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Ayyappan, is a
deity. Lord Ayyappan is worshiped in a number of shrines across
he is worshiped as a child; at
Achenkovil in conjunction with his consorts, Pushkala and Poorna;
Sabarimala as an
ascetic - a celibate meditating in solitude for the benefit of
all mankind. The name "Ayyappan" is used as a respectful form of
Malayalam, and the famous mantra Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa
can be directly translated as Give me shelter, Lord Ayyappa!
He is considered to be born out of the union between
The most famous Ayyappa shrine in India
is the one at
Sabarimala with over 50 million devotees visiting it every year,
making it the second largest pilgrimage in the world.
Ayyappa is known as "Hariharan Puthiran" because he is the son of
Hari (Vishnu) and Haran (Shiva). His most common name is Manikanta
because soon after his birth his parents tied a necklace with a bell
(mani) around his neck (kantam).
asura princess Mahishi was burning up with anger at the trick
the gods had pulled on her brother, the asura king
Mahishasura. As Mahishasura was blessed with invulnerability to
all men, the gods had sent goddess
to fight and kill him. Thus, Mahishi began performing a fearsome set
of austerities, and pleased the creator god
He granted her the boon of ruling the universe and being
invulnerable except to a being that had not been born from a Woman's
womb. Since such a person did not exist, she thought she was safe
and began conquering and plundering the world.
The gods implored Shiva and Vishnu to save them from this
catastrophe. Vishnu found a possible solution to the problem. When
Vishnu had taken on the
Avatar, he also had to manifest himself as
the enchantress, to save the nectar of immortality (ambrosia or
amrit) from the demons who were not willing to share it with the
gods. If he became Mohini again, then the female Mohini and the male
Shiva could have the divine child who would combine their powers and
Some versions give a slightly more detailed version of the union
of Shiva with Vishnu. One version tells that the asura Bhasmasura
had so pleased Lord Shiva with his austerities that Shiva gave him a
boon of anything he wished. So Bhasmasura asked for the ability to
burn to ashes anything which he placed his hand over. No sooner had
Shiva granted this, than Bhasmasura ran after the god, threatening
to turn him to ashes.
Shiva called to Lord Vishnu for help. He hid himself in a peepal
tree as Bhasmasura ran here and there searching for the god. Vishnu
became aware of the events, and decided that he would take the
female form Mohini, "the Enchanting", and try to trump the asura's
powers. When Bhasmasura saw Vishnu in this form, he was bewitched by
her beauty. He earnestly tried to court her. So Vishnu instructed
Bhasmasura to hold his hand over his head, and vow fidelity. With
this act, Bhasmasura was reduced to ashes.
Vishnu found Shiva and explained the whole affair to him. Shiva
asked if he too could see Vishnu in this female form. When Vishnu
appeared thus, Shiva was overcome with passion, and united with her.
The two gods thus became "Harihara Murthi", that is a composite form
of Shiva and Vishnu as one god.
From this union, Lord Ayyappan was born. He combined in himself
the powers of Vishnu and Shiva, and is a visible embodiment of their
essential identity. Lord Vishnu gifted the new-born deity with a
little bejeweled bell necklace, so this god is called Manikanthan
Swamy. He is also called Shastha or Shasthappan by most South Indian
In most Tamil versions of the story, the legend ends with the
birth of the god, and with his passage around the region. But in
Kerala, the story continues with Ayyappan's adoption by the Pandalam
Raja, and the subsequent encounter with Mahisi.
Manikandan entered the forest to fulfill his divine duty, to rid
the world of the demoness Mahishi. Manikantan killed her and
released a beautiful woman who had been cursed to become Mahishi.
The young woman asked Ayyappan for his hand in marriage, but he
declined, being a celibate. However, he promised that she would be
visited by pilgrims and would be housed next to his temple, and if
the number of new pilgrims visiting him stopped, then he would marry
her. Hence she is now worshiped as
Maalikapurathamma. Another version of the story tells that
Maalikapurathamma was a young girl in
Cheerappanchira family where Ayyappan was trained for Kalari
On the death of Mahishi,
- the king of the gods, who was displaced and banished by Mahishi,
led several tigers for the disposal of Ayyappan.
Days later, Manikantan entered the palace precincts riding a
fierce tigress, followed by a pack of her cubs. The schemers were
frightened into confessing their plot. 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. Immediately Manikantan
disappeared. The king would not eat anything if Manikantan did not
come back. Then Manikantan gave a vision (Darshan) to the king.
Filled with emotions of happiness, grief, fear, wonder, 'Bhakti'
(devotion to God) and self-surrender, the king prayed for the mercy
and blessings of Manikantan. He repented he could not fully
visualize the truth of the divine powers of the Lord and requested
Him to forgive him for behaving as if He were his son only. The Lord
lovingly embraced the King, who prayed to bless him by freeing him
from birth and rebirth and grant
(salvation). He told the King that he was destined to return. The
king implored Lord Manikantan to allow him to build a temple and
dedicate it to him and the Lord assented.
Manikantan then enlightened the King about how he could attain
Moksha. The Lord shot an arrow that fell at the top of
Sabarimala and told the King that he must construct a temple at
Sabarimala, north of the holy river
Pampa and install His deity there. Ayyappan also explained how
the Sabarimala pilgrimage shall be undertaken, emphasizing the
importance of Penance
vratham and what the devotees can attain by His 'darshan'.
But before the departure of the Lord, the King secured a promise
from the Lord that on thai Pongal on January 14, every year,
(celebrated as "Makara Jyothi" all his personal jewellery (usually
kept at the Palace) will adorn His image at Sabarimala. The Royal
Garuda flies ahead, and guides the pilgrims throughout their
journey. This Garuda was the sole and absolute signal, even to the
Temple authorities at Sabarimala to get ready for the adorning of
the jewels. After the statue is adorned, there is an Aarti (offering
by burning Camphor). The miracle is that just after the Aarti, the
Jyothi appears on the east side of the Temple above the Hills of
But then the Lord consoled the King saying that the devotees who
held him and his descendants in 'Bhakti' shall be devoted to Him as
well. Manikantan then blessed the King and all others assembled
there, and vanished. The King duly constructed the temple at
Sabarimala, dedicated to him. The deity for installation was
prepared by Parasurama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and was
installed by himself.
Appam and Aravana (Payasam
made of rice,
jaggery) are the prasadams of the
needed] The Raja of
Pandalam admitted Ayyappa to a famous
(a gymnasium where the traditional martial arts of
Kalaripayattu are taught) at
Alappuzha district. The young daughter, Leela, of
Panicker fell in love with Ayyappa. Ayyappa was so involved in
his studies that he didn't notice the girl's infatuation. It's also
believed that she later became
Maalikapurathamma, who was dejected when Lord Ayyappa refused
her marriage proposal, after offering her a seat in Saram kuthi
near Sabarimala Devasthanam.[citation
Soon the girl started bringing him food to capture his attention.
Time passed by and the girl reached puberty. Her family, following
Hindu tradition, prepared special cuisines to celebrate the
occasion. One mandatory item on the menu is Rthumathikanji
(porridge made using rice and five times the usual quantity of
jaggery). On that day she took this porridge to Ayyappa, who was
practising payattu in the
He liked it very much and requested the girl to bring only the
porridge everyday. It is believed that the practice of offering
Aravana as prasadam to the God was born from this incident.[citation
Lord Ayyappa is the presiding deity of Sabarimala temple. There
are many popular stories associated with Him among the devotees. The
stories differ, but there are certain common elements:
- Ayyappa lived in the Pandalam Palace as the son / savior of
- He had super-human or divine knowledge, wisdom, and courage
and loved the King and his people.
- He protected the King and the kingdom from the attacks of
- At the end of His life in Pandalam, He vanished into the
forests and is ever since worshiped at the Sabarimala temple.
The most popular and widely accepted story tells that Lord
Ayyappa had His human sojourn as the son of the Raja of Pandalam. At
that time, Raja Rajasekhara ruled the kingdom of Pandalam. During
one of his hunting expeditions, the Raja was puzzled to hear the
wails of a child on the banks of the river Pampa, and was surprised
to find a resplendent infant there. The beautiful baby with radiant
face wore a bead ('mani') around his neck. The King, though pious,
charitable, just, and God-fearing, had no children. He accepted the
child as God's gracious response to his fervent prayer for an heir
to his throne. Manikantan grew into a boy well versed in academic
lore and martial arts. Meanwhile the Rani gave birth to a son. The
King regarded Manikantan as his elder son. He decided to crown him
as the Yuvaraja. The King's corrupt Minister had had a deep dislike
for Manikantan, and made the innocent Queen believe that ill would
befall her if Manikantan was crowned Yuvaraja and that the kingdom
actually belonged to her son.
They conspired to get rid of Manikantan by hook or crook. They
bribed the royal physician into becoming an accomplice of theirs.
The Rani pretended to be afflicted with severe pain in the stomach,
and the physician prescribed the milk of a tigress as the only cure.
The King knew that none could be deputed for a mission that was so
patently suicidal. However, the youthful and valiant Manikantan
stepped forth and volunteered to fetch the milk. Despite the worried
protestations of his foster-father, he set out for the fearful
Days later, Manikantan entered the palace precincts riding a
fierce tigress and followed by a pack of its cubs. The schemers were
frightened into confessing their nefarious plot. They and others now
knew 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. However, Manikantan was
now determined to leave the place.
Filled with happiness, grief, fear, wonder and 'bhakthi'
(devotion to God) and self-surrender, the king prayed for the mercy
and blessings of Manikantan. He repented he could not fully
visualize the truth of the divine powers of the Lord and repeatedly
requested Him to forgive him for behaving as if He were only his
son. The Lord lovingly embraced the King who continued to pray: "
Lord, kindly bless me by freeing me from my egos and the worldly
life of birth and rebirth and grant me ' moksha’ (salvation). Kindly
continue to be the saviour of my family and stay eternally in my
kingdom.” Manikantan then enlightened the King on the path of
attainment of 'moksha'. These words of the Lord are contained in ‘Bhuthanathageetha'.
To the King who is by now mentally cleansed and completely immersed
in 'bhakthi', Lord Ayyappa said: "I am to free you from all worldly
sorrows & worries 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." The Lord told
the King that he could construct a temple at Sabarimala, north of
the holy river Pampa and install His deity there. Ayyappa also
explained how the Sabarimala pilgrimage shall be undertaken,
emphasizing the importance of 'vrutham' and what the devotees can
attain by His 'darshan'.
The Lord further consoled the King saying that the devotees who
held him and his descendants in 'bhakthi' shall happen to be devoted
to Him as well. Manikantan then blessed the King and all others
assembled there, and vanished. The King duly constructed the temple
at Sabarimala, dedicated to Him.
There are various tales connected with Lord Ayyappa: the
discovery of the child at Pampa, Manikantan's youthful days in the
Pandalam palace, bestowing the power of hearing and speaking upon
the deaf and dumb son of His teacher as Guru-dakshina, His
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. Legend also goes to say that
Manikantan was the incarnation of Lord Dharma Sastha. Raja
Rajasekhara was in his previous birth a rich and pious 'brahmin ' by
name Vijayan who was a very strong believer and devotee of Lord
A collection of legends called Ithihyamala, first published in
1904, gives a slightly different version. In it, the Raja of Madurai
finds Ayyappan, as a young man well versed in archery, in a forest.
The story follows the same pattern as above except that the Raja
recognises him as an Avatar or incarnation of Shastha. This story
explains why members of the Pandalam Royal Family even today do not
stand directly in front of the sanctum sanctorum at Sabarimalai.
This version puts Ayyappan as a Senapathi, or Captain, of the
Pandyan army whose popularity and influence with the King was
disliked by locals.
The Pandala Raja constructed a small temple, 18 steps above the
ground as instructed by the lord himself.[citation
needed] Each of these eighteen holy steps represents a
desire one must conquer in life. The 18 steps and the temple have in
recent times been coated in gold. The original vigraham was a wooden
idol, and was inaugurated by
Parashurama (incarnation of
The common cry heard during the pilgrimages to his shrine is "Swamiye
Sharanam Ayyappa!" ("Oh Swami, we take refuge in you").
Sabarimala begins from the 1st of
Vrichikam, a Malayalam month which begins in mid-November. The
most important day for Ayyappan is
Makarasankranti Day, which is the 1st of
which falls between January 14–16. Devotees come from all parts of
to Sabarimala for a glimpse of Lord Ayyappan, having undertaken 41
As the jewels are placed on the statue inside the temple, the
devotees outside chant "Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa". The entire
hillside reverberates with the chant "Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa" as
the devotees witness this Darshan, as the Devas and celestial
Rishis arrive at Sabarimala to participate in birthday
celebrations of Ayyappan effulgence. The devotees then climb the 18
holy gold steps to arrive at the sanidhanam where they get a
glimpse of the statue, Manikanta Shri Dharmasastha, adorned with
lrumudi is the only travelling kit which a pilgrim carries on his
head during the pilgrimage. Only those who observe fasting for 41
days are allowed to carry it. Without the Irumudi one is not allowed
to step onto the holy 18 steps at the Sannidhanam.
This bag is in two compartments - the Munmudi (the front part)
and the Pinmudi (the back part) & the opening at centre. The front
portion is reserved for keeping all the puja articles and offerings
to the deity while the rear part is meant to hold the pilgrims
personal requirements for the journey.
Front portion contains Mudra bags, consisting of 2 - 3 in numbers
- one for the GheeCoconut and the other two for the remaining
offerings. Items for Vazhipadu (offering) at the Sannidhanam that is
kept in the front compartment of the Irumudi are as under:
Coconut filled with ghee for Abhishekam (bathing the idol of the
Lord)+Coconut (vidalai thengai) 2 to 4 nos. Beetel leaves Beetel Nut
Coins for offering Jaggery (achuvellam) Cashew Raisins Dry ginger
Poha (thin & thick variety) Cardamoms Dates Honey Avil ( beaten
rice) Kadhi Chakkar Dried turmeric tubers Turmeric powder Blouse
piece Kumkum Vibhooti Sandal paste Sambarani Camphor Agarbathi
(Incense stick) Rosewater Lemon Rice and Dal for offering.
Preperation for the offering to the Lord:
+ Coconut for ghee Abhishekam : Well before the Kettunira time,
select a medium size coconut. Clean and polish the outer shell using
a polishing paper. With a pointed instrument, open one eye of the
coconut and empty the coconut water. Close it with a cork of correct
size. The coconut is now in readiness for the Kettunira.
- Coconut (Vidalai Thengai) one each to be broken at Erumeli,
Sharam Kutti and two for Padinettampadi (the sacred 18 steps -
once while climbing up for Shasta Darshan with the Irumudi and
2nd while returning after the worship
- Part of the jaggery, cashew, raisin, cardamom, honey and
dates can be used to make Panchamrutam for the Neivedya; part of
the jaggery, dry ginger and cardamom can be used for preparing 'Panagam'
Items for use of the pilgrim from the day of commencement of the
journey after Kettunira till the return is kept in the back
compartment or the Pin Mudi, which are as under : Some snacks which
one may require now and then during the trip and other raw materials
for food items to be prepared during the journey. And pulses and
rice needed for cooking can be included in Pinmudi
Devotees observe traditional austerities (vruthams) before their
pilgrimage to sabarimala. Austerities normally start from the first
day of the Malayalam month Vrishchikam. Devotees initiate the
vrutham by wearing a Thulasi or a Rudraksha mala.
After this ceremony, the pilgrims are addressed as ayyapan
until their completion of the pilgrimage.
During the period of vrutham, devotees are expected to undergo
practices of simple living, and absolute cleanliness. The mind and
body are to be kept impeccably pure and absolute celibacy is
practised. Total abstinence from all vices like alcohol, tobacco and
non-vegetarian food is stipulated. Personal adornments, hair
cutting, shaving, are also taboo. The devotee is expected wear
black/blue/saffron clothes, and pray daily in the mornings and
evenings after bathing. The prayer ritual may be performed by going
to any temple or in one's own pooja room. Those devotees who are
desirous of worshipping Lord Ayyappa on 'Makara Vilakku' day may
continue their vrutham till that day. The vrutham continues till the
pilgrim returns from his pilgrimage to Sabarimala and removes his
`mala' after breaking a coconut and offering prayers.
The life of the man can be improved and re-energized by
performing Tapas or austerity. Tapas may be performed in body,
speech and mind as per 'Gita'. When man applies himself to these
three components, he changes for the better.
The role of the Guru is significant in the Ayyappa cult. The
Guruswamy is usually an elderly person who has undertaken the
pilgrimage to Sabarimala not less than eighteen times and has
travelled by the traditional long route, and had darshan of Makara
Jothi. The devotees treat the Guruswamy as Ayyappan himself. It is
important that pilgrims gain knowledge from the Guru on all the
aspect of the Pilgrimage. One should serve the Guru physically,
mentally and verbally.
The pilgrims should give the due respect and reverence which the
Guru deserves. All instructions of the Guru should be carried out
without fail. The Guru will enlighten the Shishyas about the
austerities to be followed. He will teach them the slokas, and ways
to perform pooja and bhajans. He shall prepare them for the
pilgrimage mentally and physically and lead the pilgrims safely and
comfortably to Sabarimala.