SRI AYYAPPA - PHILOSOPHY AND WORSHIP
The pilgrimage to the sacred shrine of Sabarimala is today attracting
people the world over. The major pilgrimage season begins from the
middle of November and extends up to the 3rd week of January. Mail sent by some
visitors to http://www.saranamayyappa.org
revealed that they wished to know the salient
features of the philosophy of Sri Ayyappa worship. And we at http://www.integralbooks.com
questions from inquisitive young people about the relevance of divine
forms and their worship. This bulletin touches these points of inquiry
The indomitable sages of ancient India who explored deep into the nature of the universe and the meaning of life discovered the subtle facts that govern the manifestation of matter and life. By activating the highest faculties of the human brain they experienced that it is from a basic Reality, an Infinite Intelligence latent with Energy, the material world and the world of life emerged into expression. They called the Reality, Brahman. They traced the interconnections, subtle and gross, involved in this manifestation of the universe from the subtlest Fact. The Upanishand-s and the Purana-s reveal these basic interconnections.
The Master Minds of yore conveyed their knowledge through different mediums such as symbolic stories, forms, diagrams, etc. They designed them in such a way that the knowledge would be revealed to the seekers who explored them, and solace and spiritual strength would be bestowed on those who imbibed the values they conveyed.
The basic Reality transcends all forms and qualities, but from It emerge infinite forms and qualities, which are the mediums of Its manifestation. The sages revealed that human beings conditioned by a world of forms and qualities can intelligently utilize these mediums to transcend their limitations and to bring to expression the higher human potentials. Man, they revealed, is designed by Nature to evolve to greater stages of understanding and freedom transcending the suffering and fear caused by his limitations.
The Divine Forms
The great Rishis through their explorations discovered that there are Divine Powers of Brahman that cause and control the phenomenal manifestations. They conceived the special characteristics of these Divine Powers by giving them appropriate symbolic forms and they are the Godly forms. Thus the forms of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, known as the Trinity, represent respectively the spiritual powers behind the manifestation of the universe, its maintenance and re-absorption into Reality. Their meaningful forms, insignia, etc., are pregnant with profound knowledge about the subtle facts behind the manifested universe. These divine forms represent both the conditioned and unconditioned - personal and the impersonal - aspects of Reality.
Lord Ayyappa or Dharma Shastha represents a combination of spiritual powers symbolized by the forms of Lord Vishnu, the Power that maintains the universe and Lord Shiva, the Power that periodically re-absorbs the manifestations into Reality. Lord Ayyappa enshrined in the Sabarimala temple combines both these aspects of Brahman. In the Puranic lore, as usual, this fact is presented in an interesting and symbolic story form. As Sri Ayyappa represents both Vishnu and Shiva in one Divinity, He is worshipped both as Protector and Deliverer.
The Universal Vision
Sri Ayyappa aspect of Brahman is endearing to thousands, especially because the special attributes of Lord Ayyappa and His worship transcends the many man-made limitations as caste, religion, creed, class distinctions, nationality, etc. An extensive period of self-disciplines prior to a pilgrimage to Sabarimala is prescribed for yogic practice and for the cultivation of a vision of equality and sense of oneness with the Supreme Reality. The purpose of man’s spiritual striving is to evolve from the conditioned state of existence by raising the level of consciousness gradually to its unconditioned and infinite Freedom. This is practised in Sri Ayyappa worship. After the wearing of the rosary as a mark of entering the spiritual disciplines one is expected to make an effort to transcend the limitations of one’s personality and its restricting expressions and moods. People, even his parents, no more call him by his name, but reverentially address him as Swamy or Ayyappa. He addresses others also as Swamy and he is supposed to consider not only man, but also beasts, trees and everything else as essentially Divine. When he visits any temple or any place of worship he chants ‘Swamiye saranam Ayyappa’. He considers the Deity in any temple as a different form of Lord Ayyappa. He is supposed to look at everything, whether living or non-living as the manifestation of the one Truth Lord Ayyappa. The donkeys that carry the goods up the mountains to Sabarimala temple are Kazhutha Swamy-s for him. (Kazhutha means donkey). Even the human excreta are referred to as Bhu-Swami. The Advaitic vision that there is nothing other than the manifestations of the one transcendental Reality is to be observed to the maximum extent possible during this period to recondition consciousness from its various limitations. Our publication Sabarimala: Its Timeless Message presents the profound philosophy of Sri Ayyappa worship and the unique pilgrimage. (Visit the website http:// www.integralbooks.com ).
The spiritual striving, which is a natural instinct of man, is an evolutionary effort to identify the limited personality with the supreme unconditioned Reality and thus transcend the limitations to evolve to higher dimensions of consciousness and freedom. We are that blissful Reality but we are often ignorant of it. The spiritual training removes the mist of ignorance. As the practice advances, one begins to feel the gradual emergence of a Divine Personality within. This emerging spiritual dimension guides one through the life’s pilgrimage and gives an increasing sense of joy and freedom.
Sri Ramakrishna says: Know there must be manifestations of God in places where countless people have practiced austerity. From time immemorial numberless devotees and men of realization have come to these holy places to have the vision of God. Therefore, God though equally present everywhere, manifests Himself especially in these places in the same way as water can be had anywhere by digging the ground, but where there is a tank or a lake, one has not to dig for water, but can get it whenever one likes.The shrine of Lord Ayyappa in the depths of the Sahya mountain ranges is such a unique place.
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The Bhoothanaathopaakhyaanam is the main Purana containing the legend of Sri Dharma Sastha or Sri Ayyappa. Before describing the story we shall have a glimpse of the general characteristics of the ancient texts called the Puranas. It is wrong to brand the many stories in the Puranas by the English term ‘myth’. The composers of the Puranas were Master Minds. A serious reader will be marveled at their mastery over the language, minute analysis of human situations, their wondrous ability to present the opposing points of view with equal ease and justice, their synthetic presentation, etc. In these texts a technique of discriminative imagination is effectively employed to bring the conditioned human mind in touch with the life-transforming spiritual values, gradually equipping mind for higher contemplation. Some of the stories, which would appear as mere hyperbolic imagination, have profound inner meaning, which will be revealed to the serious seeker, while they unconsciously inculcate values in the common folk as they relish these stories. The approach of the Puranas can be compared to that of the surrealistic style of painting. They disturb us, nourish our faculties of imagination, help to break the patterns of routine thoughts and give us solace, reassurance and joy by pointing out the higher potentials of life. They have often utter disregard for the time and space factors. Birds, animals and men can be seen freely engaging in serious discussions on the mysteries of existence! It is especially indicated in some of the Puranas that the stories should not be considered as historical events but should be taken as symbolic treasures which when opened using the proper keys reveal their profound truths.
While examining the following symbolic Puranic incidents, we must bear in mind that Sri Ayyappa philosophy and worship are profoundly spiritual, universal and timeless and the spirituality involved transcends the Puranas and history.
According to the above-mentioned Purana, two divine personalities, Datta and Leela were husband and wife. While Datta wanted to enter spiritual life, Leela under the influence of insatiable lust was against it. They cursed each other and degraded themselves to be born as buffaloes. Leela who was born to a demoniac Asura with the head of a she-buffalo and human body did intense penance and obtained a boon from Lord Brahma that she could be killed only by a son born to Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu, an impossibility. This boon made her very haughty and egoistic that she oppressed the three worlds and placed herself on the throne of Indra, the king of the Devas, the celestials. The Devas and the Rishis prayed to Lord Vishnu to give them relief from her oppression and Lord Vishnu assured them protection.
Because of a curse of the sage Durvasa, the Devas were also in another great trouble then having lost their everlasting youthfulness. However, the Devas could somehow manage to get temporary co-operation of the demoniac Asuras, their eternal enemies and they together churned the Ocean of Milk from which emerged the Amrita, the potion that would bring them back eternal youth. However, the Asuras forcibly took away the Amrita. Lord Vishu, thereupon assumed the form of an enchantress called Mohini. The Asuras fell an easy victim to her charms and Mohini deceptively took away the Amrita and handed it over to the Devas.
Thereupon Lord Siva wanted to see that form of Mohini and seeing the most enchanting form fell in love with her form. A son, Dharma Sastha was born to them. Thus the impossible condition for the destruction of the demoniac Mahishi - the she buffalo - was materialized. (The story thus engagingly highlights the oneness of the spiritual aspects of Siva and Vishnu and the vibrant Power of that Unity conceived by Dharma Sastha.)
Eventually, Dharma Sastha killed Mahishi and threw away the dead body at Azhutha, on the eastern side of the river Azhutha, which is a branch of the river Pampa . When Dharma Sastha killed Mahishi, the thankful and overjoyed Devas and Rishis prayed to Him and worshipped Him by installing an imaginary idol of Dharma Sastha at Ponnambalamedu. They showered the idol with flowers and worshipped it by performing Pooja with camphor flame. Ages after when Sri Rama along with Lakshmana was passing through the region in search of Sita, they happened to meet the women sage Sabari who was observing penance at Sabari-peedom. According to her advice, Sri Rama put up his temporary abode at Sabarimala (the present location of Sabarimala temple) and installed the idols he worshipped at that place. Eventually, sage Parashurama installed the idol of Dharma Sastha at the same sacred spot.
However, according to the above-mentioned Purana the Devas placed this child born to Lord Siva and Mohini on the banks of Pampa where the Mahishi was living for sometime in the company of Sundara Mahisha, who was Datta born as a buffalo because of the curse. Here, it is described that Rajasekhara, the king of Pandalam, saw the child during one of his hunting expeditions and the childless king took the boy and brought him up as his son. He was named Ayyappa. According to the Purana the boy grew up in the palace mastering many arts including the martial arts. The king wanted to make him the heir to his kingdom. When he reached the age of 15 the childless queen gave birth to a son. The queen, it is said, wanted her son to be the heir to the throne and in order to remove Ayyappa from the scene she conspired with some people and feigned incurable illness. They prevailed upon the royal physician to prescribe that only a leopard’s milk can cure the disease. Thereupon, Ayyappa volunteered to go to forest to fetch the leopard’s milk. The queen and her associates were happy that their plan succeeded as they felt sure that the young boy would never return from such a dangerous expedition. In the Purana it is said that it was when Ayyappa reached the forests he destroyed the demoniac Mahishi. Here we come across a great gap in the time sequence. The churning of the Milky Ocean, which is a highly symbolic story with profound inner meaning, is said to have occurred Yugas ago and king Rajasekhara found the child in the forest comparatively in the recent past. As we have said earlier, the Puranas being texts that contain stories with highly hidden meaning should not be considered as history records. As the truths they convey are timeless they often have scant regard for the time factor. Eventually Ayyappa came back mounted on a leopard and in the company of a group of leopards. All then realized the divinity of Ayyappa.
( For the meaning of the symbolism of this Puranic story including the churning of the Milky Ocean, the symbolism of the union of Lord Shiva and Vishnu and that of the annihilation of buffalo, etc., please refer the profusely illustrated book ‘Sabarimala: Its Timeless Message’. The book also contains a detailed comparative study of history and the Puranic story, besides many illuminating facts about Shri Ayyappa philosophy and worship. Details of the book can be obtained by visiting the website: www.integralbooks.com and can be ordered by sending a message to firstname.lastname@example.org )
Rajasekhara, king of Pandam, probably lived around the 12th century A.D. According to the Ayyappan Pattukal, the ballads on Sri Ayyapppa, during one of his hunting expeditions he came across the Divine Child on the banks of Pampa, where he also saw a Yogi in meditation. The Yogi advised him to take the child to his palace. (The details can be obtained from the above-mentioned book.) The boy was named `Ayyappa'. Since the child had a golden bell around his neck, he was also known as `Manikantan' (meaning `one wearing a bell around his neck'). The child was taken to the palace by the Raja and entrusted to his queen who had not borne him any offspring.
Ayyappa grew as an extremely brilliant boy. People began to admire him as the re-incarnation of Lord Dharma Sastha. Before his twelfth year, Ayyappa could master all Shastras and Vedas as well as the art of warfare. The Kingdom of Pandalam was then under threat from some oppressive chieftains. Ayyappa went around the country and mustered the co-operation from the neighbouring areas. . Irrespective of caste, creed or religion, a large group of people followed him to assist him in maintaining law and order. Among his chieftains were Vavar, a Muslim leader; and Valiya Kadutha and Kochu Kadutha, who were from the backward tribes. Eventually the oppressive chieftains were vanquished.
When Pandalam and neighbouring areas became calm and peaceful and free from the terrorists,King Rajasekhara wanted to make Ayyappa his successor to the kingdom of Pandalam. But Ayyappa himself had no such desire. Ayyappa requested the King to renovate the temple of Lord Dharma Sastha at Sabarimala, which was in a very dilapidated condition. The king agreed and made arrangements for the renovation of the temple. When the royal entourage, which included the armed forces carrying all the necessary materials for construction and stocks of food reached the place which is today known as Saramkuthi, near Sabarimala temple , Ayyappa requested the king and his soldiers to leave all the weaponry beneath a big banyan tree there, as carrying of weapons to a temple premises was a sacrilege. Accordingly, the sword, spears, clubs etc. were left at the foot of the banyan tree and the entourage proceeded to the temple. This was on the sacred ‘Makara Sankranti' day. Suddenly a big storm arose accompanied by heavy rains and fog. Visibility deteriorated and the people could not even see each other. When the storm and rain subsided and the fog gave way, Ayyappa was seen merging into the idol of Lord Dharma Sastha in the Sanctum Sanctorum. King Rajasekhara was heart broken seeing this and implored Ayyappa, "I have made all arrangements for your coronation and what shall I do with all the ornaments which were made for your coronation ceremony? As an answer the king heard a voice from the direction of the idol : "I am entering eternal meditation and Cosmic Consciousness for the welfare of the universe. However, every year at the time of Makara Sankranti, I will wake up from my meditation and open my eyes to see and bless this world. At that time you may adorn my idol with all the ornaments that you have made for my coronation ceremony. All who worship me are blessed as they will come closer to my Universal Consciousness." With these words, Lord Ayyappa closed his eyes and entered into meditation once again. . (Further reading is available in the Chapter Ayyappa Cult ) To abide by the divine commandment, `Thiruvaabharanam' ( a set of holy ornaments) is brought to Sabarimala every year on the Makara Sankranti day which falls around January 14th each year. The temples of Malikapurathamma, Kadutha and Vavar Swamy are also located in close proximity of the main temple. These are the other three temples which a pilgrim must visit during his pilgrimage. The legends associated with all these three can be found elsewhere on this site. To learn more about Lord Ayyappa's links with Pandalam Royal family, please visit their web site at: http://www.ayyappa.com
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