An artistic representation of lord Ayyappa
Affiliation Deva, son of Shiva and Mohini
Abode Sabarimala

Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa

Swami Saranam
Weapon Bow and Arrow
Symbols Bell
Mount Tiger, Horse
Region Kerala

Ayyappan (Malayalam:അയ്യപ്പന്‍) (Tamil:ஐயப்பன்) (Sanskrit: अय्यप्प) (Kannada:ಅಯ್ಯಪ್ಪ) also known as Dharmasasta, Maṇikandan or Sasta, is a Hindu deity who is the son of Harihara, fused with both Shiva and Vishnu. He is generally depicted in a yogic posture, wearing a jewel around his neck, hence named Manikanda, which literally means "person with gem around the neck".

By the 20th century, there has been an increase in the number of worshipers of Ayyappan from many different groups, spurred by vast improvements in transport and communication in southern India.[1]

Ayyappan's annual festival is a time of pilgrimage for ever-growing numbers of men from throughout South India. The most prominent and famous Ayyappan shrine is the one at Sabarimala, in the hills of Pathanamthitta in Kerala, with over ten million devotees visiting it every year,[2] making it one of the largest pilgrimage sites in the world. These devotees fast and engage in austerities under the leadership of a Guru Swami (one who has undertaken the pilgrimage to Sabarimala for 18 years) for weeks barefoot and then travel in groups to the shrine for a glimpse of Ayyappan. Bus tickets are hard to obtain for several weeks as masses of elated men, clad in distinctive ritual dhotis of saffron, black and light blue colors, throng public transportation during their trip to the shrine.[3]

The name "Sri Ayyappan" is used as a respectful form of address in Malayalam and Sanskrit. The equivalent of Sri is "Thiru" in Tamil. The mantra Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa is translated in English as, "Lord Ayyappa, I seek refuge in you".[4]


In ancient, the term 'Ayyan' or 'Aiyan' is a title of respect. The name that follows is again a term that refers to senior members of the community as a mark of respect - 'Appan' which also means 'Father'. Thus 'Ayyan' and 'Appan' put together --- 'Ayyappan' refers to a senior and respectable guardian deity of the oldest community. There are varied arguments that the cult is so ancient that the deity represents Nature itself, which was the only matter of worship then, and that they personified Nature as Ayyappan and named him so with terms denoting respect. Alternatively, it is also debated that the term 'Ayyan' coupled with the suffix '-aar' denoting respect refers to Aiyanar or Ayyanar, which is believed to refer to Lord Ayyappan. Thus it can be argued that 'Aiyanar' and Ayyappan represent the same deity of the South. This argument is further supported by the records that the divine consorts of 'Ayyappan' are called 'Poorna' and 'Pushkala' whereas those of 'Aiyanar' are called 'Poorani' and 'Porkamalam' (Golden Lotus), a slight variation in pronunciation of 'Pushkala'. Further evidences include the similarities in the unique seating style, with one/two legs folded and raised from the seat and the birth from the union of Shiva and Parvathi. Ayyappan is known as "Hariharasutan" because he is the son of Hari (Vishnu), the saviour and Hara (Shiva), the destroyer. His most common name is "Manikandan" because when the king Rajasekara Pandiyan of Pandalam found little Ayyappan in a forest there was a "Mani" tied around his "kanṭha" (neck, in Sanskrit).[5][6]

As Dharma Sastha, many of them consider him to be born out of the union between Mohini (an avatar of Vishnu) and Shiva.[7]

Legends surrounding Ayyappan

The demoness Mahishi was burning up with anger at the trick the Gods had pulled on her brother, the asura king Mahishasura. As Mahishasura was blessed with invulnerability to all men, the Gods had sent Goddess Durga, to fight and kill him. Thus, Mahishi began performing a fearsome set of austerities, and pleased the creator God Brahma. She asked for the boon of invulnerability, but Brahma said it was not possible so Mahishi planned and asked invulnerability to all men except by the son of Shiva and Vishnu (Both are male & no possibility to give birth to any one). He granted her the boon of ruling the universe and being invulnerable except by the son of Shiva and Vishnu. Since such a person did not exist, she thought she was safe and began conquering and plundering the world.

The Gods implored Shiva and Vishnu to save them from this catastrophe. Vishnu found a possible solution to the problem. When Vishnu had taken on the Kurma Avatar, he also had to manifest himself as Mohini, the enchantress, to save the nectar of immortality (ambrosia or amrit) from the demons who were not willing to share it with the Gods. If he became Mohini again, then the female Mohini and the male Shiva could have the divine child who would combine the powers of Durga as per Brahmand Purana and beat Mahishi. Skanda purana states that Durga took birth in masculine form as Dharamshasta.

Some versions give a slightly more detailed version of the union of Shiva with Vishnu. One version tells that the asura Bhasmasura (Bhasma means 'Ashes') had so pleased Lord Shiva with his austerities that Shiva gave him a boon of anything he wished. So Bhasmasura asked for the ability to burn to ashes anything which he placed his hand over. No sooner had Shiva granted this, than Bhasmasura ran after the God, threatening to turn him to ashes.

A depiction of Harihara, (A fusion of Shiva and Vishnu), who is Ayyappa's father

Shiva called to Lord Vishnu for help. He hide himself in a peepal tree as Bhasmasura ran here and there searching for the God. Vishnu became aware of the events, and decided that he would take the female form Mohini, "the Enchantress", and try to trump the asura's powers. When Bhasmasura saw Vishnu in this form, he was bewitched by her beauty. He earnestly tried to court her. So Vishnu instructed Bhasmasura to hold his hand over his head, and vow fidelity. With this act, Bhasmasura was reduced to ashes.

Vishnu found Shiva and explained the whole affair to him. Shiva asked if he too could see Vishnu in this female form. When Vishnu appeared thus, Shiva was overcome with passion, and united with her. The two Gods thus became "Harihara Murthi", that is a composite form of Shiva and Vishnu as one God.

From this union, Lord Sree Dharma Sastha was born. He combined in himself the powers of Vishnu and Shiva. Lord Ayyappan is an incarnation of Lord Sree Dharma Sastha and Lord Ayyappan is a visible embodiment of their essential identity. Sri Ayyappa belongs to Pandya Royal Community. He was the head of a clan. It is believed Sri Ayyappa merged to Sri Dharma Sastha. Lord Vishnu gifted the new-born deity with a little bejeweled bell necklace, so this God is called Manikantha. He is also Known as Dharma Shastha.

There are many popular stories associated with Him among the devotees. The stories differ, but there are certain common elements:

The most popular and widely accepted story tells that Lord Ayyappa had His human sojourn as the son of the Raja of Pandalam. At that time, Raja Rajasekhara Pandiyan ruled the kingdom of Pandalam. During one of his hunting expeditions, the Raja was puzzled to hear the wails of a child on the banks of the river Pampa, and was surprised to find a resplendent infant there. The beautiful baby with radiant face wore a bead ('mani') around his neck. The King, though pious, charitable, just, and God-fearing, had no children. He accepted the child as God's gracious response to his fervent prayer for an heir to his throne. Manikandan grew into a boy well versed in academic lore and martial arts. Meanwhile, the Rani gave birth to a son. The King regarded Manikandan as his elder son. He decided to crown him as the Yuvaraja. The King's corrupt Minister had a deep dislike for Manikandan, and made the innocent Queen believe that ill would befall her if Manikandan was crowned Yuvaraja and that the kingdom actually belonged to her son.

Ayyappa by sand

They conspired to get rid of Manikandan by hook or crook. They bribed the royal physician into becoming an accomplice of theirs. The Rani pretended to be afflicted with severe pain in the stomach, and the physician prescribed the milk of a tigress as the only cure. The King knew that none could be deputed for a mission that was so patently suicidal. However, the youthful and valiant Manikandan stepped forth and volunteered to fetch the milk. Despite the worried protestations of his foster-father, he set out for the fearful forests.

Days later, Manikandan entered the palace precincts riding a fierce tigress and followed by a pack of its cubs. The schemers were frightened into confessing their nefarious plot. They and others now knew that Manikandan was no ordinary being. They were convinced of His divine origins, and prayed to Him to be with them for their own salvation and for the safety of the kingdom. However, Manikandan was now determined to leave the place.

Filled with happiness, grief, fear, wonder and bhakti and self-surrender, the king prayed for the mercy and blessings of Manikandan. He repented he could not fully visualize the truth of the divine powers of the Lord and repeatedly requested Him to forgive him for behaving as if He were only his son. The Lord lovingly embraced the King who continued to pray: " Lord, kindly bless me by freeing me from my egos and the worldly life of birth and rebirth and grant me ' moksha’ (salvation). Kindly continue to be the saviour of my family and stay eternally in my kingdom." Manikandan then enlightened the King on the path of attainment of 'moksha'. These words of the Lord are contained in ‘Bhuthanathageetha'. To the King who is by now mentally cleansed and completely immersed in 'bhakthi', Lord Ayyappa said: "I am to free you from all worldly sorrows & worries and to grant you 'moksha'. All those who are and would be born in your family shall have my blessings unfailingly. I am always accessible to 'bhakthi' and only 'bhakthi." The Lord told the King that he could construct a temple at Sabarimala, north of the holy river Pampa and install His deity there. Ayyappa also explained how the Sabarimala pilgrimage shall be undertaken, emphasizing the importance of 'vrutham' and what the devotees can attain by His 'darshan'.

The Lord further consoled the King saying that the devotees who held him and his descendants in 'bhakthi' shall happen to be devoted to Him as well. Manikandan then blessed the King and all others assembled there, and vanished. The King duly constructed the temple at Sabarimala, dedicated to Him.

There are various tales connected with Lord Ayyappa: the discovery of the child at Pampa, Manikandan's youthful days in the Pandalam palace, bestowing the power of hearing and speaking upon the deaf and dumb son of His teacher as Guru-dakshina, His friendship with Vavar, bringing the tigress's milk, accomplishing His divinely destined mission of annihilation of the demoness Mahishi, eliminating the forest-thug Udayanan, bestowing moksha on Sabari, blessing His foster-father with moksha and so on. Legend also goes to say that Manikandan was the incarnation of Lord Dharma Sastha. Raja Rajasekhara was in his previous birth a rich and pious 'Brahmin ' by name Vijayan who was a very strong believer and devotee of Lord Dharma Sastha.

Another tale goes like this: Lord Ayyappan as Manikandan born to Pandala Maharaja is set to conquer the King Udayan who is a strong Buddhist and has been harassing the people of Pamba region. Maharaja sends Manikandan to learn martial arts Kalari to Cheerappanchira, the Muhamma of today in Alappuzha district. The panicker there trains him of Kalari. It is here where the Guru's daughter Nila falls in love with Lord Ayyappa (Manikandan) but He refuses to marry telling he is a Bhrammachari and has a mission. She offers a sweet made out in a function in their family which Lord likes. This sweet payasam was what turned out to be the Aravanapayasam today.

The 2012 release of Lord Ayyappa album of P. Unni Krishnan titled SABARIMALAI VA CHARANAM SOLLI VA has songs on various theories sorrounding Lord Ayyappa including the Cheerappanchira mukkal vettom temple. Written and composed by Manachanallur Giridharan it also refers to the Aravanapayasam which was supposed to have originated from here.

Temples dedicated of Swami Ayyappan

A crowd in front of the Ayyappan temple, Sabarimala

In Kerala, Sabarimala is a well known temple dedicated for Swami Ayyapan which attracts millions of visitors every year during mandala season, other important temples are Kulathupuzha sree Sasta temple, Aryankavu sree sasta temple, Achankovil sree sasta temple, ponnambala medu sasta temple.

In popular culture

See also


  1. Local Deities India
  2. "Safety Manual for Sabarimala prepared". The New Indian Express. June 23, 2011. Retrieved 13 July 2011. |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  3. CountryStudies Local Deities India
  4. Ganesan, Parur (January 15, 2003). "Speaking Tree - Unique Makara Jyoti In Sabarimala Hills". The Times of India. Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  5. "Sanskrit Dictionary of Spoken English". Sanskrit Dictionary of Spoken English. Retrieved 7 February 2011.
  6. "Bhaktivedanta VedaBase Network (SKCON affiliated)". Bhaktivedanta VedaBase Network (SKCON affiliated). Bhaktivedanta VedaBase Network (SKCON affiliated). Archived from the original on 7 May 2011. Retrieved 7 February 2011.
  7. Jones, Constance (2007). Encyclopedia of Hinduism. New York: Infobase Publishing. p. 58. ISBN 0-8160-5458-4.
  8. Jayan, Arun (December 17, 2012). "Toon 'Swami Ayyappan' all set to hit theatres". New Indian Express. Retrieved June 6, 2014.
  9. "Ayyappan now in toon avatar". The Hindu. June 20, 2012. Retrieved 2014-06-21.

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