Dharmasasta, Hariharasudhan, Manikandan, Manikanth, Sathanar, Sastan, Cattan (from Sanskrit Â Sasta), Ayyanar, Natrayan, Nattarasan, Bhutanathan, Pandala Raja, Kumararaja ,Shastha, Ariyan and Pamba Vaasan, wondering what are these !!! These are other names of Lord Ayyappa. Lord Ayyappa is worshipped in a number of shrines across India at Kulathupuzha, in Kerala he is worshipped as a child; at Achenkovil conjunction with his consorts, Pushkala and Poorna; and at Sabarimala as an ascetic – a celibate meditating in solitude for the benefit of all mankind.Â The name “Ayyappa” is used as a respectful form of address in Malayalam, and the famous mantra Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa can be directly translated as “I surrender to Lord Ayyappa”
The hill shrine of Sabarimala and its deity Lord Ayyappa is matchless in Hindu religion and peculiar to the Kerala State in South India. This forest abode of Lord Ayyappa is in the Western Ghats of India.
Lord Ayyappa being born out of Mohini (the female incarnation of Lord Vishnu) and Lord Shiva. 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. He granted her the boon of ruling the universe and being invulnerable except to a being that had the combined strength of both 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 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 Basmasura had so pleased lord Shiva with his austerities that Shiva gave him a boon of anything he wished. So Basmasura asked for the ability to burn to ashes anything which he placed his hand over. No sooner had Shiva granted this, than Basmasura ran after the god, threatening to turn him to ashes.
Shiva called to lord Vishnu for help. He hid himself in a certain tree as Basmasura 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 Basmasura saw Vishnu in this form, he was bewitched by her beauty. He earnestly tried to court her. So Vishnu instructed Basmasura to hold his hand over his head, and vow fidelity. With this act, Basmasura 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” (Shiva’s seed caught in Mohini’s hands, per one version of the story). The two gods thus became “HariHara Murthy”, that is a composite form of Shiva and Vishnu as one god.
From this union lord Ayyappa was born. He combines 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. The Tamils call him Ayyanar, and he is also called Shastha or Shasthappan by most South Indian communities.
There are several temples dedicated to Lord Ayyappa all over India. Among these the important temples along the Western Ghats are: Kulathupuzha – Ayyappa is a child here, Aryyankavu – He is a bachelor here, Achankovil – here he is as Dharmasastha with Poorna and Pushkala (his wives) Sabarimala – here he is a yogi, meditating for the benefit of all.
Sabarimala (Mount Sabari – about 3000 feet above sea level) is the most favorite and significant temple in Kerala. Pilgrimage to this temple symbolizes the journey to heaven. The journey of spiritual candidate to Sabarimala is difficult and adventurous. The pilgrims observe severe austerities, wearing rudraksha or tulsi beads strings in the neck and trek up the forest to reach the temple. The feeling of delight and spiritual elevation one gets when devotees have the darshan of the deity is remarkable and significant. The magnetic charm is so high, it makes any devotee, who undertakes the yatra (pilgrimage) once, to revisit the shrine every year in quest of spiritual solace. The pilgrims undergo 41 days of fast to cleanse the mind. He carries on his head, the holy ghee for the Lord’s Abisheka filled in coconut in “Irumudi” (two compartment cloth bag). The temple is open only to males and menopausal females (beyond 50 years of age) and little girls below 10 years of age. This is because the Lord is a chaste yogi in Sabarimala. The male pilgrims are called ‘Ayyappa’ and the female pilgrims are called ‘Malikappuram’.
The shrine is open only during specific period in a year. It is open from Mid- November to Mid-January and for first five days of every Malayalam month.
lrumudi is the only traveling 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.
After filling the holy coconut with ghee and packing the essentials for offering Lord Ayyappa in the Irumudi (called ketunira), the Guru places the sacred Irumudi on head of the pilgrims chanting Saranam. The pilgrims leave the place without looking at anyone and bidding goodbye to family or friends. Walking barefoot the pilgrims proceed to realise the Self and attain Lord Ayyappa.
It is said that chanting the name of the Guru is equivalent to chanting the name of Lord Shiva, Guru’s abode is Kashi Shetram and water used to wash Guru’s feet is Ganga.Â The role of the Guru is significant in the Ayyappa cult. The Guruswamy is usually an elderly person who has undertaken pilgrimage to Sabarimala not less than seven consecutive years in the traditional long route and had darshan of Makara Jothi. The devotees treat the Guruswamy as Ayyappa 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 Thiruvabaranam box – still the private property of the Pandalam royal family, starts it journey two days before Makara Jothi day from Pandalam. The person who carries the box dances in a trance that can be believed only by who witnesses it. Thiruvabaranam travels through Valiakoikkal Sastha temple at Pandalam, Ayiroor Puthia Kavu Temple, Perunattil temple, Vlakkai, Nilaikkal Siva temple, Vellachimala,
Pamba and Sabari Peedam before reaching at Sannidhanam around 6.00 PM on the Makara Jothi day. Every year a Garuda hovers and flies above the ThiruvabaranamÂ boxes as if to guard them.
On reaching the Sannidhanam the Melshanthi and Thandhri receive the sacred jewels amidst of thundering echoes of Sarana ghosham. The Thiruvabaranam box contains a diamond crown, golden bracelets, necklaces and a sword. The priests adorn the Lord with these and perform arathi.
At the same moment a brilliant light of amazing magnificence appears in the northeastern side to the temple at opposite mountain in a place called Kantamala (the home of devas and rishis). It is believed that this brilliant flame of light is the arathi performed by the rishis and the devas. This event marks the culmination of the pilgrimage to Sabarimala.Â It is widely believed by the devotees (especially those coming from outside the state of Kerala) that this Jyothi appears miraculously at Ponnambalamedu (believed to be the abode of Swami Ayyappa, the presiding deity of Sabarimala temple) and is the celestial manifestation of the god Ayyappa himself. Some others believe that the Jyothi is the Arati performed by the rishis and devas residing in the Kantamala hills. The Makara Jyothi marks the climax of the Makaravilakku season of Sabarimala pilgrimage lasting 41 days.
Makara Vilakku : After the jothi, that night Malikappurathuamma, mounted on an elephant comes in a procession to the Patinettampadi (18 steps ) and returns back to her abode. This is the beginning of the Makara Vilakku festival. This festival lasts for seven days. Many pilgrims stay back till this festival is over and Kuruthi pooja (offering of water mixed with chunnambu and turmeric powder to the forest deities) is performed.Â Even some who leave Sabarimala after witnessing the Jothi observe fasting till the Makara Villaku and Kuruthi pooja is complete at Sabarimala.
There are three routes to Sabarimala – (a) The Erumeli route (b) The Vandiperiyar route (c) The Chalakayam route. The Erumeli route, used by Ayyappa himself during his forest expedition to kill Mahishi.
The important places the pilgrim crosses between Erumeli and Sannidhanam are:
Perur Thodu, Kalaketti, Azhutha, Inchiparakota, Karimala, Pampa, Sabari Peetam, Saramkuthi, Pathinettam padi
Built on a plateau about 40 feet high, the Ayyappa temple commands a lofty view of the mountains and valleys all around. The ancient temple has been rebuilt after a fire in 1950, consisting of a sanctum sanctorum with a copper-plated roof and four golden finials at the top, two mandapams, the belikalpura which houses the altar, and the flag-staff Replacing the earlier stone image of the deity is a beautiful idol of Ayyappa in panchaloha, an alloy of five metals, about one and a half feet tall.
There are several explanations regarding the significance of the Patinettampadi, but in all of them, the emphasis is on the number 18. One popular belief is that the first 5 steps signify the five indriyas or senses, the next 8 the ragas, the next 3 the gunas, followed by vidya and avidya. Crossing these would take the devotee closer to self-realisation.Â There are many mythology associated with the holy Patinettampadi. Some believe the eighteen steps denotes the 18 puranas. Some say that 18 weapons with which Lord Ayyappa destroyed the evil denotes the 18 steps.
Originally it was granite stone of 5 to 6 feet wide. Now it is covered by panchloha in the year 1985. The steep steps are so important and holy, no one can climb them without fasting for 41 days and carrying the holy irrumudi on head.
The Patinettampadi can be used only twice – once for ascending the temple and once for descending below leaving the hill. Before ascending or descending the steps, pilgrims break coconut as an offering to the steps. One needs to have the sacre Irumudi on head while going up or down the 18 steps. While descending the steps the devotees climb down backwards facing the sanctum sanctorum. One who climbs the Patinettampadi for 18 times shall plant a sapling of coconut in Sabarimala.