Sri Ayyappan

Aashyaama Komalavishaalatanum Vichitra
Vaasovasaanam Arunotpala Daamahastam
Uttungaratnamakutam Kutilaagrakesam
Shaastaaram Ishtavaradam Sharanam Prapadhye

Lord Ayyappa or Dharma Shastha is the son of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. According to Bhoothanaathopaakhyaanam, the Purana which describes the legend of Lord Ayyappa, two divine personalities, Datta and Leela were husband and wife. While Datta wanted to enter spiritual life, Leela, under 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 only a son born to Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu, an impossibility, could kill her. This boon made her so 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 Sages prayed to Lord Vishnu to give them relief from her oppression and Lord Vishnu assured them protection. Meanwhile, because of a curse of sage Durvasa, the Devas had also lost their everlasting youthfulness. The Devas managed to get the co-operation of the demonic Asuras, their eternal enemies, and together they churned the Ocean of Milk from which emerged the Amrita, a potion to bring them back eternal youth. However, the Asuras forcibly took away the Amrita. Lord Vishnu 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 Shastha was born to them. Thus the impossible condition for the destruction of the demoniac Mahishi – the she buffalo – was materialized.

Dharma Shastha embodies the oneness of the spiritual aspects of Siva and Vishnu and the vibrant power of that union. Lord Ayyappan is a symbol of religious unity and communal harmony. Being born out of Mohini (the female incarnation of Lord Vishnu during the churning of the Milky Ocean) and Lord Shiva, he is also known as Bhuthanatha, Dharmashastha, Hariharan and Manikanta.

Sabarimala (Mount Shabari) in the Western Ghats of India, is the most favorite and significant temple in Kerala. Pilgrimage to this temple symbolizes the journey to heaven. The journey of a spiritual candidate to Sabarimala is difficult and adventurous. Pilgrims observe severe austerities, wearing rudraksha or tulsi bead strings and trek up the forest to reach the temple. lrumudi (two compartments) is the only traveling kit which a pilgrim carries on his head during the pilgrimage. The front compartment is for keeping all the puja articles and offerings to the Deity while the rear part is meant to hold the pilgrim’s personal needs for the journey. Only those who fast for 41 days are allowed to carry it. Without the Irumudi one is not allowed to step onto the holy 18 steps at the Sannidhanam. One popular belief regarding the 18 steps or Pathinettampati is that the first 5 steps signify the five senses, the next 8 the ragas, the next 3 the gunas, followed by vidya and avidya. Crossing these would take the devotee closer to self-realization. Finally, at the eighteenth step, the devotee is facing the image of Lord Ayyappa. A circumambulation brings the devotee in front of the sanctum sanctorum, giving a sense of accomplishment and utter peace. The culmination of the pilgrimage is marked by ghee abhisheka, or bathing of the idol in ghee. The ghee-filled coconut, which the pilgrim has carried in the front section of the Irumudi is broken, and the ghee is offered to the Deity. Another important abhisheka is of vibhuti, which is also brought by the devotee in the Irumudi.

The shrine is open only from Mid- November to Mid-January and for first five days of every Malayalam month. It is open to all, irrespective of caste, creed, religion, social status or nationality. However, since the Lord is a chaste yogi in Sabarimala, only males, menopaused females and girls below 10 years of age are admitted. The feeling of delight and spiritual elevation one gets when one has the darshan of the Deity at the end of an arduous pilgrimage is so remarkable and significant that, any devotee who undertakes the yatra (pilgrimage) once, wants to revisit the shrine every year in quest of spiritual solace.

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