The abode of the Lord
Lord Ayyappa is the presiding deity of Sabarimala temple. Information on the life and teachings of the Lord are mostly based on legends. In fact, there are very many popular stories associated with Him among the devotees. These differ from one to another depending on the imaginations of the narrator and inherent variations due to the passing down of the stories from generation to generation. However, there are a few events which are common in all the stories and which can stand historical scrutiny. Examples are:
• All stories confirm that Ayyappa lived in the Pandalam Palace as the son / savior of the King.
• He had had super-human or divine knowledge, wisdom, and courage and had great liking for the King and his people.
• He protected the King and the kingdom from the attacks of enemies.
• At the end of His life in Pandalam, He vanished into the forests and is ever since worshiped at the Sabarimala temple.
The most popular and widely accepted story goes to say that Lord Ayyappa had had His human sojourn as the son of the Raja(King) of Pandalam. At that time, Raja Rajasekhara 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. He moved in the direction of the voice to find a resplendent infant there. The beautiful baby with radiant face wore a bead (‘mani’) around his neck. Mythology has it that Manikantan was Ayyappan, born of Hari and Hara. 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. Manikantan was given proper education and training and he grew into a boy well versed in academic lore and martial arts of the time.Meanwhile the Rani gave birth to a son. The King regarded Manikantan as his elder son. He decided to crown him as the Yuvaraja. The King’s corrupt Minister had had a deep dislike for Manikantan. The Minister made the innocent Queen believe that adverse consequences would befall her if Manikantan was crowned Yuvaraja and that the kingdom actually belonged to her son.
They conspired between them to get rid of Manikantan 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 leopard as the only cure for the ache. The King was in an agonizing fix. He knew that none could be deputed for a mission that was so patently suicidal. However, the youthful and valiant Manikantan 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 Manikantan entered the palace precincts riding a fierce leopard and followed by a pack of its cubs. The schemers were frightened into confessing their nefarious plot. They and others now knew that Manikantan 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, Manikantan was now determined to leave the place.
Filled with emotions of happiness, grief, fear, wonder and ‘bhakthi’ (devotion to God) and self-surrender, the king stood praying for the mercy and blessings of Manikantan. 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 his son only. 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 savior of my family and stay eternally in my kingdom.” Manikantan then enlightened the King on the path of attainment of ‘moksha’. These words of the Lord are contained in ‘Bhuthanathageetha’, which is in the form of conversation between Him and His foster-father. To the King who is by now mentally cleansed and completely immersed in ‘bhakthi’, Lord Ayyappa told: ” 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. Manikantan 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 lore’s connected with Lord Ayyappa. These relate to discovery of the child at Pampa, Manikantan’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 Vaver, bringing the leopard’s milk, accomplishing His divinely destined mission of annihilation of the demoness Mahishi, eliminating the forest-thug Udayanan, bestowing immortality on Sabari, blessing His foster-father with immortality and so on. Legend also goes to say that Manikantan was the incarnation of Lord DharmaSastha. 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. Such was Vijayan’s ‘ bhakthi’ towards the Lord that He blessed the brahmin by granting his wish to be born as his son in his next birth when the Lord would offer him “moksha’.
Lord Ayyappa – Son of Pandalam Raja
Pandalam in Kerala is the chosen and blessed place where Lord Ayyappa, the presiding deity of Sabarimala had had His human sojourn as the son of the Raja of Pandalam. The Pandalam kingdom was established around 79 ME (903 AD) by the Pandalam royal family who are the descendents of the Pandya kings of Madurai. The Pandya royal family had to flee Madurai because of threats to their lives posed by their own ministers. A branch of the fleeing family moved westward, briefly staying at various places it acquired by purchase. The family kept on the move for over a century, finally reaching Pandalam in 79 ME. This was chosen to be the permanent home for the royal family. The then ruler of Venad (later Travancore) helped to establish the kingdom at Pandalam. According to the Travancore State Manual, the Rajas of Pandalam ” were always friendly to the Kings of Travancore.” By the time, all members of the family reached Pandalam and a full-fledged kingdom was established, it was 370 ME (1194AD).
The territories under the Pandalam administration extended to over 1,000 square miles mainly eastward and covered the mountain ranges, consisting of 18 holy hills including Sabarimala. The principality was also known as Airur Swarupam. The Raja also used a title ‘ Airur Sree Veerasreedhara Kovil Adhikarikal’. The royal family of Pandalam belongs to the ‘bhargava gothra’ while other Kshatriya families in Kerala belong to ‘viswamithra gothra’. Secularism was and is one of the guiding principles of Pandalam family and there was peaceful co-existence of various religious groups. There are many examples of the Pandalam Rajas extending lavish help in constructing churches and mosques in their territory.
When Marthanda Varma, the ruler of Venad established the kingdom of Travancore in 925ME(1749AD), Pandalam was not annexed but allowed to continue independent. This can be due to two reasons:
1. the cordial relation that existed between the two families even from the time of inception of Pandalam kingdom
2. To quote from the Travancore State Manual, the co-operation of the Rajas of Pandalam “was of great advantage to Marthanda Varma for the subjection of Kayamkulam.”
After Tippu’s invasion of the Malabar coast in 965ME(1789AD), Pandalam was asked to pay an amount Rs. 2,20,001 to the Travancore govt. towards the cost of the war. The amount was to be paid in installments from various sources. Once in 969ME (1794AD), the income from Sabarimala temple was hypothecated by the then ruler of Pandalam for the above purpose. In 995 M.E (1820AD), the then Ruler of Travancore suggested that the Travancore government would support every member of Pandalam royal family and the future progenies thereof in a manner befitting their status for all time to come provided the Raja of Pandalam entered into a written agreement with the Travancore government consenting to have the revenues in Pandalam collected by the officers of the Travancore government. Upon the Raja of Pandalam accepting the above proposals, the Pandalam kingdom was merged with Travancore. Since then, a monthly pension is being paid to the Pandalam family. Administration of the temples, including Sabarimala within the Pandalam kingdom was also transferred to Travancore government and subsequently to Travancore Devaswom Board.
Ayyappa Family Tradition
The Raja of Pandalam is treated as the father of Lord Ayyappa of Sabarimala and the founder of the temple .The present Valiya koikkal temple at Pandalam was the private place of worship for the members of the Royal family. When the territories under Pandalam kingdom were assumed by Travancore in 1820 AD as per a written agreement between the rulers of the two kingdoms, the administration of all the temples within Pandalam area got transferred to the government of Travancore which was subsequently handed over to the Travancore Devaswom Board after Independence.
The understanding arrived at, during the transfer was that “the customs and rituals will be followed in the traditional way”. Accordingly the Pandalam royal family has had a significant role to perform in the ritualistic observances at Valiya koikkal and Sabarimala temples.
Devotees in large numbers come to Pandalam to obtain the blessings of the Raja who offer them ‘vibhuthy’. The Pandalam family is an off-shoot of the Pandya kings of Madurai who ,according to Sage Agasthya’s ‘Halasya puranam’, were the direct descendants of Lord Siva and Madurai Meenakshi. Thus the members of the family are considered Saivites. This accounts for their practice of blessing the devotees by giving them ‘vibhuthy’ or the sacred ash. A member of the Royal family also stays in Pampa during the pilgrimage season to offer blessings and ‘vibhuthy’ to the ayyappas.
A member of royal family chosen by the Valiya Thampuran (Senior Raja) accompanies the Thiruvabharanam procession from Pandalam to Sannidhanam and back. All through the journey, people in large numbers pay their respects to the Raja of Pandalam and receive ‘vibhuthy’ from him. Devotees ,particularly women,who are prohibited from going to Sabarimala, can have opportunities for ‘darshan’ of the holy ornaments at Srampickal Palace during Mandalam-Makaravilakku season.
Other customs include :
• The Valiya Thampuran never goes to Sabarimala.
• Male children before ‘upanayanam’ (thread ceremony) and female members of the Palace are not allowed to
undertake the pilgrimage.
• No one from Pandalam royal family goes to Sannidhanam on Makaravilakku day.
• Family members do not stand right in front of the sanctum sanctorum while at Sabarimala.
• Members of Pandalam palace need not carry ‘irumudikettu’ while climbing ‘pathinettampadi’.
• The Pandalam Valiya koikkal temple remains closed for 12 days upon the death of any member of the Palace.
Makaravilakku marks the grand finale of the two-month period of the Sabarimala pilgrimage. This follows the arrival of ‘Thiruvabharanam’ from Pandalam to Sannidhanam.
Three days prior to this , the procession carrying the holy caskets containing the sacred ornaments , as also other relics and paraphernalia needed for special poojas at Sabarimala , starts on its long trek from Pandalam. A scion of the Pandalam royal family , chosen and blessed by the Valiya Thampuran (Senior Raja) accompanies the procession in a palanquin (pallakku).
On 28th Dhanu (around 12th January), the day the procession is to start, at 4 in the morning , the holy boxes are taken from Srampickal palace and moved to the temple for viewing and worship. ‘Darshan’ of the Ornaments and rendering of offerings to them on this occasion are believed to be highly auspicious and beneficial.
Thousands queue by the sacred pieces now. At around 1 o’clock in the afternoon , a brahminy kite (popularly known as ‘krishnapparunthu’) is sighted circling majestically far above the temple. Devotees believe that this is Lord Vishnu upon ‘Garuda’ accompanying the Thiruvabharanam from Pandalam through Sabarimala where again the kite is found hovering above the temple synchronizing with the arrival of the procession there. The chanting of the Lord’s name rises to a thunderous crescendo at the sight of the kite and deafening explosions of crackers rend the air. The Boxes are closed and taken out of the temple by specially deputed bearers.
The ValiyaThampuran has already arrived in royal style from his Palace to the temple and is by now inside the temple to offer ‘vibhuthy’ to the members of the procession as also to his nephew whom he has chosen to escort the Thiruvabharanam. The delegation of authority and responsibility by the Senior Raja to his representative is symbolized by the former handing over a sword to the latter.
The procession is now ready to start. The frenzied movements of the bearers of the boxes, the rising tempo of the devotees chanting ‘Swamiye-Ayyappo’, the exploding fireworks, The Pandalam Raja accompanying the Thiruvabharanam in his palanquin, the infectious excitement of the surging crowds and the seemingly unperturbed hovering of the ‘krishnapparunthu’ far above-all make up an indescribably magnificent moment when the journey starts for the distant hill shrine, marking the fulfillment of a vow, the consummation of a dream, the vindication of a faith.
The procession takes the age-old route through village roads, across rivers and up and down hills. The Raja (Thampuran) and other members are accorded reception at various places by various devotee-groups, including tribals. All through the procession , people in large numbers pay their respects to the Raja and receive ‘vibhuthy’ from him. After scheduled halts at Ayroor-Puthiyukavu and Laha, the procession reaches Valiyanavattom(Pampa) on the 3rd day(1st Makaram). From there the Thiruvabharanam proceeds through the traditional forest route to Saramkuthi while the Thampuran (Raja) and his aides go to the Rajamandapam near the Pampa Ganapathy temple and stay there.
Thiruvabharanam Return Journey
After the Makaravilakku , the Sabarimala temple is closed for the season on the morning of 7th Makaram. Immediately the return journey commences. The first overnight halt is at Laha. The second day the procession reaches Perunadhu Temple. This is the temple constructed by the Raja of Pandalam . Staying at Perunadhu the Raja personally supervised the construction of the Sabarimala temple. The Ayyappa deity in this temple is also adorned with the holy ornaments. Thousands , especially women queue up to have the ‘darshan’ and to obtain ‘vibhuthy’ from the Raja of Pandalam . On 9th Makaram, the procession moves to Aranmula Kottaram (Palace) and halts there. On the 10th Makaram around 8 am, the holy journey reaches back in Pandalam.
The pilgrimage to Sabarimala is a symbol of love, equality, and devotion. It is the necessity of this age to spread the message of Ayyappa. There has been vast changes in the nature of Sabarimala pilgrimage during the last 30-40 years. Many of them are neither adaptable to the forest temple nor acceptable to the devotees. Pandalam palace is genuinely concerned with the changes that are made in the various rituals and practices connected with the temple and the pilgrimage. Many of these changes were made in a casual manner. Regarding infrastructure facilities, the administrators failed to identify the real needs of the devotees. This resulted in indiscriminate felling of trees and construction of huge and low quality cement concrete structures. The destruction of trees and wildlife is indeed against the very ethos of Sabarimala pilgrimage. As a result of the disregard for rituals & practices and the mis-directed developmental activities , the pilgrimage is being converted into tourism , with attendant ill-effects.
In fact, a number of executive, judicial, and legislative Committees and Commissions and private Agencies have made elaborate study of the whole problems in Sabarimala and a number of Reports are already available. Pandalam palace have made detailed suggestions before the various Committees. The Palace have taken up these matters with the highest level of authorities in the Government and Devaswom Board as well. To sum up, it is time for a review of all the present practices by a Committee of Thanthries and other experts with statutory powers to suggest and implement necessary corrective steps. Regarding infrastructure developments, it is the view of the Palace that a ‘master plan’ be conceived and effected to suit the real needs of the devotees and ensuring the sanctity of the forest temple. To counter the inefficiency of the present set-up, most of the Reports mentioned above have suggested formation of a separate Administrative Authority for Sabarimala. The Palace agree to this. Further, with respect to the Kerala Hindu religious and charitable institutions and endowments Bill, 1997, now before the Legislative Assembly , the Palace have made specific proposals for the overall reorganization of the Devaswom Boards and for the improvement of temple administration in general and Sabarimala in particular ,to the satisfaction and benefit to the devotees. It is hoped that the Government and other Authorities are considering the views of the Palace with due seriousness that they deserve.
The Thiruvabharanam which starts from Pandalam on 28th Dhanu , after scheduled halts at Ayroor-Puthiyakavu and Laha , reaches Saramkuthi on the third day evening (1st Makaram) and is ceremonially escorted to the sanctum sanctorum.
When the Sreekovil opens for ‘deeparadhana’ , the Lord is seen in all His divine splendor, adorned with the jeweled gold ornaments .At the distant eastern hilly horizon , the light of ‘jyothi’ appears to the immense satisfaction of the thousands of devotees who have thronged to the temple to pay obeisance to the Lord. The occasion is also marked by the divine appearance of the ‘star’ in the eastern sky and the hovering ‘krishnapparunthu’ far above the temple. This marks the grand finale of the two-month period to the Sabarimala pilgrimage.
The Raja of Pandalam who stayed back at Pampa on 1st Makaram arrives at Sabarimala on 3rd Makaram.Devotees continue to arrive in large numbers for ‘darshan’ of the deity adorned with the holy ornaments and to obtain the blessings of the Raja. ‘Darshan’ on the morning of 7th Makaram is exclusively restricted to the Pandalam Raja, after which the temple will be closed and the Raja returns to Pandalam , taking the Thiruvabharanam with him.