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- P.R.Kannan

Lord Ayyappas fame has spread far and wide in the last few decades. The shrine of
Ayyappa at Sabarimala in Kerala attracts devotees from all corners of the land at all times
of the year. In Tamil Nadu, earlier it was common to erect a statue of Ayyanar in most
villages near the boundary at the entrance. Ayyanar was there to protect everyone in the
village at any time from any type of calamity. It was even believed that Ayyanar rode on his
horse round the village every night to keep a watch and that a sincere devotee could even
hear the sound of the horses hoofs. This Ayyanar is the same deity as Ayyappa of
Sabarimala, whose shrines can now be seen in many towns and cities across India,
specially in places where Malayalis and Tamilians reside.

Ayyappa (literally meaning lord and father) is Hariharaputra, son of Hari (Vishnu) and Hara
(Siva); he is also known as Sastha, the ruler. As per Puranic stories, during the churning of
Ocean of Milk, Vishnu assumed the enchanting form of Mohini in order to seduce the
Asuras, who had laid their hands on the pot of Amrita, the nectar of immortality. Attracted
by Mohinis beauty, Asuras handed the pot of nectar to her. She then stealthily served the
nectar to Devas. Siva saw Mohini later; the manifestation of light born of the union of the
jyotis of Siva and Mohini is Hariharaputra. He thus stands for the Ultimate Reality, the
fusion of the Gnana of Siva and the compassion of Vishnu. He blesses his sincere
devotees with the bliss of Supreme Gnana that liberates them from the cycle of samsara
(births and deaths); he also bestows on them fulfilment of all immediate desires like relief
from difficulties, getting progeny, wealth etc.

There are innumerable legends associated with Ayyappa. The most popular one is his
appearance as the son of King Rajasekhara Pandian of Pandalam in Kerala. The childless
king saw a baby in the forest and adopted him as his son. He named him Manikantan, as
he noticed a gemstone (bell?) in the neck of the baby. The childs superhuman powers
were soon evident. His divinity came to the fore when, in his Gurukulam sojourn, he
restored the vision and speech of his Gurus blind and dumb son by way of Guru-dakshina.
He is also credited to have protected the king and the kingdom from enemies. The queen
delivered a male child after some time. A wily minister of the king colluded with the queen
to attempt elimination of Manikantan from the scene to enable the queens child to claim
succession to the throne. They hatched a plot. The queen feigned to suffer from an

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incurable headache. A doctor, nominated by the minister, strangely recommended tigress
milk as cure. Manikantan managed to sway the king to permit him to go to the forest alone
to fetch tigress milk. Legend has it that he came back riding a tiger, who was none other
than Indra, accompanied by male tigers, who were Devas in disguise and tigresses, who
were really females of Devas. Manikantan was 12 years old at that time. The king saw
through the conspiracy of his queen and the minister. He remembered the prophecy of a
mendicant in Manikantans early years that his sons extraordinary powers would come to
light when he would turn twelve. He realised the divinity of his son and developed
dispassion; he was granted Supreme Gnana by Manikantan (Sastha). Recognising that the
time had come for him to part with his son, the king wished to build a temple for Ayyappa.
Manikantan guided him to choose Sabarimala and agreed that from there, he would bless
the devotees, who would observe 41 days regulations (vratam) strictly and come to
Sabarimala for darshan. The deity at the Sabarimala shrine is said to have been prepared
and installed by Lord Parasurama himself.

As Hariharaputra, his many exploits for protecting the weak are also recounted in Puranas.
According to Skanda Purana, during the Asura king Surapadmas rule, once Devendra had
to live in hiding with his wife Indrani in Sirkali in Tamil Nadu. When the time came for Indra
to leave for Meru Mountain to meet Siva and seek relief from the terror of Surapadma, he
sought the help of Sastha to protect Indrani at Sirkali in his absence. Ajamukhi, the sister of
Surapadma, came soon thereafter to Sirkali. Noticing the enchanting beauty of Indrani, she
sought to take her by force to Surapadma. It was Sasthas aide Mahakala who came on the
scene, fought, disfigured and drove away Ajamukhi and thus protected Indrani.

In another Puranic story, Mahishasura was killed by Durga. In a spirit of revenge, his sister
Mahishi sought and obtained a strange boon that she could be vanquished only by the
offspring of Siva and Vishnu. When Devas, who suffered in her tyrannical rule, pleaded with
Siva for protection, Siva enabled Sasthas manifestation. Sastha fought and killed Mahishi
and restored rule of dharma in all worlds.

Shrine at Sabarimala
Sabarimala in Kerala is the most famous Ayyappa shrine visited by over 40 million
devotees every year, making it one of the most popular pilgrim centres in the world.
Pilgrims from around the country brave the dense forests, steep hills and inclement
weather to seek the blessings of Ayyappa, seated about 3000 feet above sea level,
specially in the middle of January on Makara Sankranti or Pongal day, when the Lord

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himself is said to descend in the form of light . Two days before the auspicious Sankranthi
day, the special jewellery of the Lord (Tiruvabaranam) is taken on foot from the Royal
Palace at Pandalam by a special emissary of the kingdom, after Pooja with all pomp,
devotion and reverence. The rituals connected with the pilgrimage to Sabarimala, situated
on the banks of Pampa river, have grown and been systematised over the years. They are
generally the re-enactment of what Manikantan, the lad of twelve, had done during his visit
to the forest for procuring tigress milk. The pilgrims are under the care of a senior
experienced worshipper called Guruswamy. At the start of the vratam period of 41 days
they wear a garland of Rudraksha or Tulasi having a mudra (pendant) of Ayyappa. During
this vratam period, they generally wear coloured (black/ blue/ saffron) dress, eat satvik
vegetarian food, observe strict celibacy and austerity and perform Poojas and bhajans. The
discipline is believed to be essential in being able to undertake the arduous journey to the
shrine and obtain the blessings of the Lord. The pilgrims travel barefoot in groups and trek
over difficult mountainous terrain carrying Irumudi a bag in two sections, one with a
coconut containing ghee and other offerings to the Lord, and the other, personal foodstuff.
The three-eyed coconut reminds one of Siva; the ghee comes from milk, the nutritious food
that protects the body, which is associated with Vishnu. The coconut thus reminds one of
both Siva and Vishnu. Further the white inside of the coconut is indicative of purity of the
mind, whereas the ghee signifies bhakti, which should fill the mind. Ghee is filled in the
coconut at the start of the pilgrimage to the chanting of Sasthas Moolamantra. Manikantan
is said to have taken such a coconut with him during his trip to the forest. There are many
places en route, associated with the legend of Manikantans journey. The devotees take
holy bath in many streams and the famed river Pampa. They keep chanting the mantra
Swamiye... Saranam Ayyappa (Lord Ayyappa, I seek refuge in you) loudly throughout the
journey. Saranam is the fundamental feature of all Ayyappa songs. The pilgrims also greet
each other with Swami Saranam. The idea is that every pilgrim is so much immersed in to
the Lord that he sees all devotees and indeed all creation as manifestation of Ayyappa. The
first major halt in the journey is at Erumeli, where the devotee observes a special ritual of
Pettaitullal, in which he wears coloured powder on his body and dances his way to the
flagstaff of the Sastha temple here. He then proceeds to Vavar hill, which reminds one of
Manikantans friendship with a Muslim named Vavar! He then worships at Kalaikatti, which
is the place where Siva tied his vehicle bull, when he came to witness the dance of Sastha
over Mahishis body. After some more rituals at intermediate points, he finally reaches the
main shrine at Sabarimala. Darshan of the deity here is attained after climbing 18 steps.
Ayyappa is seated on Srichakra with the feet folded at an angle and tied in a yoga pattam

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pose. The right hand shows Chinmudra and the left signifies to us to surrender at his lotus
feet. The eyes are welcoming and compassionate. The atmosphere inspires devotion.

Ayyappa the Jyoti

Tamaso Ma Jyotirgamaya Lead me from darkness to Light - runs a common Vedic
prayer. Lord Ayyappa is the Jyoti visible to the naked human eyes on the pinnacle of the
famed Sabari hills on the Makara Sankranthi day every year. Thus Ayyappa is associated
in the minds of one and all with Light. This Jyoti from above descends and takes the form of
a Vigraha on earth for us to offer our daily worship. When light appears, darkness takes to
heels without our having to make any extra effort. The darkness in mind, accumulated over
ages through crores of samskaras in many different births, is in fact a dark screen
enveloping a perpetually burning light source, viz. Atma. Hence when Ayyappas kataksha
(sidelong glance) of Light falls on us, the cover of darkness melts in a jiffy, burning away in
the process all our past karmas and blessing us with the right intellect so that our efforts,
aimed at happiness here and Liberation hereafter, bear fruit. The inner Light, already
present, stands unveiled.

There are 18 steps between him and us. These are the five karmendriyas (hands, feet,
tongue and organs of generation and excretion), five gnanendriyas (eyes, ears, tongue,
nose and the body), five Pranas (Prana, Apana, Vyana, Udana and Samana) and three
internal instruments (mind including chitta, intellect and Ahamkara). Unless all these 18
tools are employed favourably with the right intent, the desired fruit cannot be attained.
Worship should therefore be offered at the feet of Ayyappa for His continuous Grace for the
18 instruments to be directed in the right manner and the Light to descend in our heart,
dispelling the dark cover. There are many names in the Ayyappa Sahasranamam, pointing
to Light Mahatejas, Aharpati, Suryatejas, Sajyotis, Bhanuman, Tejas, Tejorasi, Tejasam
Pati, Mahabhasa, Bhanutejas, Sasibhasa, Vibhavasa, Ushastejas, Uduprabha,
Rajatadribhasa, Timiraghna, Mihirabha, Rajani-dhvamsi-sannibha, Aryamabhasa,
Grishmasurya-samaprabha, Jataveda-prabhakara, Rakendu-dyuti-sampanna etc. As we
chant the names with sincere prayer, Light will enter into our being.

Poorna and Pushkala

Like Ganapathi and Hanuman, Ayyappa is generally worshipped as a bachelor deity. As we
have seen above, Manikantan appeared as the son of Rajasekara Pandian and departed
from earth at the age of twelve, when he was a bachelor. Hence the deity of Ayyappa

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installed in Sabarimala is that of a bachelor god. However, just as Ganapathi is worshipped
occasionally along with his consorts Siddhi and Buddhi, Hariharaputra is also adored with
his two consorts named Poorna and Pushkala in many temples. There are legends alluding
to the Lord in his avatara on earth marrying the daughters of two kings, who were beholden
to him. It must however be remembered that as in the case of all goddesses, it is the
Shakti of Lord Ayyappa, who is worshipped as his consort or goddess. Shakti and
Shaktiman are inseparable like Sun and shine, Fire and heat, flower and fragrance. It is the
ever-present power of God, which is worshipped in the female form. This truth is
emphasised repeatedly in many places in our religious literature. This is in fact the truth we
cherish when we celebrate the marriages of gods like Radha with Krishna, Sita with Rama,
Meenakshi with Sundareswara, Ganapathi with Siddhi and Buddhi, Vali and Devasena with
Subrahmanya and also Ayyappa with Poorna and Pushkala. The significance of Poorna
and Pushkala runs very deep. Poorna is that power of the Lord which refers to his being
alone, complete, total, all-pervasive with nothing extraneous to the Lord and hence with no
want unfulfilled. Pushkala signifies plenty, fullness and prosperity. Poorna is the Supreme
state of knowledge of Atman with nothing to be known. Feeling of Pushkala, i.e.
magnificence or prosperity is not adequate in comparison with Poorna. Hence Pushkala
can be considered as an auspicious step in the path of attainment of Poorna. In other
words, Pushkala can be equated with mundane prosperity connected with ones sojourn on
this earth, tempered with spirituality and Poorna is the ultimate state beyond to be attained
here or hereafter.

Sastha Preethi, widely conducted in November-January period in many places, is an

occasion for us to offer our sincere prayer to the Lord. This Pooja generally includes
Ganapathi Homam, Rudrabhishekam, Laksharchana (offering of flowers in a lamp while
chanting the thousand names of Ayyappa by a hundred persons in one or more batches),
Bhajan, Annadanam etc. The repertoire of Bhajan songs in different languages and the
expert groups of singers have grown over the years. The bhajans and Namavalis help the
devotees to nurture their devotion prior to undertaking the journey and, while trekking to
and from Sabarimala, to draw the necessary inspiration to enjoy the difficult journey and
focus on Ayyappa and his exploits.

Ayyappa Gayatri mantra is as follows:

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We are aware of Bhutanatha, the Lord of all creation; we meditate on the son of Bhava
(Siva); may that Sasta inspire us (to attain the Supreme Reality).

The Namaskara slokas start with

I prostrate to Sastha, who is the most valorous in all worlds; worshipped by all; who
protects all; who is all-pervasive and who delights the heart of Parvathi.

'Harivarasanam' is a celebrated devotional song chanted just before closing the temple
doors at Sabarimala every night. It is written in eight stanzas, called 'Ashtakam'. It was
written by Kambakudi Kulathur Srinivasa Iyer, a guruswami, in 1947.

The first stanza runs as follows:

Repository of Haris boons; Enchanter of the universe,

Essence of Haris grace; He whose holy feet are worshipped,
He who kills enemies; He who always performs the cosmic dance,
Son of Hari and Hara; I take refuge in you, Oh Lord.
My refuge is in you Ayyappa, Oh Lord, My refuge is in you Ayyappa

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