Pilgrimage of devotion : Sabarimala pilgrimage commences on November 16 | Sunday Observer

Pilgrimage of devotion : Sabarimala pilgrimage commences on November 16

Historical Ayyappan's annual pilgrimage season, began on November 16. Thousands of Ayyappan devotees throughout the world including Sri Lankans have taken part on the pilgrimage.

Ayyappan’s annual festival is a time of pilgrimage for ever-growing numbers of men from throughout South India. The most prominent and famous Ayyappan shrine is the one at Sabarimala, in the hills of Pathanamthitta in Kerala, with over ten million devotees visiting it every year, making it one of the largest pilgrimage sites in the world.

These devotees fast and engage in austerities under the leadership of a Guru Swami (one who has undertaken the pilgrimage to Sabarimala for 18 years) for weeks barefoot and then travel in groups to the shrine for a glimpse of Ayyappan. Bus tickets are hard to obtain for several weeks as masses of elated men, clad in distinctive ritual dhotis of saffron, black and light blue colours, throng public transportation during their trip to the shrine.

The name Sri Ayyappan is used as a respectful form of address in Malayalam and Sanskrit. The equivalent of Sri is “Thiru” in Tamil. The mantra Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa is translated in English as, “Lord Ayyappa, I seek refuge in you”.

In ancient times, the term ‘Ayyan’ or ‘Aiyan’ is a title of respect. The name that follows is again a term that refers to senior members of the community as a mark of respect – ‘Appan’ which also means ‘Father’. Thus ‘Ayyan’ and ‘Appan put together – ‘Ayyappan’ refers to a senior and respectable guardian deity of the oldest community.

There are varied arguments that the cult is so ancient that the deity represents Nature itself, which was the only matter of worship then, and that they personified Nature as Ayyappan and named him so with terms denoting respect. Alternatively, it is also debated that the term ‘Ayyan’ coupled with the suffix-’aar’ denoting respect refers to Aiyanar or Ayyanar, which is believed to refer to Lord Ayyappan.

Thus it can be argued that ‘Aiyanar’ and Ayyappan represent the same deity of the South.

This argument is further supported by the records that the divine consorts of ‘Ayyappan’ are called ‘Poorna’ and “Pushkala’ whereas those of ‘Aiyanar’ are called ‘Poorni’ and ‘Porkamalam’ (Golden Lotus), a slight variation in pronunciation of ‘Pushkala’.

Further evidences include the similarities in the unique seating style, with one/two legs folded and raised from the seat and the birth from the union of Shiva and Parvathi.

Ayyappan is known as ‘Hariharasutan’ because he is the son of Hari (Vishnu), the saviour and Hara (Shiva), the destroyer. His most common name is ‘Manikandanhan’ because when the king Rajasekara Pandiyan of Padalam found little Ayyappan in a forest there was a ‘Mani’ toed around his ‘kan ha’ (neck in Sanskrit). 

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