Was Ayyappa a Tool to Fight Conversion?

November 13, 2008
Suresh Naig

Ayyappa's shrine is situated on the hills named as Sabarimala in south Kerala. Sabarimala - a part of Western Ghats, in Pathanamthitta district is adjoining other hilly districts of Kottayam and Idukki. I had undertaken pilgrimage to this shrine regularly, for more than five times and out of which, three times I had trekked the long path from Erumeli to Sabarimala, walking for two days and spending a night in the temporary sheds enroute.

Besides visiting these hilly regions on religious pilgrimage, I also visited all the above mentioned three districts professionally for over a decade. This article is the result of some loud thinking, leaving behind the religious passion.

The legend of Ayyappa goes like this. Ayyappa is the avatar of Shiva and Vishnu, the followers of these two deities, known as Shivities and Vaishnavites respectively, always at conflict with each others’ philosophy. Ayyappa took this avatar to conquer a demon named Mahisi, who was tormenting people to stop the traditional worship and terrorising them to worship her instead.

The king of the province, Pandala Raja, did not have an issue and happened to come across the abandoned Devine child Ayyappa in the forest, by the pre-determined design of Vishnu. The abandoned child Ayyappa was growing in the kingdom nurtured by its foster parents, until the queen was blessed with her own son. So as to do away with the foster son, the queen cunningly dispatched Ayyappa to the forest to fetch the milk of a tiger, to cure her stomach ache. In the forest Ayyappa encountered Mahisi and destroyed her to fulfil his purpose of birth. He not only abdicated the throne, in favour of the biological offspring and vowed to stay celibate, so that even his future generation would not demand the throne of the Kingdom.

Before conquering Mahisi, he had conquered Vavar, a muslim trader who had landed on the coast and after conquering he had become a close friend of Ayyappa. Even now people who are on pilgrimage to Sabarimala are expected to pay their obeisance at the dargah of Vavar at Erumeli.

Ayyappa should have been a recent existence, because of the character Vavar, a muslim. Muslims’ entry into Kerala started only from 13th Century onwards. To my knowledge Ayyappa’s existence does not find place in any works earlier to 19th century. We can safely presume then, that Ayyappa came into existence only 200 years back, i.e. after the missionaries started propagating Christianity in the hilly regions of Kottayam.

Perhaps the major plank of conversion was the divide between Shivites and Vaishnavites, and the caste system in Hinduism. Hence Ayyappa was depicted as an outcome of Shiva and Vishnu. Caste system is underplayed in Sabarimala, again to curtail fodder for the missionaries.

When fighting a common enemy, enemy’s enemy becomes a natural friend and that’s how Vavar had become a friend of Ayyappa and collectively they wanted to fight the spread of Mahisi’s religion-read Christianity. A leaf is drawn from Christianity in the making of Ayyappa, granting celibacy as the highest virtue for God, forbidding women of fertile age from visiting the shrine.

I presume Ayyappa could have been a real character akin to Lakshmananda of Kandhamal, succeeded in reconverting many to Hindu fold, or could have been a figment of imagination aimed to dissuade conversion.

A science graduate from Madurai University.(1975) A compulsive writer as there is no dearth of compulsion from the system, society or our beloved politicians. A tough minded optimist, who would enjoy the scenic beauty from suicide point. Maveric in words, thoughts and deeds. He lives in Bangalore
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Was Ayyappa a Tool to Fight Conversion?


Author: Suresh Naig


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Nikhil Narayanan
November 13, 2008
02:16 PM

I believe Jainism and Buddhism were the enemies and NOT Christianity.


November 13, 2008
08:49 PM

Nikhil: "I believe Jainism and Buddhism were the enemies and NOT Christianity".

Well, Jainism and Buddhism were of little consequence in the hilly districts of Kottayam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta. They were never a threat to Hinduism in Kerala, neither in the past nor present.

November 14, 2008
01:45 AM

Dismissing the influence of Jainism and Buddhism is foolish.

Vinod Joseph
November 14, 2008
02:14 AM

Suresh, you are way of the mark. Kerala, like the rest of South India was predominantly Buddhist with patches of Jainism until around the 12th century. Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism co-existed peacefully. After that there was a backlash from upper caste Hindus and Buddhism was totally erased from South India. Jainism became a sect of Hinduism. Buddhist pilgrimage centres became Hindu ones and Buddha was repackaged as one of the many Hindu Gods. At the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, there used to be celebrated till recently a day called the 'Kazhuveru Naal' - literally 'the day of hanging' when hundred of Buddhists were hanged.
Lord Ayyappan of Sabarimala was in all probability once a Buddhist deity. The temple itself was once a Buddhist temple complex. Prior to its Buddhist past, it might have been a Dravidian Saivite centre - Shiva was after all a Dravidian God co-opted by Hinduism.
There are still so many similarities between the practices at Sabarimala and Buddhism.
The devotees at Sabarimala chant: "Swamiye saranam Ayyappa," this is very similar to the Buddhist chant: "Buddham saranam gacchami, Sangham saranam gacchami, Dhammam saranam gacchami."
Sabarima is also referred to as Potalaka. The Dalai Lama's Palace in Lhasa, is called Potala.
There are references to Sabarimala is various Buddhist texts such as the Avatamsaka Sutra, and the writings of Chinese traveller Hsiuen Tsang. 'Hsuen Tsang refers to Avalokitesvara on the Potala in the following words: ''In the south of the country near the sea was the Mo-lo-ya (Malaya) mountain, with its lofty cliffs and ridges and deep valleys and gullies, on which were sandal, camphor and other trees. To the east of this was Pu-ta-lo-ka (Potalaka) mountain with steep narrow paths over its cliffs and gorges in irregular confusion...'' The place described here is in all probability Sabarimala.
Pilgrims to Sabarimala pay customary obeisance to at a Mosque built to commemorate a Muslim trader called Vavar, who was apparently a friend of a local prince who was a benefactor of this shrine.
The sitting posture of the Ayyappan deity is very similar to Lord Buddha's lotus position.

A google search will give you lots more information on this.

November 14, 2008
04:10 AM

vinod Joseph:

Thanks for your lengthy comments. Your arguments reinforce my infereces. Sabarimala existed for long, as we all know, even in Ramayan reference is made about it. What about the Shrine of Ayyappa, which was very recent.

Your argument that Shiva was a dravidian deity, adopted by Hinduism is fantastic imagination. The whole argument of Dravidian, Aryan conflict was a figment of imagination arising out of the so called Aryan invasion theory, for which no conclusive evidence is produced.

I have my own misgivings about google search, esp on ancient history, for most of it are crap or concocted, orchestrated by persons for their ulterior motives.

Claiming that Ayyappa shrine was once a Buddhist temple complex, is preposterous. I have shed my religious passion, while analysing Ayyappa and I wish everyone does.

November 14, 2008
07:14 AM


""The whole argument of Dravidian, Aryan conflict was a figment of imagination arising out of the so called Aryan invasion theory, for which no conclusive evidence is produced.""

you mean the HD digital video recording my ancestors made of these events, does not count? I would have uploaded it now, but the tapes have been "fungused". Never ""misunderstimate"" the damage fungus can inflict on reasonably good evidence.

November 19, 2008
09:22 AM

suresh, this is brilliant analysis on your part,i have never heard of such a theory before.Damn, and to think of the number of times i have enjoyed myself in the ambiance created by ayappan piligrims shouting and dancing and making merry in my home state of kottayam,alas they were actually plotting the downfall of my community.

November 20, 2008
11:28 AM


This article was the result of my rumination over two decades. I request everyone to view this article, in academic perspective and not in religious perspective, because religion in my opinion clouds rational thinking.

All religions included, without exceptions.

November 23, 2008
12:33 PM

'shame' on the author...

suresh naig
November 23, 2008
09:26 PM

Yes. "E" sans sane.

November 23, 2008
10:17 PM

Suresh ,religion especially christianity has been founded on the basis of rational thinking

November 24, 2008
12:43 AM


Every religion has its merits and demerits, and its purpose is to inculcate certain discipline in individuals, as the individuals constitute the society.

However, I would'nt accept a rational tag for any religion, because all religions are founded on an unproven premise known as "GOD".

When people argue and fight that their religion is better than others, the argument of rationality of religion is defeated.

November 24, 2008
10:11 AM

i doubt ur statement that "muslim entry into kerala began from 13 century only"..see this:

it's believed that the first muslim in kerala was a hindu ruler, who was then converted to islam by the prophet himself

November 24, 2008
03:33 PM

Vedic culture, dharma and philosophy is the root of all Bhaartiya or Indic traditions, be it Sanatan Dharma or Hindu dharma, Jaina Dharma, Buddha dharma and Sikh dharma. All of them belong to same Sanatan Dharma.

Jaina, Buddha, Sikh dharmas are like many other sampradayas or traditions of greater Sanatan Dharma like Vaishnava, Shaiva, Tantric etc.

Dalai Lama was too honest and frank to say, "we are Hindus. But many buddhists don't like to hear this. But there is no Buddha dharma, without Hindu dharma." To say this, one need to practice the truth path of Dharma/dhamma like Dalai Lama. Thai Kings use the Rama as their Title. Present Thai King is Rama IX.

Can there be a Sikh religious tradition without Hindu dharma? Absolutely no. Sikh religious book is full of Rama, Krishna, Durga and many other Vedic/Hindu deities. Sikhs visits Hindu mandirs, as they visit Gurudwaras.

Sanatan dharma is eternal, inclusive, non-sectarian, non-dogmatic. More westerners read Bhagavad thoroughly than perhaps Hindus in Bharat. Why they read? Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung (Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist), Arthur Schopenhauer (German philosopher) and many many others influenced by the Bhagavad Gita.

Sanatan dharma is the only faith to have boldly and confidently proclaimed that "Truth is one, the wise call it by various names." (Rig Veda). Sanatan Dharma is mankind's oldest spiritual declaration, the very fountainhead of faith on the planet.

Read more at: Hinduwisdom dot info

November 24, 2008
04:02 PM


Agree, it's the best for everyone and the only antiodote for all problems, past, present and the future.

December 5, 2008
12:40 AM

Ayyappa temlpe is 5000 years old ask some malayalee its orginaly Shastha Temple Built by Parasurama in Krithayuga it was shastha in kaliyuga it is Ayyappa...SWAMIYE SHARANAM AYYAPPA.

December 5, 2008
02:14 AM

Ganesh: we are roughly 5400 years into Kali Yugh and you say Parasuram built Ayyappa temple 5000 years back in Kruta Yugh.

Culture of temple came into existence only recently, even during early periods of Kali Yugh temples were not in existence.

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