A Glimpse of History ( 9 )

17/12/2011 History of Lord Ayyappa

Let us now set aside the Puranic story and have a glimpse into the historical aspect.

Pandalam was a small kingdom between Chengannoor and Adoor in southern Kerala. The descendants of the dynasty, and the palace are still there. According to some historians the kingdom had its beginning around 904 A.D. when a scion of the declining Paandya kingdom of Madurai in Tamilnadu took refuge in Kerala when attacked by the Cholas, and established the kingdom of Pandalam.

Connecting the historical links, mainly derived from the Ayyappan Paattukal, the old Malayalam songs on Ayyappa lore, it is said that Rajasekhara, the king of Pandalam, who probably lived around the 12th century A.D. went on a hunting expedition in the deep forests of the Sahya ranges. Hearing the cry of a child, the king went in search and saw in a secluded spot a child, and a Yogi nearby in deep meditation. As the king held the crying child in his hands, the Yogi opened his eyes. He advised the king to take the child to his palace. The childless king was very happy and named his foster son “Ayyappan”.

It was a period when a terrible brigand leader called Udayanan, had come with his hordes from the Tamil regions beyond the borders, and dominated the whole fertile region on the Kerala side of the valleys of the Sahya mountain ranges. There used to be flourishing trade between the Tamil region and these places in those days. The temple of Sabarimala where Dharma Sasthawas worshipped from the very ancient past was on the route along which these merchants had travelled. These traders and pilgrims used to frequent the temple for worship, and they bestowed many valuables as their offerings. Udayanan and his hordes plundered this temple and killed the priest. The son of the priest escaped. He wandered amidst the mountainous regions awaiting an opportunity to wreak vengeance upon Udayanan.

Udayanan, in one of his marauding expeditions, reached up to the kingdom of Pandalam. He attacked the palace, plundered it and abducted a princess. While the burglars with their booty were travelling through the mountain routes, the son of the priest and his followers made a lightening attack on them and set the princess free. He eventually married the princess and they settled in an inaccessible forest region near the present Ponnambalamedu, engaging in intense austerities and meditation. They earnestly prayed to Lord Dharma Sastha for a son who would be able to fight Udayanan, destroy him and liberate Sabarimala temple. Their prayer was answered and the child whom king Rajasekhara took away was the one thus born to them on the auspicious Makara Samkrama day when the Malayalam month of Dhanu gives way to the next month, Makaram (around January 15th). The Yogi whom the king saw, at whose advise he took the child to his palace, was the father.

(It may be noted that in the Puranic version, Ayyappa is depicted as the son of Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. He was placed on the banks of Pampa by the Devas and was destined to kill Mahishi. The temple was established at Sabarimala as suggested by him. But, according to the historical view, Ayyappa was the son of the above mentioned Yogi and, as described below, his mission was to liberate the already existing Dharma Sastha temple, of Sabarimala, from the grip of the oppressive tyrant, Udayanan. After the liberation, as the following account reveals, Ayyappa vanishes in front of the Dharma Sasthaidol and thus becomes one with Lord Dharma Sastha).

Ayyappa grew up in the palace. Even in childhood several extraordinary spiritual faculties became manifested in him. The childless king wanted to install him as his heir. However, when the queen delivered a son, the prime minister and the queen conspired to do away with Ayyappa. He was sent unguarded to the forest to fetch leopard’s milk to treat a feigned illness of the queen. When he returned riding a leopard, accompanied by a host of terrible beasts, his divinity was confirmed. Realising it, the king and others prostrated before him.

Now Ayyappa set out on his spiritual mission. Though only of fourteen years of age, he proved his mettle both as an accomplished warrior and a born Yogi. According to the old songs called Ayyappan Paattukal, Ayyappa went first to the nearby kingdom of Kaayamkulam and there he defeated Vaavar, described to be a Muslim and a pirate who along with his band used to plunder the sea-faring traders. Later Vaavar himself became an ardent follower and one of the chief lieutenants of Ayyappa during the war against Udayanan. There is also a version that Vaavar was a medicine man who treated the soldiers of Ayyappa and followed him. For his army, Ayyappa organised soldiers from the small kingdoms of Kaayamkulam, Thekkumkoor, etc., and set out for Erumeli, a strategic point from where he would start his war mission against Udayanan and liberate Sabarimala temple. Udayanan had established formidable fortresses in inaccessible mountain terrains from where he could chase away all those who would venture to invade the regions he had usurped. For the Muslim soldiers led by Vaavar, Ayyappa established a place of worship and the present mosque in memory of Vaavar is believed to be located at that place.

Other chief lieutenants of Ayyappa were Kochu Kadutha and Valia Kadutha. It was a well organised army that was led by the three lieutenants. A warrior of Yogic stature, Ayyappa postulated certain spiritual disciplines for his army which would not only equip them with an invincible physical strength but also refine them for the fulfilment of the very destiny of human life – spiritual liberation. And this discipline was not intended only for a particular set of people of a particular age, but for generations to come. These spiritual disciplines, of course, assume a greater relevance today in our tension-ridden times and millions of people follow them during the season of pilgrimage to Sabarimala.

It was a spiritual discipline that extended for a period of 41 days before the auspicious Makarasamkrama day, when the Malayalam month Dhanu gives way to the month of Makaram. The army assembled at Erumeli ten days before the Makarasamkrama day. The soldiers carried the war materials, the provisions and also the needed materials for the performance of spiritual observances. Before setting out for war, an energetic and enthusiastic war dance, ‘Petta-thullal’, with a spiritual orientation was conducted. It was the first ever Petta-thullal, which is followed every year as a relevant ritualistic dance. All the social and religious distinctions among the soldiers were erased by all of them wearing blue or black clothes and smearing their faces with charcoal. They brought the provisions from the Erumeli market (Petta means market and Thullal, dance), bundled them in blankets and suspended them on long rods, the ends of which rested on the shoulders of a set of two people. Before the Petta-thullal began, they prayed at Kochambalam, the small Sasthatemple. From the small Sasthatemple they danced their way to the accompaniment of drum beats to the place of worship of the Muslim lieutenant Vaavar and his followers. From there, they proceeded to the Valiambalam, the bigger shrine of Dharma Sastha, where the Petta-thullal was completed.

Udayanan had established a few strong fortresses in the thick forests between Erumeli and Sabarimala, reinforcing his dominion over the whole area. The three main forts were at Inchippaara, Thalappaara and Karimala. Inchippaara, located beyond the river Azhutha was surrounded by deep trenches. On reaching the thick forests, Ayyappa and the army took rest at the place Kaalaketti and planned the strategies for the attack. While crossing the river Azhutha, all members of the army were instructed to carry a big piece of rock. By filling the trenches with these rocks they crossed them, and led by Vaavar made a surprise attack on the Inchippara fort, which was guarded by Udayanan’s ferocious chieftain Puthussery Mundan and his band. He was defeated and killed by Vaavar. In a simultaneous attack, the Thalappaara fort was also conquered. Subsequently the soldiers led by both Vaavar and Kochu Kadutha entered the fort of Karimala where the formidable Udayanan and his men were camping. In a fierce battle they were routed and Udayanan was killed. The fort was smashed to the ground. Thus the whole region was finally liberated from the marauding oppressors, who swayed by egotism, believed that their physical might was supreme.

( To be continued )

Related Articles