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.

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