Swami Ayyappan Affiliation Deva Abode Sabarimala, Kerala, India Mantra Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa Weapon Bow and arrow Mount Tiger
Ayyappan (Malayalam: അയ്യപ്പൻ) is a Hindu deity worshiped in a number of shrines across India. Ayyappan is believed to be an incarnation of Dharma Sastha, who is the son of Shiva and Vishnu (as Mohini). The name "Ayyappan" is used as a respectful form of address in the Malayalam language, spoken in the Indian state of Kerala. The mantra Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa can be translated as, "Oh Ayyappa! I seek refuge in you".
The most famous Ayyappa shrine in India is the one at Sabarimala, Kerala with over 30 million devotees visiting it every year, making it one of the largest pilgrimage sites in the world. See List of largest peaceful gatherings in history. A 2011 Sabarimala stampede killed around 100 people.
Ayyappa is known as "Harihara sudhan" because he is the son of Hari (Vishnu) the Saviour and Haran (Shiva) the destroyer. His most common name is Manikanta because when the king of Pandalam found him, there was a mani(bell ) tied around his neck.
Dharma Sastha as Ayyappan
As Dharma Sastha, some consider him to be born out of the union between Mohini (an Avatar of Vishnu), and Shiva.Muslims in Kerala also honour him through the legend of Vavar.
The 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 Durga, to fight and kill him. Thus, Mahishi began performing a fearsome set of austerities, and pleased the creator god Brahma. She asked for the boon of invulnerability, but Brahma said it was not possible so Mahishi planned and asked invulnerability to all men except by the son of Shiva and Vishnu. He granted her the boon of ruling the universe and being invulnerable except by the son of Shiva and Vishnu. 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 Kurma Avatar, he also had to manifest himself as Mohini, 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 beat Mahishi.
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 Sree Dharma Sastha was born. He combined in himself the powers of Vishnu and Shiva. Lord Ayyappan is a incarnation of Lord Sree Dharma Sastha and Lord Ayyappan is a visible embodiment of their essential identity. Sri Ayyappa belongs to Pandya Royal Community. He was the head of a clan. It is believed Sri Ayyappa merged to sri dharma sastha. Lord Vishnu gifted the new-born deity with a little bejeweled bell necklace, so this god is called Manikanthan Swamy. He is also called as Shasthappan by most South Indian communities.
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.
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 the King.
- 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 enemies.
- 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 forests.
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 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. 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 Dharma Sastha.
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.
In popular culture
In 1975, an Indian bilingual historical film titled Swami Ayyappan was made. The film was simultaneously made in Tamil and Malayalam, and became a tremendous box office success.
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