of the holy river Pampa and he instructed the king construct a temple there and install his deity. Ayyappan also explained how the Sabarimala pilgrimage shall be undertaken, emphasising the importance of vrutham and what the devotees can attain by his darshan. Manikantan then blessed the king and all others assembled there, and vanished. The king duly constructed the temple at Sabarimala dedicated to Ayyappan, adviced by sage Agastya. The deity was installed by sage Parashurama on the first of the Malayalam month of Makaram.

There are other legends as well, often variants of the one above, connected with the origin of Lord Ayyappa. One says that Manikantan was the incarnation of Dharmashaastha. Raja Rajasekhara was in his previous birth a rich and pious Brahmin by name Vijayan who was a very strong believer and devotee of Dharmashaastha. In another one Ayyappan as Manikantan born to Pandalam Maharaja was set to conquer the Buddhist king Udayan who had been harassing the people of Pamba region. Maharaja send Manikantan to learn martial arts Kalari to Cheerappanchira, the Muhamma of today in Alappuzha district and Cheeram Chira Mooppan there trained Him of Kalari. Nila, the Moopan's daughter, fell in love with Manikantan and proposed to Him. But He refused to marry her telling He was a brahmachaari and was on mission. It was here she offered a sweet payasam to Ayyappan which was what turned out to be the Aravanapayasam of today.

A third one describes the discovery of Manikantan as a baby boy at Pampa, His youthful days in the Pandalam palace, bestowing the power of hearing and speaking upon the deaf and dumb son of His guru as guru dakshina, His friendship with Vavar, bringing the tigress's milk, accomplishing His divinely destined mission of annihilation of the demoness Mahishi, eliminating the forest thug Udayanan, bestowing moksha on Sabari, blessing His foster-father with moksha and so on.

Temples dedicated to Ayyappan[edit]

A crowd in front of the Ayyappan temple, Sabarimala

There are many temples in Kerala whose presiding deity is Ayyappan. Among them the most well known is Sabarimala Sree Dharamashastha temple, the abode of Lord Ayyappa. The temple attracts millions of visitors every year during mandala season from mid November to mid January. Other important temples are Kulathupuzha Sree Shastha temple, Aryankavu Sree Shastha temple, Achankovil Sree Shastha temple, Erumely Sree Dharmashastha temple and Ponnambalamedu joythi swarooban.

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Press Trust of India (June 23, 2011). "Safety Manual for Sabarimala prepared". The New Indian Express. Retrieved 13 July 2011. 
  2. ^ Ganesan, Parur (January 15, 2003). "Speaking Tree - Unique Makara Jyoti In Sabarimala Hills". The Times of India. Retrieved 14 July 2011. 
  3. ^ Jayan, Arun (December 17, 2012). "Toon ‘Swami Ayyappan’ all set to hit theatres". New Indian Express. Retrieved June 6, 2014. 
  4. ^ "Ayyappan now in toon avatar". The Hindu. June 20, 2012. Retrieved 2014-06-21. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Ayyappan at Wikimedia Commons