The Hindu Gods are known for their various forms. Curses, promises, and boons all play a key role in transforming the Gods into the form necessary for the outcome i.e. Win of Good over Evil. One such form is that of Lord Vishnu, Mohini.
The Amrita, or nectar of immortality, was produced by the churning of the Ocean of Milk (Samudra Manthan). The Deva and the Asura fought over its possession. The Asuras plan to keep the Amrita for themselves, angering the Devas. Vishnu, wise to their plan, assumed the form of an “enchanting damsel“. She used her allure to trick the Asuras into giving her the Amrita and then distributed it amongst the Devas.
In the Vishnu Purana, Mohini defeats Bhasmasura, the “ash demon”. Bhasmasura invokes Lord Shiva by performing severe penances. Lord Shiva, pleased with Bhasmasura, grants him the power to turn anyone into ashes by touching their heads. The demon decides to try the power of Lord Shiva himself. Shiva runs terrified.
Lord Vishnu, witnessing the unfortunate turn of events, transforms into Mohini and charms Bhasmasura. Bhasmasura is so taken by Mohini that he asks her to marry him. Mohini agrees, but only on the condition that Bhasmasura follows her move for move in a dance. In the course of the dance, she places her hand on her head. Bhasmasura mimics the action, and in turn, reduces himself to ashes.
Birth of Lord Ayyappa
After Lord Vishnu deceives the demons in his female form, Lord Shiva wishes to see the bewildering Mohini again. When Vishnu agrees and reveals his Mohini form, Lord Shiva runs crazily behind Mohini, while the abandoned wife Goddess Parvati looks on in shame and envy. Lord Shiva is overcome by Kama (love and desire).
Lord Shiva grabs Mohini’s hand and embraces her, but Mohini frees herself and runs further. Finally, Lord Shiva grabs her, and their “violent coupling” leads to the discharge of Lord Shiva’s seed. Lord Shiva impregnates Mohini, who gives birth to Lord Ayyappa. They abandon Ayyappa in shame.
The Events that actually led to the birth of Lord Ayyappan
The legendary story of the genesis of Lord Ayyappa in the Puranas or ancient scriptures is intriguing. After Goddess Durga killed the demon king Mahishasur, his sister, Mahishi, set out to avenge her brother. She carried Lord Brahma’s boon that only the child born of Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva could slay her, or, in other words, she was indestructible. To save the world from annihilation, Lord Vishnu, incarnated as Mohini wed Lord Shiva and out of their union Lord Ayyappan was born.
Childhood of Lord Ayyappa
Lord Ayyappa is a very popular Hindu deity, which is mainly worshipped in South India. Ayyappa is also called ‘ Hariharan Puthiran’ which means the son of both Hari or Vishnu and ‘ Haran’ or Shiva.
Legend has it that, when Shiva and Mohini abandoned the child on the banks of the Pampa River, the ruler of that dynasty, King Rajashekhara, the childless monarch belonging to Pandalam, adopted Ayyappa and accepted him as the divine gift.
Ayyappa is also commonly known as ‘Manikandan‘ because, according to the legend of his birth, his divine parents tied a golden bell (mani) around his neck (Kandan) soon after his birth.
After King Rajashekhara adopted Ayyappa, his own biological son Raja Rajan was born. Ayyappa or Manikantan was intelligent and excelled in martial arts and the knowledge of various shastras or scriptures. He surprised everyone by his superhuman powers.
It is said that upon completing his princely training and studies when he offered guru dakshina or a fee to his guru, the master aware of his divine power asked him for a blessing of sight and speech for his blind dumb son. Manikantan placed his hand on the boy and his disabilities were restored.
Ayyappan, the Queen and the Death of Mahishi
When it was time to name the heir to the throne, King Rajashekhara wanted Ayyappa, but the queen wanted her own son to be the king. She plotted with the minister and her physician to kill him. Faking illness, the queen made her physician ask for an impossible remedy — lactating tigress’s milk. When no one could procure it, Ayyapan volunteered to go, much against his father’s will.
The Panchabuthas of Lord Shiva closely followed Manikandan as he entered the forest. But on the way, he chanced to witness the atrocities of the demoness Mahishi in Devaloka. His sense of justice outraged, Manikandan hurled Mahishi onto the earth below; she fell on the banks of the Azhutha River.
A bloody battle soon ensued and at the end, Manikandan mounted Mahishi’s chest and commenced a violent dance that reverberated within the earth and the Devaloka. Even the Devas were frightened. Mahishi realized that the divine being on her was the son of Hari and Haran, chastened, she prostrated before the young boy and died.
This dance was witnessed by Lord Shiva and Mahavishnu from a place called Kalakatti (It is said that Leela, daughter of Kavalan, a Karamban, with a face of Mahishi and freed herself from the curse and obtained Moksha by the grace of Shri Dharma Sastha, which is described in Sabarimala Temple as Malikapurathu Amma, by which name she has a temple there).
Following his confrontation with Mahishi, Manikandan entered the forest for the tigress’ milk. He had a darshan with Lord Shiva who informed him that even though he had fulfilled the divine plan, he still had one major task to accomplish. Manikandan was reminded about his grief-stricken father and ailing mother; also he was assured of Lord Indra’s assistance in obtaining the much-prized tigress’ milk. Manikandan made his way to the Royal Palace on Lord Devendran, disguised as a tiger; they were accompanied by female devas in the guise of tigresses and male devas as tigers.
The departure of Lord Ayyappa
King Rajasekara decided to punish his minister as the latter was responsible for his son’s exile into the forest. Manikandan, however, advised restraint; he held that all had unfolded in accordance with the divine order, through the will of God. Also, he reminded his father that as he had accomplished the task for which he had created himself, he would return to Devaloka without fail. Before his departure, the lad told the King that as he was pleased by the latter’s unflinching faith and devotion, he would grant him whatever boon Rajasekara requested for.
Immediately, King Rajasekara told him that they wanted to construct a temple in his memory and beseeched him to suggest a suitable place for the temple. Manikandan aimed an arrow which fell at a place called Sabari, wherein Sri Rama’s era a Sanyasini called Sabari observed Dhavam. Lord Manikandan told the King to build the temple in that place and then he disappeared.
King Rajasekara, in due course of time, completed the construction of the shrine and the sacred eighteen stairs leading to the temple complex. As the King mulled over the seemingly perplexing task of placing Dharmasastha’s idol in the temple for darshan, he was reminded of the words of the Lord himself – the River Pampa is a holy river as River Ganga, Sabarimala is as holy as Kasi – Dharmasastha sent Parasuraman, who resurrected the land of Kerala from the bottom of the ocean to Sabarimala; it was he who carved the figure of Lord Ayyappa and installed it on the day of Makarasankranthi.
The Worship of Lord Ayyappa
Lord Ayyappa is believed to have laid down strict religious adherence to receive his blessings. First, the devotees should observe a 41-day penance before visiting him in the temple. They should maintain abstinence from physical pleasures and family ties and live like a celibate or Brahmachari. They should also continuously contemplate the goodness of life. Moreover, the devotees have to bathe in the holy river Pampa, adorn themselves with three-eyed coconut and Aantha garland, and then brave the steep climb of the 18 stairs to the Sabarimala temple.
The Famous Pilgrimage to Sabarimala
Sabarimala in Kerala is the most famous Ayyappa shrine visited by over 50 million devotees every year, making it one of the most popular pilgrimages in the world.
Pilgrims from around the country brave the dense forests, steep hills, and inclement weather to seek the blessings of Ayyappa on the 14h day of January, known as Makar Sankranti or Pongal when the Lord himself is said to descend in the form of light. The devotees then accept Prasada, or the Lord’s food offerings, and descend the 18 steps walking backward with their faces turned towards the Lord.