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Shasta (IAST Śāstā) is the name of a Hindu deity in India. Shasta is a generic Sanskrit term for a teacher. The word Shasta was first used in the sense of a Hindu deity in South India during the 3rd century. He is identified with many deities like Aiyanar, Ayyappa. Guruswamy Viswanatha Sarma, who made an extensive study of the Sastha concept, Ayyanar and Ayyappan chose eight Sastha incarnations for Loka Kshema.
Shasta is a generic term that means "Teacher, Guide, Lord, Ruler" in Sanskrit. In South India, a number of deities are associated with Shasta. The Tamil song Shasta Varavu states that there are eight important incarnations and forms of Shasta. This is also present in the agamic work Dyana Ratnavali. The Ashta-Shasta (eight Shastas) are Aadhi Maha Shasta, Dharma Shasta, Gnana Shasta, Kalyana Varadha Shasta, Sammohana Shasta, Santhana Prapti Shasta, Veda Shasta and Veera Shasta. Brahma Shasta is another term associated with Kartikeya.
In Tamil Nadu, Aiyanar is used as another name of the deity Shasta. The earliest reference to Aiynar-Shasta is from the Arcot district in Tamil Nadu. The stones are dated to the 3rd century C.E. They read "Ayanappa; a shrine to Chathan." This is followed by another inscription in Uraiyur near Tiruchirapalli which is dated to the 4th century C.E.
Literary references to Aiyanar-Chathan are found in Silappatikaram, a Tamil work dated to the 4th to 5th centuries C.E. The Tamil sangam classics Purananuru, Akananuru etc. refer to ayyanar and "chathan" in many poems. There are several numerous references to sasta in sangam works.Some Tamil inscriptions of sangam times and also of the later pallava and chola period coming in from various parts of the empire refer to him as sevugan and mahasasta. The hymns of some alwars like tirumangai alwar and nammalwar in temples like tirumogur near madurai refer to sasta. A Sanskrit work dated prior to the 7th century known as Brahmanda Purana mentions Shasta as harihara suta or son of Narayana (Vishnu)(hari) and Shiva(hara). There are references in puranas that narrate as to how sasta during his tenure on earth long ago conducted discourses on vedas and vedantas to a galaxy of gods and sages. Later on the Saivite revivalist Appar sang about Shasta as the progeny of Shiva and tirumaal (Vishnu) in one of his Tevarams in the 7th century. The child saint tirugnanasambandar in one of his songs praises ayyanar as celibate god, invincible and terrible in warfare, taking his abode alongside bhootaganas of Lord Siva. The place sanctity and history document or sthalapuranam of tiruvanaikkaval, a saivite temple near trichy, which was first documented by sage kasyapa informs us that sasta once served lord sivan at that site and after being blessed with a vision was instructed by lord to take abode in the outer sanctorum. It says that sasta continues to worship lord during the day of tiruvadirai. Adi sankara also has referred to ayyanar in sivanandalahari in one verse . Some ancient hagiographies have accounted that sri sankara was a deivamsam(divine soul portion) of sree sasta(sevugan), the same way as tirugnana sambandar was a divine portion of skanda and sundarar a divine portion of alalasundarar.He is also known to have composed verses praising the deity but the same are not available to us as of today. From the Chola period (9th century C.E) onwards the popularity of Aiyanar-Shasta became even more pronounced as is attested by epigraphy and imagery.
The Shasta religious tradition is particularly well developed in the state of Kerala. The earliest inscription to Shasta was made in 855 C.E. by an Ay King at the Padmanabhapuram Sivan temple. Independent temples to Shasta are known from the 11th century C.E. Prior to that, Shasta veneration took place in the temples of Shiva and Vishnu, the premier gods of the Hindu pantheon. Since late medieval times, the warrior deity Ayyappa's following has become very popular in the 20th century.
Relation between Ayyapan, Aiyanar and Shasta
According to the Brahmanda Purana ,which dates prior to the 7th century mentions Shasta as harihara suta or son of Siva and Narayana (Vishnu). The Saivite revivalist Appar sang about Shasta as the progeny of Shiva and tirumaal (Vishnu) in one of his Tevaram in the 7th century. The Tamil song Shasta Varavu states that there are eight important incarnations and forms of Shasta.The Dyana ratnavali confirms the same fact.The Ashta-Shasta (eight Shastas) are Aadhi Maha Shasta(Aiyanar), Dharma Shasta ( Ayyappan), Gnana Shasta, Kalyana Varadha Shasta, Sammohana Shasta, Santhana Prapti Shasta, Veda Shasta and Veera Shasta.Among the Ashta-Shasta,the Adhi Maha Sastha (Aiyanar) and Dharma Shasta ( Ayyappan) are widely worshipped. Aiyanar (Adhi Maha Sastha) is worshiped as the protector of Village in Tamil Nadu and in Sri lanka(as Ayyanayake ).Ayyappan is worshipped in Kerala. It is to be noted that although Ayyappan and Aiyanar are incarnations of Sastha ,there are large difference between them.(Just like-although Krishna and Rama are incarnations of Vishnu,they are different).The major difference between them are
- Ayyappan is celibate,while Aiyanar is grihastha and has two wives Puranai(Poorna) and Pushkalai(Pushkala)
- Aiyanar rides on Horse and white elephant,while Ayyappan rides on Horse and Tiger.
- In Kerala, Ayyappan is worshiped in Sabarimala temple while Aiyanar is worshipped in Achankovil Sree Dharmasastha Temple
However, due to the fact that Ayyappan and Aiyanar both are incarnations of Sastha, the difference between them narrowed in the course of history.Tamil devotees did not discriminate 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.
- Adhi Maha Sastha-He is worshipped with two consorts – Poorna and Pushkala.He is worshipped in many villages of South, as a protector of their houses and cities. It is believed that Karikaala Chozhan, an ardent devotee of this Sastha, won many battles after worshipping Sastha in Kanchi Kamakshi Amman temple.
- Dharma Sastha-He disseminates knowledge and peace. He is said to break the barrier of caste and creed and guides us towards righteousness and salvation. He is believed to provide solace when planet Saturn troubles people . Sri Dharma Sastha was a Brahmachari. However, in previous avatars, Sastha dwelt at Kantha Mala with two consorts Poorna and Pushkala. A distinction should therefore should be drawn between Sastha and Manikanta.
- Gnana Sastha - as the name implies showers intellect and wisdom. He plays the Manikka Veena and sits under a banyan tree like god Dakshinamoorthi. There are references to this Sastha in “Aakasa Bhairava Kalpam.” Sree Dharma Sastha temple in Thiruvullakavu is considered the Abode of Wisdom. There is an idol of Sri Vidhya Sastha in Veda Nayaga Sastha temple at Vedikarampalayam, Salem.
- Kalyana Varadha Sastha-He is worshipped for the removal of hurdles to marriage. He is worshipped with Poorna and Pushkala.There are references of Kalyana Varadha Sastha in verses such as Guhyia Rathna Chinthamani and Boodha Naadha Charitham. Mythology has it that Kalyana Varada Sastha resides in Kanthamalai. Sastha is worshipped as Kalyana murthy in Ganapathy Agraharam,
- Gajaarooda(riding on an elephant) Sastha or Kaala Sastha or Maha Sastha -He is annihilator of enemies. Since one of his devotees won over Yamadharma Raja - Maha Kaalan, He is called as Kaala Sastha. Although there is no temple for Kaala Sastha, we can find Sastha sitting on an elephant, one of his Vahana, in Thriyambakapuram near Thanjavur
- Sammohana Sastha -He stands for conjugal bliss and harmony. He is worshipped with Poorna and Pushkala. His grace is compared with Amudha Surabhi. There are references to Sammohana Sastha in Skanda Puranam. There is a temple for Sammohana Sastha in Sirkazhi, Kaivilanchery. The deity is called Kaividael Appan.
- Santhana Prapthi Sastha -He represents Planet Venus and is worshipped for progeny. His consort Prabhavati has a Maanikka Veenai and hence he is also called Brahma Sastha . This Sastha is different from other incarnations as he is seen with his child Satyagan.An interesting piece culled from mythology is that it was Brahma Sastha who offered the Divine Payasam to King Dasaratha when he performed Puthrakameshti Yaaga. There are references of this Sastha in ‘Thantra Samuchayam” and ‘Silparathnam.’
- Veda Sastha-He also goes by the name Simharooda Sastha and is synonymous with the Vedas and the knowledge they represent.Even now, Ayyanar in Vedikarampalayam, Salem, is worshipped as Veda Nayaga Sastha, surrounded by four Neem trees representing the four Vedas.
- Veera Sastha- He is a great warrior, visualised on a horse with weapons.He is worshipped to destroy evil and to protect humanity.There are references to this Sastha in ‘Adi Sankara Vicharitham’ which has Adi Sankara worshipping Veera Sastha in a place called Kudhiran.(Between Trichur and Palghat)
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