An Integrated Spiritual Movement ( 11 )

18/12/2011 History of Lord Ayyappa

Dharma and Sasthaare Sanskrit words common to Hinduism and Buddhism. The word Dharma holds a greater connotation than its commonly used English equivalent ‘righteousness’ signifies. The concept of ‘Dharma’ finds place in Hinduism and in all other religious systems evolved in India. We cannot see any radical difference between the philosophy of the Upanishad-s and that of Buddhism.

The word Sasthasignifies the one who castigates and leads to righteousness. In this sense it is one of the synonyms used for Lord Vishnu in the great hymn ‘Sri Vishnu-sahasranaama-sthothram’. Buddha is also referred to as Sastha in this sense. The word ‘sharanam’ which means ‘refuge’ is also not an exclusive Buddhist expression. In several hymns on Gods and Goddesses of the Hindu tradition, including ‘Sri Devee Mahaathmyam’, the word can be seen. An offshoot of Hinduism, Buddhism also naturally adopted this and several other words in its religious vocabulary. Another point which is often discussed is that people go on pilgrimage to Sabarimala in groups and this resembles the Sangha, the group-oriented religious pursuit of the Buddhists. We have to take into consideration the fact that the pilgrimage is through a difficult mountainous terrain of dense tropical forests inhabited by wild animals. To such places, naturally people would prefer to go only in groups and therefore this cannot be considered as just an adoption of the Buddhist system. Going on pilgrimage in groups to such regions uttering aloud the invocatory slogans is quite natural. And to mention a contrast, while the Buddhist pilgrims shave their heads and face, the Sabarimala pilgrims grow hair and beard; Buddhists wear yellow clothes while the Sabarimala pilgrims wear blue or black clothes.

Idols of Ayyappa differ very much from the common meditative pose of Buddha. The idol of Ayyappa has a king-like demeanour wearing a crown, and the pose has a Yogic significance. The face is lively with the eyes opened. The Lord sits in a special Yogic posture called Veeraasanam. The folded legs are held in that position by a band called Yoga-patta and the right hand expresses the mystic sign Chinmudra that signifies the fundamental oneness of Jeevaathma (individual soul) and Paramaathma (Supreme reality). These characteristics of Dharma Sastha differ from the meditative pose of Buddha sitting in Padmaasana and placing one palm over the other.

In the meditative hymn (Dhyaana-sloka) on Dharma Sastha the Lord is depicted as having a deep blue complexion.

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