The Bhoothanathopakhyanam, the Purana on Dharma Shaastha ( 6 )

16/12/2011 History of Lord Ayyappa

The Bhoothanathopakhyanam is the main Purana related to Dharma Sasthaor Ayyappa. Dharma Sastha is also known as Bhoothanaatha, because from Him – the Supreme Reality – evolved the Pancha-bhoothas, the five elements, or the five phases of evolution from the subtlest to the grossest, as Aakaasa (the physical space), Vaayu (the gaseious stage), Aghni (the fiery stage, or the stage of chemical combination), Apa (the stage of fluidity) and Prithvi (the stage of solidity).

In this Purana also there is a mixing of mythology and history regardless of the time factor. But the message is what matters. While reading the story given below, we should bearing mind that the Puranic stories are highly symbolic in content.

Let us have a glimpse of the salient points the Purana tells us about the Dharma Sastha concept.

Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are described in the Puranas as the three major divine aspects of Reality associated with creation, maintenance and dissolution of the universe. These Divinities, granting the prayer of a Rishi-couple Athri and Anasooya, took a partial manifestation as their son, Datta. The consorts of the Divinities also thereupon took a partial manifestation as Leela, the daughter of another great Rishi. Datta eventually married Leela and after living a few years of conjugal love, he wanted to renounce the worldly life and engage in spiritual disciplines to transcend his conditioned being and to be one with his greater existence.

But Leela would not agree to this. She wanted to continue the life of mundane pleasures in the company of Datta, who tried to convince her that one can never find lasting contentment in a lustful life. But Leela was adamant. An enraged Datta cursed her to be born as a Mahishi, a senseless she-buffalo. In turn she also cursed him to take birth eventually as a buffalo to satisfy her desires. In course of time, Leela took birth as a bizarre creature with the head of a she-buffalo and the body of a woman as the daughter of an Asura (a demon). She was very powerful because of her divine origin, but very dull-witted because of her buffalo nature. She did intense penance and propitiated Lord Brahma, who granted the boons she desired for, such as that powerful creatures very much like herself would emerge out of all her hair follicles whenever she wanted and that she could not be killed except by one who was born out of a union of Lord Vishnu and Lord Siva, which was thought to be an impossibility.

Having obtained this boon, she struck terror in the heavens, the abode of Devas (godly beings) and drove them and their king Indra away. She placed herself on the throne of Indra as the ruler of the heavens. The oppressed Devas prayed to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva for their intervention. Thereupon, Datta, who had emerged out of the combined power of the Trinities as their partial manifestation, now assumed, as the result of an earlier curse of Leela, the form of a handsome buffalo, the Sundara Mahisha. Consequently Mahishi fell in love with Mahisha. They lived together for some time in the heavens and then Sundara Mahisha lured her away down to the earth to live in the forests. This gave some relief to the oppressed Devas.

It was during this period, Sage Durvaasa, who was well-known for his impulsive and vitriolic temper, cursed Indra and and the Devas, who had enjoyed perennial youthfulness, to be subjected to old age, as Indra had offended the sage by not showing due respect to a garland presented to him by the sage. Their heads turned grey and wrinkles appeared all over their bodies. The panacea suggested for regaining youth was the drinking of a special nectar Amritha to be obtained by the churning of the Ocean of Milk (Ksheera-saagara). The Devas prevailed upon their arch enemies the Asuras (demoniac forces) for help to perform the herculian task of churning the milky ocean using a huge mountain as the churning rod. Several novel and astonishing things emerged from the ocean when the churning progressed and in the end when a pot with the precious nectar, Amritha surfaced, it was quickly snatched away by the Asuras.

Seeing the plight of the Devas Lord Vishnu assumed the form of a beautiful enchantress called Mohini and approached the Asuras. Every one of them got infatuated with her. She asked them to close their eyes, agreeing to marry the one who would open the eyes last. While the Asuras thus remained closing their eyes, Mohini left the scene carrying away the pot of Amritha, which she handed over to the Devas. On seeing the enchanting form of Mohini, Lord Siva himself fell in love with her and from their union a son was born to Mohini. This was Dharma Shaastha, who was destined to kill Mahishi, according to the boon given to her by Lord Brahma that only the one born from the union of Siva and Vishnu could kill her.

In several Puranas the story of the churning of the Ocean of Milk finds a place. But only in the Bhaagavatha and the Skanda Puranas there is a reference to a son, who was born out of a union between Shiva and Vishnu. Skanda Purana gives the name of the son as Sastha. The story of Sasthais elaborated further in the Bhoothanathopaakhyaanam.

According to this Purana the child thus born to Shiva and Vishnu was destined to kill Mahishi and he was placed by the Devas on earth on the banks of the river Pampa, where Mahishi was living along with Sundara Mahisha. During this time, Rajasekhara, the king of a small kingdom Pandalam (in south Kerala), was engaging himself in a hunting expedition. When he was moving along the banks of the river Pampa, he saw a crying child in a secluded spot. He took the child to his palace and brought him up as his foster son. The child was named “Ayyappan”. ( We refer the name as “Ayyappa” since this form is more popular in English writing).

( To be continued )

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