Swami Ayyappan: The Reality and the Asianet Myth
You can see Aiyanar and Aiyappan in Tamil Nadu : Change and Continuity in South Indian Hinduism : http://sadhanandaswamigal.blogspot.com/2017/02/aiyanar-and-aiyappan-in-tamil-nadu.html
The popular Malayalam serial Swami Ayyappan on Asianet TV is a children’s version of the Sabarimala myth. It reiterates that Sabarimala is abode of the divinity of prince Manikantan, and that it was founded by a king of Pandalam. The real story of Sabarimala temple and the reasons for the fabrication of the myth of Ayyappan illuminate some dark pages in history. The Sabarimala temple is consideably older than mere 800 years as suggested by the serial makers. While some claim that it was one of the sixty-four temples established by Parasuraman, some others claim that it was a Shiva temple of great antiquity. Buddhists claim that it was a Buddhist temple, and orthodox Christians living in the area claim that Sabarimala was named after one of their bishops.
Sabarimala (0929N 7706E) falls in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala. It is the destination of world’s second largest annual pilgrimage, after Mecca. This annual Hindu pilgrimage takes place between mid-November (Malayalam month of Vrschikam) to mid-January. The temple is open for worship from 15 November to 26 December (for mandalapuja), on 15 January (for makaravilakku), on 14 April ( for Vishu), and on the first five days of each Malayalam month. Although guesstimates put the number of annual pilgrims to Sabarimala between 5 – 50 million, a head count by the ‘India Eco-Development Project’ puts the number at about 4 million during peak Mandalapuja-Makaravilakku season since 1998-99. It stated that 3,943,776 pilgrims (including 96,017 women [pre-10 and post-50 age groups] and 488,718 children) visited the shrine between Nov 15 and Jan 20, 2000-2001. Of these, 2,753,767 came during the Mandala season (Nov 15 to Dec 26). For details, see The Hindu, (Kochi edn.) Dec. 4. 2001)
Pilgrims undertake a 41-day ritual fasting which include wearing black shirt, mundu, necklace of beads, practicing utmost cleanliness, not uttering any curses, etc. besides abstention from sex and non-vegetarian and rajasic food. Carrying irumudi on thier heads, the pilgrims trekup a narrow and steep four-kilometer forest trail to reach the temple situated at a height of 1260 meters in Western Ghats. Pilgrims prefer the long and arduous 61 km Erumeli route through forest and hill track to the shorter—13 km Vandiperiyar route on the Kotayam-Kumili road, and the 8 km Chalakayam route near Pampa. Officially, tourists, foreigners, and women of the menstruating age are not entry to the main temple.
Pilgrims address each other as ayyappan or swami and chant Swamiye Saranamayyappa. He is supposed to see in all living and non-living the manifestation of the Supreme Being: they call donkeys (kazhutha) that carries the goods up the mountains as kazhuthaswamy, human excreta as bhuswami. By doing so, theytry to recognize that all manifest realities are nothing but the manifestations of the same transcendental reality. Recognising the the divine in others and realizing the ultimate advaitic knowledge tatvam asi—that the paramatma (universal soul), not different from the jeevatma (one’s life soul) is the essence of Hindu pilgrimages.
Sabarimala in history
Ayyappan’s lived in the 12th century AD. According to the website of the Pandalam royal family, Pandalam kingdom was established in 903 AD (79 ME) by the descendents of the Pandya kings of Madurai. The Chera–Chola war (985-1085) weakened Kerala’s Chera dynasty and strengthened Pandyan incursion into Punjar and Pandalam. By 1194 (370 ME) they ruled over 1000 sq. miles Airur Swarupam, which included Sabarimala, with the help of the friendly Ay kings of Venad.
After the death of Maravaramban Kulasekara Pandyan of Madurai in 1308, his sons Viran and Sundaran fought for the throne and Viran sought the assistance of Khilji sultanate of Delhi. In 1311, Malik Kafur, the general of Alauddin Khilji (r.1296–1316) sacked and occupied Madurai until 1371 when it was annexed by Vijayanagar which appointed its nayaks (governors) to rule Madurai. Having lost to Malik Kafur, fleeing Pandyans joined the Pandyan settlements at Punjar and Pandalam. King Rajasekhara (c 1200 AD) of Pandalam, Manikantan’s adopted father, was of Pandyan descend.
There is no clear evidence about the befinning of Sabarimala pilgrimage. Three centuries after the founding of the temple, a later pandalam king, along with the descendants of the Vavar family, rediscovered the path, re-established the pilgrimage and renovated the temple . Erumely, where they rested, is the sopt of Erumely Pettathullal. Even now, new pilgrims thrust arrows at Saramkuthy where they laid down arms.
Pandalam was added to Travancore in 1821. Following Col. John Munroe’s directive, Travancore Dewaswam Board began to administer Sabarimala temple along with other temples. ‘Memoirs of Travancore’ by William Henry Horsley (1839) speaks of Chowrymully: “Among the other pagodas of celebrity that of Ayapen at Chowrymully attracts particular attention, vast numbers (and many even from the eastern coast) flocking to it at the period of festival in January, to present their vows and offerings, notwithstanding that it is situated in the wildest country possible.”
The temple was remodeled in 1905 and an idol was installed in 1910. Some religious miscreants burned down the temple in sometime in 1950 and the incident was known only after a month. The fire destroyed the temple and the Stone Idol of Ayyappan. The Govt. of Kerala and the Devaswam board renovated the temple in 1951 and a new Panchaloha idol was installed in May by thantri Kantaru Sankararu of Thazhaom, Chengannur. After the conflagration in 1971, the temple underwent a major revamp.
Historical and Mythical Ayyappan
Ayyappan does not figure in any classical Hindu scripture or mythology. But, devotees believe that he is Hariharaputhra, son of Vishnu (Hari) who assumed feminine form as Mohini and Shiva (Hara). The baby born of their union was adopted by the childless king Rajasekhara. The boy was also called Manikantan (jewel-necked) as he had a jewel on his neck. He survived several attempts on his life and lived in the palace for 18 years. Meanwhile, the queen gave birth to a boy. The machinations of the minister and the queen led to sending Manikantan to bring fresh milk of a tigress to cure the queen’s feigned illness. When he came back next morning with a herd of tigresses, the frightened queen confessed her evil intent. Despite the request of the king and the court, Manikantan appointed the young prince to succeed Rajasekhara as king. He shot an arrow and requested the king had to build a temple for him where the arrow was to alight. The king built a sanctuary for the divinity of Manikantan at Sabarimala where the arrow alighted. His devotees believe that it was the place where Manikantan meditated after killing the demon Mahishi when he was in the forest looking for tigress-milk.
The historical Ayyappan was a Vellala youth called Ayyan Ayyappan. He was the army chief of Pandalam and was the nephew of the Vellal Chieftain of Erumeli, a Perisseri Pillai. He defeated of Udayanan’s effort to demolish the Sastha temple at Sabarimala and the Pandalam king renovated the Sastha temple with the help of Ayyan, Vavar (a Muslim youth from Kanjirappally), and Kadutha (a Nair youth from Muzhukeer, Chenganoor). Following Ayyapan’s death in a clash, Perissery Pillai constructed a Sastha temple at Erumeli, opposite Vavar mosque. Locals venerated Ayyappan as the incarnation of Lord Sastha and started worshipping him, and in the course of time, Ayyappan and Sastha became synonymous.
The making of Sabarimala
Different Indian faiths merge in Sabarimala and it is a pilgrimage to an unusual deity. Sabarimala is the only ancient temple dedicated to Hariharaputra, the Son Vishnu and Shiva. Hariharaputra myth must have originated in the effort to reconcile the rival Shaivite and Vaishnavite faiths. The temple witnessed a gradual transformmation of the deity from the Dravidian deity Shiva to Buddha to Ayyappan. This could be the reasonw hcy the customs of Saivites, Shaktists, Vaishnavites, Buddhists and Jains are part of the pilgrim rites. Pilgrims’ rudraksha chain comes from Saivites, the fasting, penance and continence from Vaishnavites, ahimsa from Jains, the repeated chant from Buddhists, and the offering of tobacco to Kadutha from Shaktists.
Buddhist claim to Sabarimala
Sabarimala was once a Buddhist temple complex. Another name of Ayyappan is Sastha which means Buddha. Prior to that it was a Dravidian Shaivite centre. Its Makarajyoti gave it the name Potalaka. Some claim that Potala, the Dalai Lama’s palace in Lhasa is named after Sabarimala. Buddshist sources like Avatamsakasutra, Lokesh Chandra’s Hymn to the Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara, and the writings of Hiuen Tsang (Zuen Xang) mention that Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara Padmapani (Bodhisattva of Compassion) was worshipped at Sabarimala.
There is ample circumstantial evidence to Kerala’s Buddhist past. Kodungallur (Muziris) was a Buddhist centre. It was Bodhidharma (420-479 AD) from Kodungallur who started the Zen (dhyana in Sanskrit, Ch’an in Chinese) Buddhism. He reached China, taught Kerala’s martial art of kalaripayattu to the unarmed monks in China’s Shao-Lin temple, and introduced tea in China. Kodungallur devi temple was originally a Buddhist nunnery and was associated with Kannaki, the heroine of Ilango Adigal’s Silappathikaram. Dethroning of the asura king Mahabali, whose egalitarian reign was ended by Vishnu, is a myth about the egalitarian Buddhist rule overthrown by Upanishadic Hindus. The chant Swamiye saranam Ayyappa is similar to “Buddham saranam gacchami, Sangham saranam gacchami, Dhammam saranam gacchami.” The sitting posture of Ayyappa is very similar to the Buddhist image.
The legend of Malikappurathamma (Leela, a girl from Cheerappanchira Ezhava family of Muhamma in Alleppey who fell in love with Ayyappa when he was there to learn kalarippayattu) takes Ayyappan story to the Ezhavas, Buddhist migrants from Sri Lanka. She is also worshipped at Sabarimala.
Christian connection to Sabarimala
A pond at Nilakkal near Sabarimala has remnants of a destroyed churc, which the Christians believe to have been one of the original churches established by St. Thomas. Hindu activists do not permit archeological investigations of the area because of many reasons and fear of subversion. Aleast one report filed by K Kesava Menon, DIG (Special Branch) accuse Christian fanatics of the area for the arson at Sabarimal in 1950s. There was an enquiry report titled “Sabarimala Temple Arson Case”, later published by Government of Kerala in 1957. This 35 pages report is available from a government owned website (Information & Public relations Department)
Nilackal and surrounding areas were under the rule of Pandalam king. As the Chera representative in Karimalakotta near Sabarmala did not accept the authority of Pandalam, their fight destroyed Karimala, and exposed to invaders. This resulted in its total destruction by 1341.
Escaping Muslim persecution (717-822), some Nineveh (modern Mosul in Iraq) Christians reached Kerala under the leadership of Bishops Sobar Esho and Porth. After landing at Quilon in 822 AD, Proth settled at Kodungalloor and Sabor Esho at Kollam constructing churches at Kurakkenikollam (Kayamkulam), Chenganoor (Perasseri), Thevalakara, Nilackal (Chayal), Niranam, Kadamattam, Parur, and Malayatoor. Sabor Esho spent his last days at Chayal monastery (chayal in Hebrew means ‘bachelors’ place’) he had set up near the main church at Nilackal (known as thalappally and as arappally). After his death, the hill where the main church stood was named after him as Sabormala (Mt. Sabor). The place where the Chayal church stood is now known as Plappally or Thalappally. Frequent floods and persistenet pandyan attack destroyed Nilakkal church and Chayal monastry by 1341 . Plunderers under Vikrampuli Thevar (Vakrapuli) and Paraya Pattam (Perumpatta) looted temples, churches, and houses in the High Ranges during 1253-99. Pandiyan plunder, flood and local unrest made people abandon Nilackal and move to other regions by river and through hill tracks.
Vavar (Bawa ?), a Muslim defeated by Ayyappan, figures prominently. His idol, placed at the foot of the 18 steps leading to the main deity, is believed to be as old as the deity of Ayyappan. A Muslim priest performs the rituals related to this carved stone slab near a green silk cloth hung on the wall and an old sword. The offerings to Vavar are green pepper, rose water and sandalwood paste along with coconut and clarified butter. Some pilgrims even bring goats.
There are many versions about who Vavar was. According to some, he escaped from Madurai from the attack of Thirumala Naickar. He is also believed to be an Arab Muslim who came to spread Islam. Still others suggest that he was a pirate subdued by Ayyappan and became a close associate in his battles. Ayyappa instructed building a mosque for Vavar at Erumeli and a shrine at Sabarimala. Some families practicing the Unani medicine at Vaipur near Thiruvalla claim to be descendants of Vavar.
Pandalam dynasty, descendents of Pandyan dynasty of Madurai, is hardly older than 1200 AD when a branch of the Pandyan royal family settled there. Historically, it is possible that Manikantan lived after the invasion of Madurai by Alauddin Khilji of Delhi in (1311 AD) and immediately after the annexation of Madurai (1371 AD) from its Muslim rulers by Vijayanagara kingdom which appointed Nayaks governors at Madurai. Vavar must be a Muslim leader who escaped to the Western Ghats from Madurai when Vijayanagar forces of attacked it.
The Christian settlement of Nilakkal which began with Sabar Eso building a church there sometime around 850 AD must have come to an end with the frequent Pandyan raids symbolized by Vakrapiuli and Perumpatta (1253-99). These raids helped the rise of Pandyan power in Pandalam and Punjar and also played a part in the decline of the defenseless Christian settlement at Nilakkal, which ended with flood of 1341.
The forsaken Buddhist temple at Sabarimala must have been discovered by the Pandyan rulers when they occupied Nilakkal. Together with the Saivites in Kerala, the Vaishnavite invaders fabricated the myth of Hariharaputran to counter Buddhism and used the legend of Manikantan, the prince of Pandalam for the purpose. Manikantan was called Ayyappan (Ay appan) to garner the support of the Ay kings of Vend. The ancient Shaivite deities of Sabarimala came to be known after Ayyappan and his associates—Vavar and Kadutha and even the Ezhava girl who loved him—as they were deified by local Brahmanical Hinduism.
The myth lives on. What are forgotten in the story are the Shaivite deities of Sabarimala.
Who bothers about truth in Kerala when it makes all involved richer, and bestow free celebration for the rest.
 A title of the Pandalam raja is Airur Sree Veerasreedhara Kovil Adhikarikal. Pandalam royal family belongs to the Bhargava clan while other Kshatriya families in Kerala belong to Viswamithra clan.
 Even when the Vendad king Marthanda Varma established the kingdom of Travancore in 1749AD (925ME), he did not annex Pandalam and allowed it to rule independently, and the Pandalam kings helped Marthanda Varma to subject Kayamkulam. Pandalam was merged with Travancore in 1820 (995ME).
 The sanctum sanctorum of the Meenakshi Temple was closed and the main deity was shifted to the Ardhamandapam.
 The old Ezhavarsevampattu mentions Ayyan as vellalar kula jhathan (“born of Vellala caste”) ayyan ayyappan. Ayyan and Ayyappan is a common name among vellalas of nearby districts of Kerala and they have built many Ayyappan temples.
An old mud house which keeps an old sword with which Ayyappan killed eruma is claimed to be the house of Perissery Pillai is in the Puthenveedu Vellala house compound near Sree Ayyappa movie theatre at Erumeli. The name Erumeli came from Erumakolly [eruma (mahisham, she-buffalo) + kolly (killer). Erumeli pettaithullal is a celebration of the killing of the mahishi.
 Some claim that Ayyappan was the son of a Brahmin. Nalankal Krishna Pillai thinks that Brahmins never had the name Ayyappan or Ayyan (Mahashekthrangalkkumunpil).
 Unlike in the rest of India, the Buddhists and Shivites co-existed peacefully in Kerala, as in Prambanan in Java and Angkor Wat in Cambodia where Eswara and Buddha are interchangeable.
 Potalaka, the earthly paradise of Avalokitesvara is described in Avatamsaka Sutra: ”Potalaka is on the sea-side in the south, it has woods, it has streams, and tanks”. Buddhabhadra’s (420 AD) renders Potala (Potalaka) as ”brilliance.” Etymologically, Tamil pottu (potti-) ”to light (as a fire)”…brilliance refers to the makarajyoti of Sabarimala.’
‘…Lord Ayyappan of Sabarimala… could have been the Potala Lokesvara of Buddhist literature. The makara jyoti of Sabarimala recalls Potala’s “brilliance”… The long, arduous and hazardous trek through areas known to be inhabited by elephants and other wildlife to Sabarimala is spoken of in the pilgrimage to Potala Lokesvara. The Buddhist character of Ayyappan is explicit in his merger with Dharma-sasta. Sasta is a synonym of Lord Buddha.’
 Huen Tsang says that at Potala Avalokitesvara takes the form of Isvara (Shiva) and that of a Pasupata yogin. It was Shiva who was metamorphosed into Avalokitesvara. When Buddhism became dominant, the Saivite image at Potalaka was deemed to be Avalokitesvara. Potalaka Lokesvara and the Thousand-armed Avalokitesvara have echoes of Shiva and Vishnu, of Hari and Hara.
He refers to Avalokitesvara’s Potala as: ”In the south of the country near the sea was the Mo-lo-ya (Malaya) mountain, with its lofty cliffs and ridges and deep valleys and gullies, on which were sandal, camphor and other trees. To the east of this was Pu-ta-lo-ka (Potalaka) mountain with steep narrow paths over its cliffs and gorges in irregular confusion…’ (Summarized by Waters, 1905).
 The legend behind Malikappurathamma is that Leela, daughter of Galavamuni, under curse of her husband Dathan, was reborn as Mahishi, an “asura’ female with a buffalo’s face. Upon having killed by Lord Ayyappa, the curse was revoked and the beautiful woman rose out of the corpse. She thanked the Lord and prayed to be with him as His wife. However, he told her that he is a ‘brahmachari’ and so her desire would not be fulfilled. However, He allowed her to remain in Sabarimala, a little distant from his abode, as his sister – Malikappurathamma.
 In 880 during the reign of the Chera king, Sthanu Ravi (Mallan Perumal Vijayaragan), Venadu king Ayyanadikal Thiruvadigal gave Mar Sabor Easo and the Christians in Tharissapally Church in Kollam two separate chepeds (Copper Plaques), now in the custody of the Orthodox and Marthomma Churches at Kottayam and Thiruvella respectively.
 Puthuvipeen in Ernakulam was formed because of this flood.
Agila Ayyappa Seva Sangam
January 11 ,2018·
The Sabarimala Ayyappa vigraham that was destroyed by vandals in 1950.The head was separated which was later temporarily fixed using silver strings , the right hand is damaged beyond repair, the chinmudraim is also damaged , the nose chipped off slightly. The face shows a lot of peace and contentment of a Mahayogin, the cast done by Velappan Achari of Parvathy Jewellers, Chengannur.This appeared in an issue of Sabarimala Supplement brought out by Kerala Kaumudi in the mid 90’s.Pic credit Jagan Cr
Thank to FB : Agila Ayyappa Seva Sangam
8/1/2018 at 8:11pm ·
Less than 5000 persons used to visit Sabarimala 50 years ago, but with the coming of the road from Mannarakulanji to Chalakayam, this number has increased to 4 crores, that too in the Mandala- Makaravilakku season alone.
It was too difficult for the people to reach Sabarimala before 50 years as the journey through the dense forest was so grueling an ordeal as it took days to reach the abode of God.
The people had to walk from Erumeli to Sabarimala via Peroorthodu, Kottapadi, Kaalaketti, Azhhuthamedu, Kallidaamkunnu, Inchipaarakotta, Karimala, Valiyaanavattam, Cheriyaanavattam, Pamapa, Neelimala ,Appachimedu, Sabareepeedom, and Saramkuthi through the forest.
Another path was also used by people to reach Sannidhanam. That was from Kumily through Changara Estate, Uppupaara and Paandithavalam, but it was the route from Erumeli that people used regularly.
The Route- Laaha to Chalakayam has a history hidden behind it. This path was actually built not for the devotees to reach Sabarimala.
It was during 1959-60 that the road was built as part of the Sabarigiri power project that came into being in 1967. Before this project actually started, the Electricity Board tried to bring in a project named ˜Swaami Saranam”, which intented to build a dam at Thriveni to produce electricity. For this the board extended the road ( Mannarakulanji- Laaha) to Chalakayam. As time passed the Sabarigiri Project gained importance and to make it a reality another road was made from Chalakayam to Ponnambalamedu. As the Sabarigiri Project became a huge success the Swaami Saranam Project was dropped. Later another road was built from Plapalli to Muzhiyaar via Aangaamuzhi. This is the present Sabarigiri road.
Eventhough there was the Chalakayam Road KSRTC started service through this path only in 1965. The road from Chalakayam to Pampa was built only 7 years later.
With new routes in the chart the journey to Sabarimala may get more easier with the glory of the traditional paths dwindling at a rapid pace.
(Pamba Vilakku )