Ayyappa is a very popular god who was worshiped all over India, especially in the south, and particularly in the state of Kerala, also known as Sastha, Dharmasastha, Hariharan, etc. He has a unique origin believed to be born out of the spiritual union of Lord Shiva and Vishnu. He is a powerful deity and his blessings are considered particularly effective in reducing the ill effects of Shani or planet Saturn.
1. Lord Ayyappa
Lord Ayyappa is usually depicted as a handsome celibate god seated in a yogic posture, with legs crossed and tied with a band and wearing a bell around his neck celebrated as a warrior deity. He is also shown riding a tiger. In other cases, he carries a bow and an arrow in his left hand and holds a bow or a sword in his right hand, legends speak elaborately about the birth and life of Lord Ayyappa.
2. Mahishi’s Boon
There was once a female demon called Mahishi. She did severe penance and got from lord Brahma the extraordinary boon that she can be killed only by someone who was born to Lord Shiva and Vishnu. As two males together cannot produce offspring, she began taking herself to be indestructible and started committing various atrocities. Somewhere else Bhasmasura and other demons managed to obtain a deadly wound from Shiva to the effect that any person on whose head he places his hand would turn into ashes the very next moment.
But no sooner did he get the boon, he wanted to test its efficacy on Lord Shiva himself, realizing the implication Shiva rushed to Lord Vishnu and sought his help.
3. Lord Vishnu in the form of Mohini
The protector from the holy trinity Vishnu assumed the form of Mohini a bewitching beauty and stood before the demon who was in hot pursuit of the boon-giver. Smitten by Mohini’s charm, the demon fell for the beauty and began acting as she wanted and ultimately ended up placing his hand on his head and true to the boon, he burnt himself to ashes.
4. Union of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu
The relieved Shiva himself then felt deeply impressed with the beauty of Mohini, and the spiritual union of the two great gods happened for the good of the world. The divine child Ayyappa was born to them, bearing the name Hariharan, where Hari stands for Vishnu and Haran, stands for Shiva.
This child was later found by king Raja Rajashekhara Pandiyan of Pandalam and was brought up as the childless king’s son. As there was a bead tied around the neck of the child, the king named the boy Manikantan, meaning the one who has a bead on his neck. Later, a son was born to the king himself, but he still considered only Manikantan as his elder son, the king started making arrangements for declaring him his crown prince. However, the queen had other ideas and wanted her biological son to ascend the throne after the king.
5. Manikantan killed Mahishi
She hatched a conspiracy to get rid of Manikantan and pretended to suffer from a severe headache. She made the physician prescribe the milk of a tigress as its only cure, while none came forward to undertake this dangerous mission Manikantan on his own accord, ventured into the jungles, perhaps to fulfill the purpose of his advent on earth. He encountered the female demon Mahishi in the forest, fought a fierce battle with her, and destroyed her, but it was a blessing in disguise for the demon. As in the process, she assumed her original form of a beautiful woman and is now worshiped in the Sabarimala temple of Ayyappa, supremely pleased with the annihilation of the feared Mahishi, the devas assumed the form of tigers riding on whom Manikantan returned to the palace, realizing the Divinity and greatness of the young lad the king and others bowed to him with great respect.
6. Lord Ayyappa completed his Mission
With his divine mission completed, he took his abode at Sabarimala Mountain in the Pathanamthitta hill forests to the north of the Pampa River, in the present Kerala state. The king built the temple as desired by the lord and advised by sage Agastya, in which the idol of the Lord Ayyappa, was consecrated by Parashuram. On the first day of the Malayalam month, Makaram, Lord Ayyappa can be worshiped in the sanctum seated cross-legged, assuming a divine yogic posture people in huge numbers from all over the country and even outside keep visiting the Sabarimala temple every year.
7. Sabarimala Temple of Lord Ayyappa
Thousands of devotees are observed practicing the 41 days of austerities to read the Sabarimala pilgrimage. That requires one to go through the tough practice of controlling and limiting your five senses, vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch to sinfulness, desire, anger, greed, lust, pride, unhealthy competition, jealousy, and boastfulness. Millions undertake the arduous pilgrimage, with faith trekking through the mountains and forests and covering long distances on foot, especially during the consecutive months of Karthigai and Margazhi.
This special period of the sacred Ayyappa worship concludes with the sighting of Makara Jyothi, a flash of light as stars that appear around sunset time at a distant horizon on the holy Makkar Sankranti day. As Ayyappa is celibate and young, middle-aged menstruating women do not undertake the Sabarimala pilgrimage