Wings and Chirps

Wanderings of an Itchy Feet

#MythicalMondays – Lord Ayyappa of Sabarimala

Like the story of Rahu & Ketu, this story of Lord Ayyappa too begins after Samudra Manthan.

When Lord Shiva heard praises of the enchanting beauty of Mohini, the female form of Lord Vishnu, he expressed the desire to see it by himself. When he saw Mohini, Lord Shiva was overcome with passion and united with her. This union of Hari and Hara was called HariHaraMurti and from this was born Lord Ayyappa or Dharmashastha or Hariharasuthan (son of Hari and Hara).

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Birth of Ayyappa

Lord Ayyappa spent a few years of his childhood in Kailasa under the loving care of Shiva, Parvati and his brothers Ganesha and Subramanya (Karthikeya) and sister Bhadhrakali. Under the supervision of Shiva and Parvati, Ayyappa attained mastery of Vedas, Upanishads, Shastras and artillery.

One day, Lord Shiva explained to him the purpose of his life.

The Asura (demon) king Mahishasura, son of Asura Rambha, was blessed with invulnerability to all men and hence to end his terror and torture the Gods sent Goddess Durga or Shakthi. Durga fought fiercely and killed him. This enraged his cousin sister Mahishi (daughter of Karambaasura). She sought revenge against the Gods who participated in the death of her brother.

Mahishi was the cursed wife of Dattatreya (son of the sage Atri and his wife Anasuya), Leeladevi (daughter of sage Galava).

Mahishi  (she-buffalo) pleased Lord Brahma, the creator. She asked for the boon of invulnerability but Brahma told her that it was impossible. A cunning Mahishi then asked him for a boon that none other than the son of Lord Shiva and Vishnu shall be able to kill her. She knew it was absolutely impossible for two men to have a child as it was against the order of nature.

Lord Brahma granted her the boon to rule the Universe and being invulnerable to all men except the son of Hari (Vishnu) and Hara (Shiva) who would serve as human being on earth for twelve years before he could kill her.

She thought that now she was unconquerable and hence started defeating everyone and conquering the three worlds. She tortured and defeated men (manushya on earth), demons (asuras in paataal/hell) and demi-gods (devas in swarg/heaven).

Lord Shiva tells Ayyappa that it was time for him to be born as a boy on earth and serve humanity for twelve years before fulfilling the purpose of his birth, Mahishi’s destruction. This was the purpose of the divine union of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu.

The king and queen of Pandalam in Kerala were childless and extremely sad about it. They were both highly religious and ardent followers of Lord Shiva. One day, the king along with his army reached the banks of river Pamba for hunting. This is where he finds Lord Ayyappa as a wailing baby boy with a gem around his neck. He was thus named, Manikandan (in Sanskrit, mani means gem and kanda means neck). King Rajashekhara of Pandya Dynasty adopts Manikandan and takes him to the palace. The king and queen raise Manikandan as their own child. After two years, the king and queen are blessed with a baby boy. They name him Rajarajan. Both the boys grew up together in the loving atmosphere of the kingdom.

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King Rajashekara of Pandalam finds Manikandan

Manikandan goes to Gurukula and masters all arts and sciences. He blesses the guru’s vision and speech impaired son with sight and speech. The Guru realizes that Manikandan was a divine form of Dharmashastha. Manikandan requests the Guru to keep this information as a secret for some more time. The Guru obliges.

When Manikandan is twelve years old, the king decides to appoint Manikandan as the crown prince. His prime minister was unhappy that the natural heir Rajarajan who was the real son of the king is not being appointed as the crown prince. He misguides the queen and makes her agree to get rid of Manikandan.

As per plan, the prime minister poisons Manikandan and applies magic and witchcraft. Manikandan becomes terribly sick and down with deadly rashes all over his body. He could not be cured by the royal physician in spite of his best efforts. This is when Lord Shiva comes in the form of a sage and cures Manikandan.

The queen now acts of having a terrible headache which no physician or sage is able to cure. The prime minister threatens the royal physician and makes him say that nothing but the milk of a tigress is required for curing the queen. But no one was ready to go to the forest and milk the tigress (puli in Malayalam).

Manikandan realizes that it was time for the fulfillment of the purpose of his divine avatar. He convinces the king that it is his duty to get the milk to cure his mother and hence he should be allowed to go to the forest. He leaves the kingdom with his bow and arrows.

Finding him alone in the forest, devas and sages appear in front of him and apprise him of the situation of Devaloka (heaven) where Mahishi had conquered Indra’s throne. Indra requests Manikandan to fight and kill Mahishi and save Devas and Devaloka.

During this time, Lord Shiva had sent Mahisha (cursed form of Dattatreya) to lure Mahishi and bring her to earth. Mahishi was so charmed that she forgot everything about the revenge and blindly followed Mahisha to earth.

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Mahishi Vadham

After a long and fierce battle Maikandan caught hold of her horns and killed her. Mahishi fell dead on the banks of the river Alasa (Azhutha) in Kerala. Manikandan jumps onto Mahishi’s dead body and performs a dance form like Tandava. The touch of Manikandan redeemed Mahishi from the curse and Leela emerged. She prayed Manikandan and asked him to take her as his consort.

The Lord declined her request since he was a bramhachari  (a celibate) for the purpose of Dharma Shasan, but agreed that she being the avatar of Saraswati, Laxmi and Parvathi combined, would be worshipped at a special shrine next to him. From then onwards she was known as Malikapurathamma. It is said that Ayyappa had promised to marry Malikapurathamma in the season when there are no kanni-ayyappans (first-timers) to the temple. Mallikapurathamma is said to be waiting eternally for that season.

Indra and the devas disguised as the tiger and his tigresses. Manikandan climbed onto the tiger and rode to Pandalam. When people saw Manikandan return with a group of tigers instead of just the milk, they bowed to him and prayed. The queen and the prime minister realized that Manikandan was no ordinary boy and sought forgiveness for their mistakes.

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Pulivahanan (One who rides the tiger)

After fulfilling the purpose of his avatar, Lord Ayyapan agreed to the wishes of his foster father, King Rajasekharan of Pandalam, and agreed to remain at the Holy Shrine of Sabarimala for the purpose of Dharmashasan in the world. Thus two adjacent temples were made by the King at Sabarimala, one for Shree Dharmasastha and the other for Malikapurathamma. Parashurama carved the figure of Lord Ayyappa and installed it on the day of Makarasankranthi.

Sabarimala is situated inside the dense forests of Periyar Tiger Reserve. ‘Sabarimala’ is derived from Sabari, a devotee of Sri Ram. The previous name of the place was Mathangamala, named after the sage Mathanga. After Sri Ram and Sabari met there, the place came to be called Sabari’s mala (mountain in Malayalam), and thus Sabarimala.

The important message given at the temple is, Tat Tvam Asi. The ultimate knowledge that each individual is a God to himself/herself. Tat Tvam Asi in Sanskrit means “That is you”. This is why the pilgrims call each other Swami.

I have always wondered why Lord Ayyappa is not known by my North-Indian friends when all the other related stories like Samudra Manthan, Rahu & Ketu and Mahishi vadham are similar. This is when I read another story online which said the union of Shiva and Vishnu, the foetus, was sent to monkey queen Anjana’s womb because it was against the order of nature for two men to have a child. The child thus born was Hanuman. This is why Hanuman is also said to be Shiva’s child. I have no idea which one is the real story but the one common thing between Ayyappa and Hanuman is that they are both brahmacharis. Irrespective of the authenticity, both the stories are equally interesting.

Do share any variations that you are aware of.

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18 Comments

  1. Being an Ayyappa devotee, this enchanted me and also mocked me for not knowing all this. I knew about samudra manthan and how ayyappa was born out of hari and hara but I had no clue about his goal to kill Mahishi. I always thought that since they Vishnu and Shiva where not supposed to have a kid together, they had gifted it to the king of Pandalam. Also, while I knew about Maalikapurathama, I didnt know she was the cursed mahishi. I loved reading this.

    Also, did you know that my maternal side is from Pandalam. My tharavadu is right below the place where Ayyappa’s guru taught or rather trained him in archery.
    The Red Handed recently posted…EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED SO FARMy Profile

    • Didn’t know about your roots in Kerala. I am from Palakkad and brought up in a highly orthodox and conservative family where Poojas and Homams were an integral part of our daily lives. My ancestral house happens to be an old manna (house of Namboothiris) and it is said that we had a Brahmarakshassu (soul of a dead priest) inside our compound. My childhood was spent listening to stories around the various deities and how the snake god and Brahmarakshassu cursed anyone who disrespected and polluted their property. It took a deadly disease and lots of turbulence in personal life to make me shed all those inhibitions and come out stronger.

  2. As a malayali, I knew this story, Rekha, yet I savoured it to the core reading it after so many years. I had been to Sabarimala when I was a child and the memories came flooding back as I read this 🙂

    • I can understand, Malini. Because when I read so many articles and books to write this one all my childhood memories came alive. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the good fortune to visit Sabarimala as a child. May be during later years of my life, if He blesses. 🙂
      Rekha recently posted…Raise Kids as Independent and Logical ThinkersMy Profile

  3. I am a very staunch Ayyappan Follower Rekha! My gradfather was guruswamy and everyone in my family has the tradition of completing at least three years of pilgrimage to Shabarimala. My Decembers are always filled with the early morning prayer rituals which are special by all means.
    As a child I used to look forward to Decembers to visit temples and other kanni swamy’s homes for their initiation pooja’s. Oh! rekha this is an extremely overwhelming post and I can write a whole post on how we used to spend days in Bhajans and filling the coconut with ghee. thanks for sharing this post dear

    • Oh wow! My sister’s father-in-law also happens to be a Guruswamy. I also remember the bhajans, Ayyappan villakku, Shastha Preethi and kettunira that we used to attend regularly during Mandalam. All thanks to the Guruvayoorappan temple close to my place in Delhi. Thank you for dropping by, Menaka. Glad to have connected. 🙂
      Rekha recently posted…Raise Kids as Independent and Logical ThinkersMy Profile

  4. I did know this tale but it was wonderful reading it after so many years. I did not know about the shrine for Malikapurathama. Such an unusual story isn’t it? Truly glorious is our cornucopia of mythology!

  5. Renu Nair

    🙏🙏🙏👏👏👏👏 superb no more words to explain😊 keep going

  6. I have never heard of this story so was very interesting to read. Thanks for sharing.

    • As Lata says, Ayyappa seems to be a locally worshipped God as he was adopted by the Pandya King who ruled Southern part of India. He is most popular among Keralites and Tamilians.

  7. Rekha, thanks for this lovely story. Being Malayali, I knew the story of Ayyappa, But, did not know about Malikapurathama. Another reason for Ayyappa not being famous in the north is because, Ayyappa is also assumed to be a local God of the people. The legends of Shiva and Vishnu’s son has been added to give him a higher status. Kerala also had factions of Shaivaites and Vishnuvaites fighting with each other on superiority. Ayyappa is a unification factor here. I may be completely wrong, but this is what I found.

    • Very well said, Lata. Ayyappa seems to be a locally worshipped avatar of Dharmashastha. As we move towards North, it is Lord Hanuman who is believed to be an incarnation of Dharmashastha who was born to destroy evils and protect humanity. And about the unification factor, He unifies not just Shaivaites and Vaishnavites, but also Hindus, Muslims and Christians. I hope you are aware of Vavar Palli (Mosque) and Arthunkal Palli (Church) which are important shrines for Sabarimala pilgrims.
      Rekha recently posted…Raise Kids as Independent and Logical ThinkersMy Profile

  8. What a brilliant narration Rekha. I had read the prequel to the part where Lord Vishnu appears in front of Lord Shiva as Mohini. Shiva didn’t want to be disturbed during tapasya but only a child with seed from him could vanquish the asuras. He sent many apsaras, which only angered Lord Shiva and made him open his 3rd eye. Mohini approached him as a devotee.

    The rest, you have narrated brilliantly! Gonna read this again and share with my mom since she is part of a satsangh group 🙂

    • Thanks for dropping by, Vishal! That’s the beauty about mythology. There are so many variations and each one seems unique. And the way these stories link one state to another, one country to another, one religion to another is just fabulous. If only we spent enough time pondering on our roots and these stories, the world might not see so much of hatred and violence in the name of religions. If you read my comment to Lata’s response you’ll know how Ayyappa was one big unifying factor in bringing Hindus, Muslims and Christians together. Sabarimala is one temple which is equally worshipped by all these religions. The pilgrims offer their prayers in a mosque and a church before completing their visit to Sabarimala. I hope your Mom is able to add more variants to this.

  9. Oh wow! I am a South Indian, and I had never heard this particular story either. I mean I knew bits and pieces of course, but in its entirety, this was so interesting.

    By the way, I thought that Hanuman was a part of Shiva, not Shiva’s son, but a kind of reincarnation. I say a kind of, because it’s not reincarnation in the literal sense, of-course.

    This post has given me some food for thought. Thank you for sharing. 🙂
    Shantala recently posted…Reading Goals and Bookish Bingo – An UpdateMy Profile

    • Yeah. The story of Ayyappa is not known to many. And hence I wanted to share it in as much detail as possible. Even I had heard that Hanuman was an avatar of Shiva. But one of the stories that I read while penning down Ayyappa’s told this version. I have stuck to Indian mythology. If I had included Buddhist mythology that is more prevalent in Thailand and other Eastern countries, there are lots of variations. But all in all, they are all inter-linked in some way or the other.
      Rekha recently posted…Raise Kids as Independent and Logical ThinkersMy Profile

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