NEW DELHI: Kerala’s Sabarimala temple hit the news when it opened on Wednesday evening for the first time after the historic Supreme Court verdict allowing women between the age of 10 and 50 to pray there. A large number of followers prevented entry of women in that age group. Despite the long-standing controversy over entry of women in the temple, a lot of people still know little about the temple and legends and traditions associated with it. Below are a few interesting aspects of the temple:
Who is Lord Ayyappa?
Lord Ayyappa, the chief deity of Sabarimala, is believed to be Hariharaputra, born of the union of Lord Vishnu in the form of Mohini (Hari) and Lord of Shiva (Hara).
Manikandan, an incarnation of Lord Ayyappa, rediscovered the temple in the 12th century. Manikandan was a prince of the Pandalam dynasty. He was found by the king on the bank of a river. Later, in a conspiracy hatched against him by a minister and the queen who wanted her own son to be crowned as the next king, Manikandan was sent to the forest to bring the milk of a tigress. The conspirators hoped he would be killed by tigers. But they realised his pine origin when he returned to the palace riding a tigress.
An example of Hindu-Muslim harmony
There is a mosque near Sabarimala temple complex which is visited by both Hindus and Muslims. In fact, a visit to the Vavar mosque is an integral part of the Sabarimala pilgrimage. Vavar was a Muslim friend of Manikandan, the incarnation of Lord Ayyappa. According to the legend, he was a pirate who was defeated by Lord Ayyappa in war after which he became a close associate. Ayyappa devotees visit the mosque throughout the 160-odd days of the year when the Sabarimala temple is open to devotees. Even when Muslims offer their prayers inside the mosque, the Hindu devotees perambulate the mosque. Apart from the mosque, there is a place near the main temple dedicated to Vavar which is called Vavaru Nada. There is no idol in this temple but a carved stone slab to symbolise Vavar and an old sword believed to be his.
The north Indian connection
The Sabarimala temple is also connected to Lord Rama. According to a legend, the name Sabarimala is derived from Shabari, a tribal devotee of Lord Rama mentioned in the Ramayana. Sabarimala literally means the hill of Sabari. Lord Rama had come to meet Shabari as her Guru Rishi Matanga had predicted. Lord Rama noticed a pine person doing penance and asked Shabari who it was. Shabari said it was Sastha (Lord Ayyappa). Sastha too stood up and welcomed Lord Rama. Makaravilakku, an annual festival, is held on Makar Sankranti to commemorate this incident. The Sabarimala temple complex has a temple of Lord Rama and Hanuman too.
The Buddhist connection
Many scholars see a Buddhist connection to Sabarimala. Lord Ayyappa is seen as an incarnation of the Buddha. The meaning of Sastha or Dharmasastha, other names of Lord Ayyappa, is interpreted as teacher or preceptor in the Buddhist sense. ‘Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa’, the popular chant of the devotees, is said to echo the Buddhist chant ‘Buddham Sharnam Gacchami’.
Appam and Aravana
Appam, along with another dish aravana payasam, is the Sabarimala prasadam. Both are made of rice powder, jaggery, ghee and banana. While the aravana is sweet and edible, taking a bite of the appam has always been a hard task, literally. Only those with a strong set of teeth would attempt to eat one whole. It gets hard because it’s deep fried. The Travancore Devaswom Board has now devised a new formula with which it will stay fresh for a minimum of 15 days and will also be less hard.