Ayyappan-A Gnana Yogi

Presenting Part 2 of the Ayyappan Blog series.In the previous one,I spoke about the Lord’s teachings.In this one I will be writing about some of the spiritual symbolisms inherent in this timeless tradition and some views on why women aren’t allowed to enter Sabarimala.
Disclaimer: I do not aim to hurt anyone’s religious sentiments or beliefs.

18 steps

The tradition of not allowing women between the age of 9-50 into Sabarimala is still being debated endlessly.And most people are stuck on ‘menstruation.’ While it isn’t possible to change everyone’s mindset,I will put forth my views further into the blog.

Let us start with the 41-days ‘Vratam’ observed by the devotees. Absistence from all vices,sleeping on the floor,bathing in cold water are some of the rules followed.All of these inculcate within a person,the virtue of self-control the willpower to move away from material comforts..It purifies the devotee from both the within and without.Slowly,all desires vanish and he connects to his center,his soul or Ayyappan,call it whatever you want.

One of the most basic rules is abstaining from sexual activity.It is well-known that the sexual urge is the most primal of all and this sexual power arises from the very core of man.This tremendous potential can both destroy man in the form of lust or help him rise to higher spiritual levels.The very aim of this vratam is to help man use all his energies include his sexual energy in better ways,which will help him attain the Ultimate goal of every individual soul.
This is one of the reasons why men stay away from their own wives and why women are restricted from entering Sabarimala. If women were to enter,the very aim of the vratam would be nullified,right?? And this has got nothing to do with the purity of a menstruating woman. Definitely not.
Also the vratam is of a difficult nature if adhered to sincerely and unsuitable for a woman because of her monthly cycle.Simply because her body goes through many changes and many women experience extreme discomfort during this time. Two reasons covered.

Coming to the climb till the Sannidhanam or the sanctum sanctorum.If seen from a spiritual aspect,it symbolises the long path a soul undertakes for its reunion with the Supreme Soul.It has to shed all its inhibitions,desires,attachments and take a leap into absolute nothingness.This requires lot of courage.The physical tedious climb up the Sabarimala hills,requires complete surrender to the Lord and a strong willpower. The chant “Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa” which literally means ,”My Refuge is in You,O Ayyappa” is symbolic of this surrender of the Jeevatma or the devotee to the Paramatma.

Similar to this is the significance of the ‘Pathinettam Padigal’ or ’18 Steps’ which lead up to the Sanctum Sanctorum. Firstly,they face the rising sun,once again associating light with enlightenment.
The 1st 5 steps represent the 5 Karmendriyas(5 senses): Smell,Sight,Touch,Sound,Taste,which are part of the physical body and demand instant gratification.
The next 8 steps move into the mind representing the 8 Ashta Ragas or 8 Demonic qualities : Kama(Lust),Krodha(Anger),Lobha(Greed),Madha(Arrogance)Moha(Attachment),Asooya(Being blind to the good others do),Matsarya(Jealousy) and Dhumba(Dullness).The next Three steps move into Prakriti or our nature which is made up of three Gunas : Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. The 17th Step represents ‘Vidya’ or wordly knowledge.The Ego is still functioning here.The 18th and the final step represents ‘Avidya’,the ignorance of the divine nature of the soul. Above these 18 Steps resides Lord Ayyappan.

Thus overcoming all these obstacles,the Jeevatma unites with the Paramatma.
The sacred 18 steps represent the spiritual pathway to the Ultimate Truth.This number ’18’ is considered to be a mystic or divine number where 1 represents the Jeevatma and 8 represents Infinity or the Infinite Paramatma.

It is often said that Lord Ayyappan,high up in Sabarimala,is a Brahmachari.I would like to use a much more appropriate term. Swami Ayyappan is a Gnana Yogi.If you look at his posture,it indicates the same.
His posture is the Yogamudra,with is legs crossed and raised a little and tied with what is called a ‘Yogapattam.’ Ayyappan is in a state of ‘Dhyana’ or meditation and is the ‘Sat-chit-ananda Swarupam’ or the ‘Truth-Consciousness-Bliss Absolute’ Himself.

His right palm is held in the ‘Chinmudra’ hasta where the thumb and forefinger meet and the other three fingers are pointing away from the body.This is also called the ‘Gnana Mudra’ and according to ancient Yogic knowledge indicates the union of the Paramatma and Jeevatma as also the complete surrender of the devotee to the All-compassionate Lord through the meeting of the index finger with the base of the thumb. This union happens after the three impurities, ‘Ego,Illusion and Lust’ have been destroyed which is indicated by the other three fingers. Pure devotion arising from one’s heart,leads to the destruction of these.
His left palm with all the five fingers pointing downward indicate the five elements or Panchabhoothas – Air,Water,Ether,Earth,Fire which form the gross environment. Ayyappan is also known as Bhoothanatha-The One who is the Creator and Protector of the Earth.
The lotus pedestal on which the Lord is seated symbolises our world,beneath the Lord’s feet.This is symbolic of the finite nature of this manifested world and the infinite nature of the Paramatma. The lotus flower although flourishes in muddy water,remains pure and beautiful.Similar to this is the Atman,the Soul.The Soul is covered by the gross body and the mind’s insecurities but never loses its purity.
Finally the garland made of a single length of flowers begins from Ayyappan’s right foot,goes around His neck and ends at His left foot.The flowers in the garland are the beautiful and final evolution of the seed.Similarly every human soul undergoes spiritual evolution. This garland thus represents the Timeless and Unconditional grace of Lord Ayyappan without which no evolution is possible.

Ayyappan is often addressed as ‘Nei(Ghee) Abhisheka Priyane’.This ghee represents the timeless soul of the devotee.When poured on the idol of Ayyappan,it symbolizes the total dissolution of this Jeevatma with the Supreme Soul.

The last symbolism I can cover with this blog is that of the ‘Aazhi Pooja’.There is a huge ‘Aazhi’ beneath the 18 Steps,where coconuts,rice,etc are thrown in.These articles representing our desires and aspirations are set to fire in the Aazhi and pilgrims circumambulate this holy fire. This symbolizes the burning of all their desires and impurities,the purification of their minds and complete surrender to the Lord. The dancing flames are believed to be Lord Ayyappan,as the Annihilator and Bestower of Grace.

Sabarimala is one among the ancient temples of India.Our ancients strongly believed that a woman when menstruating is prone to absorb any negative or positive energies in her surroundings,which affect her cycle.And ancient temples are often places with high positive vibrations,which can end up affecting a woman’s cycle drastically. This is the third reason,though today has been wiped away from people’s minds.

Also,why should a woman fight this hard to enter Sabarimala? Ultimately,the journey till there is nothing but a symbolism of the journey you take to enter within You,to eternal bliss.

And Lord Ayyappan’s purest abode is his devotee’s own heart. The fourth and the final reason.

Finally, if beyond all these reasons and logic, if a woman wishes to enter out of fervent devotion for the Lord, no one can deny her that right. It is her choice.
Your Heart is the True Sabarimala. 🙂 Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa!! 


My aim was to only put forth reasons that made some sense and not because menstruation is ‘unholy.’ 🙂

Credits To Blogs: Mythri Speaks,Ayyappa Kshethram.

AYYAPPAN-A Guiding Light

“The Makara Jyoti in its true essence is the the Light of Lord Ayyappan Within You.”

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The lines above were written by me this January.Soon began the controversy around allowing women into Sabarimala and everything that is still going on.A lot has been spoken about it,some positive and others negative.But thousands of devotees remain steadfast in their faith and devotion.And that definitely includes women.

Deviating from all of this,I wish to write on Ayyappan’s teachings and the symbolisms interwoven in the traditions of the Ayyappan Cult.There is so much to write!!Although I can’t cover all aspects, I will try to cover some of them in a 2-series blog.At the end of it,I am just a humble devotee of Lord Ayyappan,sharing what I have learnt and felt!

Within Lord Ayyappan also known as Hari-Hara sutan or the child of Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva are unified the powers of creation of Vishnu and the powers of destruction of Shiva.
He is hailed as Vanpuli-Vahana and Kaliyuga-Varadha. The tiger being His vehicle symbolizes prakriti or nature being His manifestation.When He sets out to get the milk of a tigress to cure his mother’s headache,He fulfills the aim of his Avatar or birth on Earth.That of killing demonness Mahishi,thus aiding Mother Earth and vanquishing evil.
Nature shows complete surrender and respect to Him,in the form of the tiger.Herein lies one of the most important lessons for modern man. One must always respect nature and not destroy her blindly.You arise from nature,survive because of it and go back to it. You are forever indebted to her.Respect her and she returns it back.Destroy her,you are doomed.

Another very important lesson is fearlessness.One must attempt to face all difficulties head-on. After all what is Life without difficulties?? Also,one must fight against any injustice being meted out.Someone or the other has to do it,today or some other day. Why fear??Everyday,in corners around the world,people are fighting their own battles.
The other lesson is Compassion.Everyone has their own story.Every being is part of the same universe and the same Supreme Soul as you are.No one here is different.Then why hate anyone or any being?? While it is difficult for us to practice on all levels we can do it at the human level atleast.

As Kaliyuga-Varadha,Ayyappan assures his devotees that all those who seek him during the age of Kali will always remain protected and strong enough to sail through all difficulties.The devotee will be able to follow the path of goodness even during the Iron Age. He is His devotee’s friend,father,mother and the Shakti-the power and the guiding light within his soul.

When Ayyappan is sent away be His mother on a seemingly impossible mission,he harbours no grudges or ill-feelings toward her of his fate.On the contrary,through this fate his life-mission is fulfilled.
Here,we learn two timeless lessons.1) Never harbour any resentment toward anyone.Forgiveness is the virtue of the heart.
Why should we harbour a grudge in the first place??It causes us more pain and agony,steals away our peace of mind.We suffer more than the person we dislike.The person will realise his/her mistake at the destined time.For an essentially happy and carefree life,forgiveness is extremely important.It purifies your heart and rids your mind of unwanted garbage.
2) Not everything you wish for happens.Sometimes,even in what is seemingly bad,remains hidden a larger good.Do not curse your fate.Instead learn to go along with the flow when needed..you will see it makes a huge difference!!You are left with much more positive energy and happiness!

Coming to the ‘Petai Thullal’ tradition.Erumeli is an important shrine for all the devotees embarking on the Sabarimala pilgrimage.Here,in Erumeli,Ayyappan is worshipped as Lord Dharma Sastha,The Upholder of Dharma.Opposite the temple at Erumeli,is the mosque of Vavar Swami: Ayyappan’s devotee and dear friend.

In this ‘petai thullal’ custom,devotees dance in divine ecstasy,smearing colour on one another,completely drowned in the Lord. This symbolises the boundless energy lying dormant within you.The innocence and divine energy,which causes the individual soul to realise its one-ness with Ayyappan,the Supreme Soul. The tradition also teaches one to live life to the fullest,to smile with all heart,abandoning all worries and placing complete faith in Ayyappan.

Lastly,the friendship between Ayyappan and Vavar.We know that Vavar Swami is a Muslim and even today at his shrine in the Sabarimala temple complex,a Muslim priest performs all the rites. There are many stories about Vavar,but the most prominent one is that he was a warrior who was defeated by Ayyappan as Prince Manikantan.He then went on to become the Lord’s most loyal confidant and devotee.

What is heartening in today’s times filled with strife and intolerance is this beautiful relationship,which is proof to the fact that humans may be seperated by any number of barriers,but ultimately love joins us all.We are essentially one,our origin being the same.Man may have caused this division,but nature finds a way to remind him that he is but a reflection of all his fellow humans.
The petai thullal starts at the Vavar mosque,going further.Even today,before proceeding to the sanctum sanctorum at Sabarimala,devotees pray at the shrine of Vavar Swami. The Lord thus tells his devotees,that heart-felt devotion is the only way to reach Him.He asks them to respect and love one another,as to Him all his devotees are equally dear.
The Sabarimala temple visited by thousands of aged women,children and men of every caste and creed is truly a beacon of light,in these times when darkness in the form of religious intolerance has plagued the world.

Hidden within the layers of any legend or tradition,are valuable teachings which empower and enrich a person’s life!!Understanding and absorbing these life-lessons,we gain true knowledge!

That’s it for Part One.Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa! 🙂