Ayyapan, the Celibate God
Ayyapan, the Celibate God of Kerala, is host to every
religious trend and practice the Hindu faith ever manifested in
its entire history. His temple is unique in India, in that there
is no distinction of caste or religion in determining who can
Non-Hindus are equally welcome. It might be more instructive
to talk about the Legend and History of Ayyappan, as the mythic
story always has a deeper resonance as well as more significant
spiritual truth in India.
The Legend and History of Ayyappan
The legend and history are intermingled in the genesis of
Ayyappan. It is believed that Ayyappan was born as progeny of the
union of Vishnu and Shiva. Vishnu appeared as Mohini, the
beautiful enchantress - the alluring damsel appearing at the time
of the churning of the Ocean Of Milk to entice the asuras and
divide the nectar (Arnrith) among the Devas themselves. Shiva
succumbed to the beauty of Mohini and Ayyappan was born out of
this union. Hence the name Hari Hara Putra - Hari (Vishnu), Hara
(Shiva), Putra (son). Ayyappan is regarded as the third son of
Shiva, the other two being Ganesha and Muruga.
According to another legend, the asura Bhasmasura obtained a
boon from Lord Shiva. Accordingly, whoever Bhasmasura touched on
the head with his hand would be turned into ashes. To test the
efficacy of this boon, Bhasmasura tried to touch the head of
Shiva himself. The frightened Shiva sought help from Vishnu. In
order to distract Bhasmasura, Vishnu appeared as the seductress
Mohini in front of Bhasmasura. Bhasmasura lost control of his
senses and asked Mohini to be his consort. Mohini agreed to his
request on condition that he should promise her by touching his
forehead that he would not take another wife. Bhasmasura readily
agreed to this condition and promised her by touching on his
forehead. Immediately, the boon given to him by Shiva became
effective and Bhasmasura was reduced to a heap of ashes. In the
meanwhile, Shiva was himself enticed by the charm and beauty of
Mohini and as a result of their union, Ayyappan was born on the
auspicious day of Makara Sankranthi, when the star Uttrarn was on
The child was abandoned on the banks of the Pampa River.
Meanwhile, King Rajasekhara of Panthalarn in Kerala, who belonged
to the Pandya dynasty of South India, was hunting in the forest.
He heard the cry of the child and afterwards found him lying on
the banks of the river, with a radiant face and a golden bell
tied around his neck. The King, who had no child of his own, took
him to the palace and brought him up as his own son. He was named
Manikanda because of the gold bell found around his neck.
Soon after this incident, the Queen conceived and gave birth
to a son. Both sons grew up in the palace as brothers. When the
time came to decide on the heirapparent, the Queen favoured her
own son and the King nominated Manikanda as the Prince
(Yuvaraja). The Queen conspired with the Chief Minister and
thought out a plan to get rid of Manikanda.
She feigned sickness and prevailed upon the palace physician
to prescribe a medicine which included the milk of a tigress.
Manikanda was assigned to the task of fetching the tigress milk
and was sent out to the forest. The intention was to get him
killed by wild animals in the process.
The King advised Manikanda to take along a coconut of
tri-netrom (three eyed coconut) to represent Shiva in order to
protect him and some food items to sustain him till his return,
in a cloth bundle known as irumudi which was to be carried upon
During his wanderings in the forest of Sabari, the battle
between Mahishi and Ayyappan took place at the bank of Azhutha.
Ayyappan killed Mahishi and threw the dead body into a nearby
place called Kallidurnkunnu. Mahishi's soul emerged and was
redeemed from a curse sustained from her previous life when she
was known as Leela. She requested Ayyappan to marry her and take
her as his consort. As Manikandan was to be a Brahmachari
(celibate ascetic), he refused her request, but he agreed to give
her a place as his Shakti on Sabari Hill. This place is now known
as Malikapurathamma shrine.
Manikanda returned to the palace, using Devendra the king of
Devas, to take the form of a ferocious tigress and riding on it
accompanied by a fleet of tigresses. The King and the Queen were
amazed and they realized that Manikanda was an avatar, a human
incarnation of Shiva, and prayed for his mercy.
The king wished to have an abode made in his memory.
Accordingly, a sanctum was built to install an idol made of
panchaloha (an alloy of five metals), climbing 18 steps to reach
the sanctum. These 18 steps to represent 5 indriyas, 8 ragas, 3
gunas, vidya and avidya.
Ayyappan also advised the king of the nature of the
austerities to be observed before the pilgrimage to this temple.
On the day of consecration and installation of the idol, amidst
the sound of saranam chanting and conches, pipes and drums,
Ayyappan was transformed into a stroke of lightning and got
absorbed in the idol of Dharma Sasta. This was his birthday, the
auspicious day of Makara Sankrathi.
The birth and mission of Ayyappa or Dharma Sastha are
mentioned in the Vedas and Puranas. But the details of His life
and works are found only in legends orally handed down from
generation to generation. These legends vary considerably in
their descriptive parts. The variations are in accordance with
the tastes, preferences and beliefs of the people of a particular
locality or state. So, in order to have a concrete idea of the
Incarnation and mission of Dharma Sastha, the Vedas, Puranas and
legends have to be carefully studied and assimilated.
Lord Ayyappa teaches us the scared principle of brotherhood to
remain happy and peaceful. We go in herds to His sacred shrine
and He is pleased. Truth, fidelity, devotion and hard work are
His ways to kill evil. With these virtues He subdued Mahishi, the
incarnation of all sin and evil. His teachings transcend time and
help to solve the riddles of human misery.
The Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala in the Pathanamthitta District
of Kerala state is a famous pilgrim centre. For many centuries,
Sabarimala has been an important pilgrim centre attracting lakhs
of devotees from all over India, especially from the southern
The presiding deity is Lord Ayyappa known as Dharma Sastha.
This well-known pilgrim centre is in the rugged terrains of the
Western Ghats, Sahyadri and it is inaccessible except by foot.
Pilgrims have to negotiate long stretches of the thick forests
and tall mountains infested with all sorts of wild animals.
Pilgrims to Sabarimala cannot be undertaken at all seasons
because it requires long preparations and fixed timings. The 5 km
stretch from Pamba to the shrine can only be reached by trekking.
The main pilgrimage season is November to January.
The annual Makara Vilakku Pooja is being conducted in the
month of January between 12th and 14th; the last day of the
celebration being MAKARA SANKRANTHI (vernal equinox) Day. Mandala
Pooja extends to 41 days prior to Makara Sankranthi Day.
January 14, every year, synchronizing with the day of
Sankramom (crossing of the sun from Dhakshinayana to the
Uttarayana) is the most important festival day of the temple. On
this day, lakhs of pilgrims flock to the shrine for worship. Here
they see the Makara Vilakku, the appearance of a spontaneous
phenomenon of strange light in the distance indicating the
presence of God, and return ennobled and strengthened in
Situated not far from the Sabarimala temple , there is a
shrine in the name of Vavar, a Muslim of great valour. Vavar was
said to be a close associate of Sri Ayyappa. It is a rare feature
of the pilgrimage to Sabarimala that the Hindu pilgrims offer
worship at this shrine of Vavar also during their trip,
indicating the communal harmony that prevailed in Kerala for
ages. During the entire pilgrimage, all distinction of caste and
class are forgotten.
A devotee who wishes to perform the pilgrimage should undergo
forty-one day´s penance consisting of strict celibacy,
morning and evening ablutions, growing of beard and daily
prayers. Saranamvili or the call of dedication and refuge in Lord
Ayyappa is an essential part of the daily worship.The 3
austerities prescribed for devotees are Austerity of body
(Purity, uprightness, continence and non violence), Austerity of
mind (Tranquility, gentleness, silence, self control and purity
of thought), and Austerity of speech (speech that causes no
annoyance to others, truthful, pleasant and beneficial and
recitation of scriptures).
Vegetarianism has been prescribed during the 41 days vritharn
to help achieve the above austerities. Brahmacharya (continence)
will help convert the physical energy to spiritual energy. Self
surrender leads to self realization. The self that surrenders is
the ego and the self that realizes is God. The carrying of
irrurnudi on the head and chanting of saranammantrain is a total
surrender to God.