Mythology of Lord Ayyappaa

Mythology and sacred lore make up a great part of the record of our knowledge and understanding of the reasons for worship OR UPAASANAA. The many folk songs praising Lord Ayyappaa and the Sanskrit scripture Bhootha Naathaa Paakiyaanam tell us  about the Leelaas or divine play, of Swaami Ayyappan.  In the Bhagavathaa and Skanda Puraanam the mention of Saastha is made. In the Skanda Puraanam Lord Indra described the origin of Saastha Ayyannaar or Harihara Putran to his wife, Indrani and tells her that Saastha Ayyannaar will take care of her while he is away at battle. Lord Ayyappan is not mentioned in any of the puraanaas by the name “Ayyappan” as His Avathaaram was played out in Kerala around 1105.

Common to all Hindu mythology is the ultimate destruction and annihilation of evil (imperfection) by the forces of goodness (perfection) and these have been woven into beautiful stories, combining myth with historical events, symbolically reflecting this. Legends, such as this one, have been told over centuries and the main theme has been that of good triumphing over evil. We have seen it in the Ramayana, where Rama (good-perfection) destroyed the demon Ravana (bad-imperfection) so that Ravenna’s evil reign over Lanka could be abolished.  Like these legends, the legend of Swami Ayyappan reiterates this basic theme.

In this story Lord Ayyappaa represents the forces of good and Mahishi, the buffalo headed demonness, represents forces of evil. Mahishi gained a boon after many years of penance and thought that this boon, that only one born of Hari (Lord Vishnu) and Hara

(Lord Shiva) will be able to destroy her, will give her immortality. On the human and worldly plane this is impossibility. This boon, she thought, would make her invincible. Her ultimate plan was to inflict the maximum amount of pain and suffering on the good and pious people of the world. Ayyappaa is the son of lord Shiva (male) and Lord Vishnu as His “Mohini Avathaaram” (male).  Lord Ayyappaa eventually destroyed Mahishi, which represents the universal law that good will always triumph over the forces of evil existing within man.


The legend of Swami Ayyappaa is such a captivating one that the films relating to this legend are watched over and over by all devotees both young and old, and still continues to provide the joy, wonder and a sense of awe in all.


The story began in the state of Kerala in South India, where Swaami Ayyappan is worshipped as Saastha, the one who controls and rules over the whole, and in Tamil Nadu as a village God or village protector, called Ayyannaar (gramadehvataa).

Long, long ago in Kerala, a Shivan devotee called Rajesekhara Pandian ruled the city of Panthalam very fairly and honestly. He was very unhappy because he had no children, and so He and his queen prayed to Lord Shiva to bless them with a child.


Also during this time there lived demonness, called Mahishi. This name was given to her because she had the head and qualities of a Buffalo. She performed a lot of fasting and prayed to Lord Brahma. After passing many tests to judge her devotion, she received a Boon that no being born from Men and Women will have the power to destroy her. If there were such a being, that being would have to stay for twelve years on Earth living as a human being before it could destroy her.


After receiving this Boon, Mahishi treated the Devas and Saints very badly and punished them. The Devas and Saints were very unhappy and helpless and so, they prayed to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu to save them. Lord Shiva decided that Lord Vishnu must appear in his female form as Mohini, and out of this union of Lord Shiva and Mohini, a great ball of fire appeared called Tejas, and a baby was created. This baby had the powers of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu and was called Hariharaputra. Hari is the name of Lord Vishnu; Hara is the name of Lord Shiva, and Putran means son. So, Hariharaputra means the son of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. He is also called Mohinibalan because Mohini is the female form of Lord Vishnu, which means most beautiful and attractive, and baalan means small boy. So, Mohinibalan means son of Mohini. Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu decided that Hariharaputhran would be under the guidance and care of the King of Panthalam, Rajesekhara Pandian for twelve years, which would be the right time to kill the demoness Mahishi.


So the story goes, that one day the Pandian, King Rajesekhara Pandian, went hunting in the forest near the Pambaa River and while he was walking and enjoying the beauty of the forest, he heard the voice of a crying baby. He followed this beautiful sound because he longed to have children. He then found a baby boy with a sparkling diamond around his neck. A Saint then appeared before the King and told him that this baby is given to him by God, and that he should take care of this baby as if it were his very own. The saint also told the king to call him Manikanda. Mani, meaning gem and Kandam, meaning neck.


When the king brought Manikanda to the Palace, the Queen was overjoyed because she believed that Lord Shiva had answered their prayers for a child. The Queen loved Manikanda very much, and as Manikanda grew up, many Gurus educated Him in scriptures, war tactics, and religion and so on. Manikanda was not an ordinary student. He was a divine student and knew more than his Gurus. He also easily mastered all the Arts and Sciences. Manikanda performed many miracles. After making his Guru’s deaf and dumb child speak and hear, he was carried by his friends who sang his praise and called him Swaami Ayyappan which means “The Revered One.”


Meanwhile, the Queen gave birth to a baby boy and named him Rajarajan. Some of the Queen’s ministers were wicked and jealous of Manikanda’s abilities, love and respect that he received from the king’s subjects. The Queen began to feel differently towards Manikanda because she wanted her own son to become the Prince of Panthalam, and not Manikanda. This worried the Queen and some of her ministers very much and convinced the Queen that it would be better for Rajarajan if Manikanda were destroyed.  Together, the Queen and her wicked ministers made plans to destroy Manikanda so that Rajarajan would be crowned Prince of Panthalam. The ministers told the Queen to pretend to have a terrible headache and when the doctor came to see her, he told the King that only a medicine prepared in a tigress’ milk could make the Queen better. The doctor was also part of this evil plan and the Queen and her wicked Ministers knew that Manikanda would go to get the Tigress’ milk as He loved his mother very much. They were sure that Manikanda would not return to the Palace, as the Tigers and other wild animals would kill him.


Manikanda volunteered to go into the forest to bring the tigress’ milk. The King did not want Manikanda to go because he cared about him very much, but the King eventually allowed him to go because he insisted. Manikanda set out for the forest alone. The King gave Manikanda a coconut representing Lord Shiva, his family deity, to protect Him. Manikanda then put this coconut and some food into a cloth, tied it in a bundle and carried it on his head. This is called an Irumudi.   Which pilgrims carry today?

Iru, means 2 and mudi, means to tie.


Once Manikanda was in the forest, the Saints worshipped him and begged him to save them from the cruel and evil Mahishi. Manikanda, knowing that he was born on earth to kill Mahishi, set out to look for her. When Manikanda found Mahishi, he defeated her with his arrow and tossed her down where she landed on the banks of the Alutha River continuously begging for forgiveness. Good had triumphed over evil and the sages rejoiced at the victory. From the defeated, repentful   Mahishi, emerged a beautiful maiden Leela, who attained the name Malikappurathamma. This signifies the beauty that emerges in every one once all bad qualities have been destroyed. Mahishi prayed that she could be taken as Swami Ayyappan’s consort, but she was denied this request until the day no new devotee, known as a Kanniswami, ascended Sabarimala.

Manikanda thus accomplished his task on earth. Lord Shiva blessed Manikanda; the Devas took the form of tigresses and Manikanda, together with the tigresses, returned to Panthalam.


Meanwhile, in Panthalam, the Saint that told the king to take care of Manikanda, appeared before the king Rajesekhara Pandian and told him the truth about Manikanda being God, himself as Hariharaputhran. He also said that the reason for Manikanda’s birth was to destroy Mahishi and that He has to leave Earth. When Manikanda, riding a tiger, followed by hundreds of other tigers, reached Panthalam, the King, Queen, wicked Ministers and the people of Panthalam begged for his forgiveness. They promised to build a Temple to worship Manikanda. Manikanda then showed his true identity as Dharma Saastha. Dharma, meaning protector of righteousness and Saastha meaning one who rules over the whole universe. The Lord accepted the kings offer and stated that the temple should be built on the Neeli hill, north-east of the river Pambaa. To indicate this exact area, Swami Ayyappaa shot an arrow and said that where the arrow fell, this area would become famous as Sabari Hill. He further stated that there would be a shrine on the left of the main sanctum sanctorum for his shakthi, Malikappurathamma. Swami Ayyappan also stated that there should be 18 steps (holy Pathineddu Padi), facing East leading to the main sanctum.

Swami Ayyappaa related the significance of the 18 steps to the King and his associates and also gave instructions as to the nature of the austerities to be practiced before the pilgrimage, the route the pilgrims should follow, the various formalities to be observed as well as the significance thereof. Swami Ayyappaa then departed as the purpose for his avatar had been completed. Adored by the King, Manikanda disappeared. With Swami Ayyappaa’s departure, Lord Siva ordained that the temple atop Sabarimala would become famous and the deity would reside in the hearts of innumerable devotees.

. The arrow from Manikanda’s bow landed at the top of Sabarimalai. It is at this site on which the King of Panthalam, Rajesekhara Pandian built the holy Ayyappan temple, which faces east and has eighteen steps leading to the temple flag post.  This is how the holy temple of Lord Ayyappaa came into being and millions of devotees go every year to His temple in order to gain spiritual understanding, strength and direction in the righteous way of living (Dharma).


Swaamiyeh Saranam Ayyappaa!!!