Lord Ayyappa(also known as Ayyappan, Shasthav or Dharmashasthav) was the son of Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. Ayyappa is a very popular Hindu deity, who is mainly worshipped among the people of Hindu religion in South India. It is believed that he was born out of the union between Lord Shiva and the mythical Mohini who is also regarded as an Avatar(incarnation) of Lord Vishnu. Therefore, Ayyappa is also called as ‘Hariharaputhran’, which means the son of ‘Hari’(Vishnu) and ‘Haran’(Shiva). Lord Ayyappa has been prevalent in Kerala for hundreds of years. The iconography of Ayyappa depicts him as a handsome, celibate god, an epitome of Dharma.
The birth mission of Ayyappa was to kill the demoness ‘Mahishi’. Mahishi was enraged and sought revenge with the Gods who ended up in killing of her brother Mahishasura(who used to torture the mankind with his invulnerability). Mahishi got a blessing from Lord Brahma that she would only be killed by the son of Lord Hari and Lord Shiva who would serve as a human being on earth for 12 years. The cunning demoness knew that it was impossible to have a child for two men as it disturbs the law and order of nature. Believing herself to be undefeatable and unconquerable, she tortured and killed several men on earth, many asuras and devas. To defeat Mahishi, Lord Vishnu incarnated as a woman, named Mohini and Lord Ayyappa was born out of the divine union of Vishnu and Shiva. Little Ayyappa was taught and trained by the Gods making him aware of the purpose and mission of his birth. Later, he incarnated as a human child on earth.
According to the legend,the baby Ayyappa was found by the King Rajashekhara at the banks of the river Pamba. The child was having a golden bell, also called ‘Mani’, tied around his neck(Kandam). The Raja of Pandalam dynasty, King Rajashekharan came there for hunting with his minister. He heard a baby crying and turned to the shore of Pamba. The Raja was astonished to see an abandoned baby boy and decided to adopt him, as the king and queen had no children for a long time. The king happily took the baby to the Pandalam Palace. The queen felt very happy and accepted the baby and considered him as her own child. The child was named ‘Manikandan’ by the King and Queen as he had that studded bell around his neck. After King Rajashekharan adopted Ayyappa, his own biological son, Rajarajan was born. Both the boys grew up in a princely manner. Little Ayyappa was intelligent and excelled in martial arts and had deep knowledge of various shastras and scriptures. He surprised everyone with his super-human powers. Upon completing the princely training and studies, he offered Gurudakshina (the tradition of repaying one’s teacher or guru after a period of study or the completion of formal education, or an acknowledgment to a spiritual guide) to his Guru. The master who was aware of his divine power,instead of accepting Gurudakshina, asked him for a blessing of sight and speech for his blind and deaf son. Manikandan placed his hands on the boy and blessed him with sight and hearing.
Ayyappa became a brave warrior and was living in the Pandalam palace. Ayyappa was very popular as Pandalam Rajakumaran. The King Rajeshekharan decided to make Ayyappa as the next King of Pandalam Dynasty. After becoming aware of the decision of the King, his Minister was not satisfied and persuaded the Queen to declare her own child, Rajarajan as the next king. The Queen and the Minister decided to expel Ayyappan from the palace. The Queen pretended having severe stomach pain. Then the Kottaram-vaidyan(hereditary Ayurvedic physician in the palace) suggested some medicine along with tigress milk as the panacea to cure the pain. After becoming aware of this, Ayyappa was ready to venture into the thick and wild forest and bring fresh tiger milk. The Queen and the Minister thought that Ayyappa would be killed by the tigers in the forest. In the meantime, Ayyappa knew that the time had arrived to complete his birth mission; to kill the demoness Mahishi. He volunteered into the thick forest of Sabarimala alone. While Ayyappa was travelling through the forest he happened to see Vavar who was a pirate/warrior holding most prominence. He came to shores of Kerala to loot the land. Upon encountering Ayyappa, he was defeated and came to realise that Ayyappa was not an ordinary person and he had wielded the powers of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. After this event, Vavar became a good follower of Ayyappa. Ayyappa,when entered into the forest, was surrounded by a group of tigers. They got fond of him and instantly he started caressing and petting them.
In the meantime, Ayyappa searched and found Mahishi, fought with her and completed his birth mission by killing her. But to his surprise, a beautiful lady emerged out of the dead body and stood before Ayyappa with devotion. The lady was a princess but due to some ill deeds, she was cursed to be the demoness Mahishi but assured that eventually she would be released to her original beauty once ‘Hariharaputhran’ fights with her and kills her Asura roopam. The lady requested Ayyappa, to accept and marry her. Ayyappa, destined to be a Brahmachari, politely declined her request and told her about his ordained role that he was born to destroy the evil in the world. However, he, not to make her disappointed, told that he would marry her whenever there is no ‘Kanni Swami'(first time devotee) visits him at Sabarimala. She would have to wait till then. She agreed to him and till date she is waiting only. Every year, hundreds of ‘Kanni Swamies’ are visiting Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala.
Ayyappa, then returned to the palace with tigers to provide fresh milk to the Queen. The residents of the palace were terrified when they saw Ayyappa with tigers. They bowed to him and prayed. Upon realising that he was not an ordinary boy, the queen and minister sought forgiveness for their mistakes. Ayyappa requested the King to permit him to return to the forest. His foster father however requested him to remain at the Holy Shrine of Sabarimala. Ayyappa told the King that, “I will shoot an arrow to the forest and will appear before you once a year wherever the arrow lands in the forest”. The King and his fellow men proceeded to find the arrow. Finally they reached the place and the auspicious Sabarimala temple was built there.
The devotees goes to the Sabarimala temple through Erumeli, where they can worship Lord Ayyappa and Vavar. Every year(from Vrischikam 1st till 41 days) millions of devotees conduct pilgrimage to Sabarimala Temple. The temple authorities performs various pujas according to prevailing customs. The Sabarimala temple complex is located inside the Periayar Tiger Reserve in the Perinad village, Pathanamthitta District, Kerala. It is one of the largest animal pilgrim center in the world with an estimate of 40 to 50 million devotees visiting every year. The Sabarimala temple complex also includes sanctum for Lord Ganesh, Malikapurathamma, etc.