Lord Ayyappa – Part 2 – VenuPayyanur

What makes headlines of newspapers in India these days? If you read it carefully one can easily understand some of the major social issues facing our country. Religious intolerance, caste related violence, terrorism, Naxalism, alcoholism, regional and inter-state squabbles, atrocities against women, poverty related issues and rising inequality, over population, corruption, etc. The list can go on…. Is there any solution that our current political class and their leaders can offer to the common man who is running from pillar to post to meet their daily requirements and leading an insecure and frightened existence? Unfortunately the so called political leaders are all busy making money for themselves and we can see scams after scams being unearthed by an overactive media these days!

If there is one solution that can minimise, if not eliminate completely, most of the above evils are the belief in Ayyappa and following the teachings of Ayyappa every day and throughout one’s life. What are those?

To understand the significance of Ayyappa cult and what it can do to humanity, let us all visit the shrine at least once in our life time. This will teach you so many lessons, if put to practice in your daily life; can make a significance difference to you and the society at large. More people following the same can change the society and the country. However one has to follow certain rituals and austerities before undertaking such a journey.

Austerities normally start from the first day of the Malayalam month Vrishchikam. (Mid November). Devotees initiate the vrutham by wearing a Thulasi or a Rudraksha mala. After this ceremony, the pilgrims are addressed as “swami” or “ayyappa” 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 practiced. The devotee is expected to behave in an austere and sober fashion during his vrutham. Total abstinence from all vices like alcohol, tobacco and non-vegetarian food is stipulated. The devotee is expected wear black/blue/saffron clothes. The devotee is expected to pray daily in the mornings and evenings after bathing. 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.

On the day of starting the vrutham the devotee shall raise early, bath and offer prayers to family deity, Navagrahas and perform pooja to the holy mala. Then he shall go to temple with his Guru. The mala has to be received from the Guru in midst of chanting of Saranam. After wearing the mala the devotee becomes Lord Ayyappa himself and starts the demands of pious life.

  • The devotee shall withdraw from all social activities and spend his time by taking part in praying, poojas, bajans, visiting temples, cleaning temples, feeding the poor, helping the poor/sick and attending religious discourses.
  • He shall take only satvic foods and refrain 100% from taking meat, intoxicating drinks / drugs, chewing betel leaves and from smoking.
  • He shall bathe twice, if possible thrice, daily and perform pooja by at least chanting 108 Ayyappa Saranam. He shall continuously chant Saranam Ayyappa in mind, both at work and at home.
  • He shall not hurt anybody verbally or physically.
  • He shall treat all co-devotees as Lord Ayyappa himself and serve them in all the ways.
  • He shall not feel proud of the respect and privileges he gets when he is wearing the holy mala. When others prostrate themselves on his feet he shall not feel proud but dedicate the same to Lord Ayyappa and say aloud ‘Lord save everybody for their faith in you’.
  • He shall not cause inconvenience to his family members on account on observing the vrutham.
  • As he starts his vrutham every year, he shall think that he is doing the same for first time and follow all the rules of the vrutham strictly.
  • He shall strictly follow brahmacharya (continence), refrain from sex, thinking of sex, develop passion against all women including his wife, and treat all women with motherly feeling.
  • He shall not apply oil to his hair and shall not take bath with oil smeared over his body.
  • He shall not sleep on bed but on floor, he shall not use pillow but wooden block, he shall not use footwear but walk with bare feet.
  • He shall totally surrender himself to Lord Ayyappa.

What are the benefits of following the above austerities?

  • Bring discipline in your life, most essential for success in any walk of life. Today’s youngsters don’t see rising sun, do not eat their meals on time, do not meditate or practice humility in their life. By following all the above austerities, you actually become a different person, and others will respect you for that.
  • Eliminate alcoholism, probably the biggest benefit. In fact I have known many who undertake pilgrimage to Sabarimala not because he is a staunch devotee, but hardcore alcoholic and genuinely want to get rid of that dreadful habit.
  • Ahimsa is followed by becoming vegetarian and also very good for the body.
  • Ego and ego-centric behaviours are kept on check and mind becomes calm and composed. One can feel the serenity around the practitioners and feel safe with such persons.
  • Life style one follows during the ‘vrutham’ is the best and purest for anyone wanting to lead a healthy, happy and peaceful life. If possible continue the life style throughout the year.

Visiting the holy shrine during the Makara sankranti is a divine experience in all aspects.  After a long journey, you reach Pampa, the holy river. The 4 Km trek to the “Sannidhanam” starts after a ritualistic bath in the river and a visit to the nearby Ganesha temple. Walking barefoot with “irumudikettu” on your head, chanting and singing praises of the lord, you start your long trek to the mountains. Depending on your age, stamina and members of your group, it could take from 30 minutes to three hours to the temple. Thousands of devotees are already in the queue, feverishly chanting “Swamiye, Ayyappa” and your waiting time could be 1, 5 or 10 hours depending upon the day of your visit. But the experience you gain while standing in that queue is unique.

  • Thousands of devotees are there, all wearing a black, blue or saffron dhoti, no shirt, Thulasi or Rudraksha mala around their neck, irumudikettu on their heads. You cannot recognize whether they are Hindus or Muslims or any other religion, high cast Brahmans or adivasi, rich or poor, malayalee or Telugu, boss or subordinate, celebrity or common man, all are equal. Probably this is the only place in India where absolute equality and socialism is practiced. Even though you may see few police officers or politicians getting special treatment, that is very few compared to the number of people visiting the shrine or compared to what you see in famous temples like Tirupati or government offices.
  • The divine feeling, satisfaction and pleasure you gain at the time of “darshan’ is directly proportional to the pain you undergo during the 41 days of vrutham and the long trek to the mountains and the long wait in the queue.
  • In spite of the fact that you have to stand in the queue for a very long time, with the irumudikettu on your head, one can hardly see any anger or frustration among the devotees. Humility and patience is the important virtues one develops during these tapas and if practiced throughout life can benefit immensely.

The very fact that more and more Ayyappa temples are being built across the country and the number of devotees visiting the holy shrine is increasing every year, it is very clear that common man find this extremely useful and beneficial to their life. It helps them grow mentally, spiritually, intellectually and physically. It helps them to lead a healthy and happy life. It reduces animosity between people and one learns to respect others irrespective of their religion, cast, financial or social status. When you address others are ‘Swami’ meaning Master, you learn humility. Let us all become the devotee of lord Ayyappa, if not for religious reasons but for the great lessons it teaches in our way of life, socialistic and secularist practices.

‘Swamiye saranam’

Lord Ayyappa – Part 1

Venu Payyanur

Lord Ayyappa is the best thing that happened to humanity for its spiritual and social upliftment. Mythological and historical stories of Lord Ayyappa are very interesting but not covered in this article. (Readers if interested can write to the author for details). In this era of social unrest and religious intolerance, followers of Ayyappa are setting shining examples for others to emulate and follow. I am personally a devotee of Lord Ayyappa and I am sure you all will become one after understanding the significance of the faith called Ayyappa.

To put things in right perspective, a bit of history is in order.

Buddhism was started approximately 2500 years ago (5th century BCE) mainly on account of unbearable atrocities and cruelties practiced by the then ‘Hindus’, by animal and human sacrifices and internal fights between various sects such as Vaishnava, Shaiva, shaktha, etc. Within 1000 years, the religion had spread across India and many nearby countries mainly on account of King Asoka who embraced Buddhism and supported it by various means. Finally it was Jagatguru Adi Sankaracharya who liberated Hinduism and reestablished supremacy of Hinduism in India. To avoid any future conflicts between various Hindu sects, he also practiced and propagated “Smartism” wherein he proclaimed that praying to any of the 5 Gods, Vishnu, Siva, Devi, Surya and Ganesha (Subramanian was added later on) one can attain Brahman, the ultimate reality. The great Guru and social reformer was born in Kerala during 788 AD.

Islam is believed to have entered India through Kerala. Historians says that Muslim history in Kerala go back to 7th century AD when the religion originated in Arabia. The numbers increased in the 9th century. The Jews and Arabs of the Pre-Islamic period were among the pioneers of spice trade with Kerala. The religion of Islam was also by these traders from Middle East, who later settled in Coastal belt of Kerala. In the 8th century there were many centres for religious conversion in the state. Cheraman Perumal’s (one of the prominent kings of Kerala who embraced Islam) pilgrimage to Mecca was a major influence in this regard. It is believed that Malik Ibn Dinar, a disciple of Prophet Mohammed was the first person who propagated Islam in Kerala.

The origin of Kerala’s Christians dates back to 52 AD, when St. Thomas came to the region landing in the port of Cranganore near Cochin. He visited different parts of Kerala and converted local inhabitants including many from the upper cast Namboodiri Brahmins. It is also believed that St. Thomas established Churches in seven places in Kerala (Kodungallore, Palayur, Paravur, Kokkamangalam, Niranam, Chayal, Korakkeni, Kollam) and a chappal (half church-“Arappalli”) at Thiruvankottu. An added fillip to the growth of the Church took place when a group of about 400 people migrated from Syria in 345 AD and joined the then existing Kerala Church.

Now try to visualise the social and religious situation prevalent during 9th century AD in Kerala! A re-emerging Hinduism but the wounds of sect war still bleeding, Buddhists trying to survive at any costs, Muslims and Christians trying to expand their reach by conversion, forced or consensual, and issues related to such conversion, people may be running helter shelter to protect themselves from the social and civil unrest, if not physically but mentally!

The Pandya royal family had to flee Madurai because of threats to their lives posed by their own ministers. A branch of the fleeing family moved westward, briefly staying at various places it acquired by purchase. The family kept on the move for over a century, finally reaching Pandalam in 903 AD. This was chosen to be the permanent home for the royal family. The then ruler of Venad (later Travancore) helped to establish the kingdom at Pandalam. By the time, all members of the family reached Pandalam and a full-fledged kingdom was established, it was 1194AD. The territories under the Pandalam administration extended to over 1,000 square miles mainly eastward and covered the mountain ranges, consisting of 18 holy hills including Sabarimala. It is recorded in the history books that secularism was one of the guiding principles of Pandalam family and there was peaceful co-existence of various religious groups. There are many examples of the Pandalam Rajas extending lavish help in constructing churches and mosques in their territory. However how did the King of Pandalam achieve such a difficult task considering the fact that rest of the country was embroiled in religious intolerance, chaos and confusion?

This is the time we should give credit to the brilliance of the King who established the Ayyappa temple, the traditions and practices that with one stroke he achieved the unthinkable! Probably much more than what Sankaracharya achieved to unite various sects of Hinduism, the Raja of Pandalam ensured religious harmony in his kingdom and set a shining example for all across the world to follow forever.

Let us analyze the religious significance of Ayyappa traditions

  • Ayyappa is considered as the son of Siva and Vishnu. Since Devi is the wife of Siva, she is also considered as his mother. So with one stoke of highly imaginative thinking he unites the various sects of Hinduism. Shaiva followers will consider Ayyappa as their lord, so is Vaishnava and Shaktha sect followers. Vibhuti (Ash), kalabham and Kumkumam are all used by the devotees in the temple as well as carried in their Irumudikettu. These also symbolically represent the three main deities.
  • There is a separate mosque for “vavar” at Erumeli, enroute to Sabarimala and devotees are expected to pay their respects to the Muslim warrior before proceeding to the holy hills. An example of highest level of Hindu-Muslim unity and friendship.
  • “Swami Saranam, Ayyappa saranam” is the common cry you will hear from millions of devotees across the world. The usage of the word “saranam” has probably come from Buddhist traditions thereby making Buddhist followers also devoted to Ayyappa.
  • Followers of each and every religion can visit Sabarimala, unlike other temples of Kerala, the only condition being that they should follow the prescribed spiritual practice before their visit. Nowhere else in the world we can see such a congregation of devotees belonging to each and every religion. The famous singer, Yesudas is a staunch devotee of Lord Ayyappa.
  • Devotees from all over India and the world throng the temple during the festival period displaying highest levels of harmony between people belonging to different religion, caste, creed, region, language, colour, etc.

In this era when mistrust between people belonging to different country and religion is at its highest level, wars are fought on religion, the most comforting feeling you get when you see millions of devotees waiting patiently (at times for more than 15 hours) to get a glimpse of the lord is extremely satisfying and comforting. We must practice such discipline, tolerance and harmony in our day to day life to insure a better life for the entire humanity today and forever.