….as I know it and as I understand it.
Lord Ayyappa resides at Sabarimala, a sacred temple in the jungles of Panthalam, Kerala. He is known as Hariharaputran; meaning the son of Hari (Lord Vishnu) and Haran (Lord Shiva). This story starts with the Palazhi Madhanam or the Samudra Manthan or Kshirsagar Manthanor Churning of the Ocean of Milk.
The asura Mahishi was burning up with anger at the trick the gods had pulled on her brother, the asura king Mahishasura. As Mahishasura was blessed with invulnerability to all men, the gods had sent goddess Durga, to fight and kill him. Thus, Mahishi began performing a fearsome set of austerities, and pleased the creator god Brahma. She asked for the boon of invulnerability, but Brahma said it was not possible so Mahishi planned and asked invulnerability to all men except by the son of Shiva and Vishnu (Both are male & no possibility to give birth to any one). He granted her the boon of ruling the universe and being invulnerable except by the son of Shiva and Vishnu. Since such a person did not exist, she thought she was safe and began conquering and plundering the world.
The gods implored Shiva and Vishnu to save them from this catastrophe. Vishnu found a possible solution to the problem. When Vishnu had taken on the Kurma Avatar, he also had to manifest himself as Mohini, the enchantress, to save the nectar of immortality (ambrosia or amrit) from the demons who were not willing to share it with the gods. If he became Mohini again, then the female Mohini and the male Shiva could have the divine child who would combine the powers of Durga as per Brahmand Purana and beat Mahishi. Skanda purana states that Durga took birth in masculine form as Dharamshasta.
Some versions give a slightly more detailed version of the union of Shiva with Vishnu. One version tells that the asura Bhasmasura (Bhasma means ‘Ashes’) had so pleased Lord Shiva with his austerities that Shiva gave him a boon of anything he wished. So Bhasmasura asked for the ability to burn to ashes anything which he placed his hand over. No sooner had Shiva granted this, than Bhasmasura ran after the god, threatening to turn him to ashes.
Shiva called to Lord Vishnu for help. He hide himself in a peepal tree as Bhasmasura ran here and there searching for the god. Vishnu became aware of the events, and decided that he would take the female form Mohini, “the Enchanting”, and try to trump the asura’s powers. When Bhasmasura saw Vishnu in this form, he was bewitched by her beauty. He earnestly tried to court her. So Vishnu instructed Bhasmasura to hold his hand over his head, and vow fidelity. With this act, Bhasmasura was reduced to ashes.
Vishnu found Shiva and explained the whole affair to him. Shiva asked if he too could see Vishnu in this female form. When Vishnu appeared thus, Shiva was overcome with passion, and united with her. The two gods thus became “Harihara Murthi”, that is a composite form of Shiva and Vishnu as one god.
From this union, Lord Sree Dharma Sastha was born. He combined in himself the powers of Vishnu and Shiva. Lord Ayyappan is an incarnation of Lord Sree Dharma Sastha and Lord Ayyappan is a visible embodiment of their essential identity. Sri Ayyappa belongs to Pandya Royal Community. He was the head of a clan. It is believed Sri Ayyappa merged to sri dharma sastha. Lord Vishnu gifted the new-born deity with a little bejeweled bell necklace, so this god is called Manikantha. He is also Known as Dharma Shastha.
Information Source : Wikipedia
I have grown up listening to various stories from the Puranas and the Bhagavatha from my grandmother and my Mema. They were both extremely religious and followed all rituals with great sincerity. They also read lots of books on these subjects and were our Foodtime and Bedtime Story Treasures. And after Lord Ganesha, Lord Ayyappa was one who aroused curiosity in me as a child. Stories I loved. And I believed. Questions I had. I asked. Only to be ordered to shut up and not question Gods.
As I grew up I was privy to many new concepts including alternative sexuality. The moral policing that controlled my mentality to a huge extent made me shudder at the slightest remark of it. I didn’t want to talk or know about it at all. I feared. Whom? I think the various arms and ammunitions that the Gods were adorned with. Also, the huge pan with boiling oil in which They were going to fry me for all my sins. And slowly as I gained the tiniest beads of wisdom and started using my own brain and knowledge to analyse things and have my own perceptions, The questions came back. But this time with pointers toward the answers that were actually clearly visible.
I now understood that our Gods might be laughing at us. We worship Lord Ayyappa, the product of the sacred union of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu’s Mohini roopam. But we humiliate any such relationship that fellow humans have saying, “It’s unnatural.”
I have limited knowledge of our texts, religious stories and sacred books. Yet from whatever I have heard or read, it looks like our Gods were much more progressive in thoughts and actions than what we claim ourselves to be.
Coming to Makaravillakku. It is an annual festival celebrated at the hill shrine of Sabarimala where Lord Ayyappa resides. It is celebrated on the 14th of January and coincides with the Makarsankranti, Pongal, Bihu and many other festivals from various parts of India.
Lord Sri Rama and his brother Lakshmana met Sabari, a tribal devotee, at Sabarimala. Sabari offered the Lord fruits after tasting them. But the Lord accepted them gladly and whole-heartedly. The Lord then turned and saw a divine person doing tapas. He asked Sabari who it was. Sabari said it was Sasta. Rama walked towards Sasta and the latter stood up to welcome Rama. The anniversary of this incident is celebrated on Makara Vilakku day.
Makaravilakku, is a part of a religious ritual that is practiced by the tribes in the forest of Ponnambalamedu(the place where Makaravilakku appears). There is nothing supernatural in the Makaravilakku, no God or goddess is performing this. It has been a practised for more than 100’s of years by the tribes. Actually there is a temple in the Ponnambalamedu, the place is not open to the public it is under the control of Forest department of Kerala. When the Sirius star appears in the sky on Makaram 1st, these tribes too perform their rituals in that temple. Like in the temple of Sabarimala they also perform Arathi encircling the fire around the Idol. It is performed by lighting camphor and ghee in a vessel and is circled around the idol 3 times. This lamp or fire is what we see from the Sabarimalai temple and call it Makara Jyothi but the fire in the Ponnabalamedu is the actual Makaravilakku. The holy Light… “The Jyothi is a star that appears on the skies on the Makarasamkrama day above the Ponnambalamedu towards the eastern direction of Sabarimala. The lamp lighted during the time of Deeparadhana (arati) in the temple is known as Makara Vilakku,” .
Information Source : Wikipedia
Since I was in school I have been arguing with Mom on the Makaravillakku truth. She still believes that the light that is witnessed three times on this day at Ponnambalamedu is actually a miracle or a supernatural event.
This is where I truly respect my grandmother’s brother Govindankutty Mama. He is a very learned, well read and highly knowledgeable person. I think the questioning genes in me must be because of our common roots. He would always and always tease my granny for reading Sanskrit shlokas without even knowing or understanding the meaning. He’ll then sit down and describe the shlokas to her. And I must confess that like Abhimanyu I used to listen to all of this discourse from underneath a bed. Why underneath a bed? As a child I was extremely scared of him. Why scared? Honestly, there was no other reason than this that everyone else was or acted as being scared of him. Huh!!! I could have been friends with him and learnt so many things. Lost all the precious time to fear.