Ayyappan
   Lord Ayyappan of Sabrimali in Kerala is a divinity with a synthetic character. He is said on the one hand to be the son of SHIVA and MOHINI, VISHNU’s female form. He is also said to be an incarnation of the Buddha. Furthermore he is honored in Kerala by Muslims. According to the myth, the god transformed himself into a baby who was found by the king Pandalam, who was childless. Ayyappan was then adopted as his heir. After a short time, Pandalam’s queen produced her own son, and she tried afterward to get rid of Ayyap-pan. She pretended she was ill and said only tiger’s milk could cure her.
   Ayyappan went off to the forest and returned riding a tigress. In his search for tiger’s milk, Ayyappan had been sent to heaven by Lord Shiva to kill a demoness, Mahishi. Ayyappan had suc-ceeded in ejecting her from heaven and making her fall to Earth. The demoness asked him to take her as his wife, but, he, being celibate, decided not to accept her. However, Mahishi is given a promi-nent place at the Ayyappan shrine.
   In recent years a winter pilgrimage has been instituted to the Ayyappan shrine; it takes place between December 15 and January 15, depend-ing on the lunar calendar. This men-only event involves an arduous climb up the hills of the Western Ghats and has become popular through-out India. Participants dress in black, take a vow of celibacy for the duration of the celebration, prepare for the pilgrimage by singing praises to Ayyappan, and then head off on the long trek. All castes and creeds are allowed to enter the Ayyap-pan, shrine, but women in their fertile years are not permitted as Ayyappan is said to be “lord of celibacy.” Ayyappan is sometimes also referred to as Shasta, or “ruler of the realm.”
   Further reading: E. Valentine Daniel, Fluid Signs: Being a Person the Tamil Way (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984); Lord Ayyappan, the Dharma Sasta (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1966); N. T. Nair, The Worship of Lord Ayyappan (Singapore: Print-world Services, 1995); Radhika Sekar, The Sabarimalai Pilgrimage and Ayyappan Cults (Delhi: Motilal Banar-sidass, 1992); P. T. Thomas, Sabarimalai and Its Shasta (Madras: Christian Literature Society, 1973); K. R. Vaidyanathan, Pilgrimage to Sabari (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1978)

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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