Significance of Lord Ayappa’s birth and worship – Significance of Liberation??
For those of you who know me, and know me well, you know that Ayappa is my buzzword!! A maniac or extremist you might call me, but just eccentric in his presence. The ecstasy is boundless and I am truly blessed to have been soaked in this bliss and jubilation from my childhood. My interactions with him are more conversational than prayers. Yes, I grew up in this ambience. I remember seeing my grandmother more in her black sarees and thulasi malai than anything else. For us, it was more of a tradition, a family practice than a periodic worship.
As I grew up, my analytical mind starting questioning the practice norms. With years, my conversations with him, my devotion, and my miracles continued and my questions continued too.
Questions are good. Questions took human evolution from one level to the next. Questions in scientists help lead to great discoveries. Newton’s question helped reveal gravity. The question ‘Who Am I’ is the very basis of spirituality. So, questions are good. A seeker always has questions and the answers come at the right time. A Scientist is a seeker and a Spiritualist is a seeker too.
When the question unfolds with the answer, when the puzzle pieces come together, the joy is unfathomable.
Let’s try unfolding one question at a time.
As per Ayappa’s story, He is born to Shiva and Vishnu in Mohini form. A child born to Shiva and Vishnu? Yes, I had the same question like many.
When you say ‘not this, not this, not this’ and discard everything, what remains that is Shiva Tatva.
We know that we are not the body, not the mind, not the memory, not the ego, not the emotions. We are the soul or the atma, otherwise called the consciousness. The consciousness is Shiva. That is what is Shiva Tatva.
Atma only is Shiva. It is the masculine principle. Shiva is the meditative aspect of the entire universe. He pervades the entire universe. He has no form, but is in every form. Shiva is peace, infinity, beauty and the non-dual one. Shiva is eternal. This higher consciousness is Shiva and is the same consciousness that is present in every living being in this creation. Yes, it is the same consciousness that is in us.
What is Shakti?
As the name indicates, Sakthi is the activating power and energy. It is the female principle. It is the Maha Prakriti. It is the nature. It is the primordial cause of the material world. From this Sakthi evolve all other elements. The body, mind, emotions, thoughts, ego are all interrelated parts of Sakthi. These are all born from her. She is the material cause of the universe.
Sakthi is not conscious in itself. It is latent. Sakthi and its manifestation exists to provide experience to the soul or consciousness so that the consciousness can gain mastery over the external factors and come to an understanding of the true nature.
Shiva and Sakthi cannot exist without each other in this earthly world. Until Sakthi or energy is impregnated with consciousness, Sakthi is ignorant, distorted and blind. Energy alone cannot produce anything. Shiva or consciousness gives Sakthi the direction. Vice versa, Shiva or consciousness without Sakthi or energy is dormant and cannot do anything on its own. It needs energy.
The masculine manifestation of Sakthi energy is Vishnu. So, Sakthi and Vishnu are the same energies manifesting as feminine and masculine principles respectively. That is why in Hinduism, Parvathi, the Sakthi energy is considered as Vishnu’s sister. Same energy, but different forms.
Like Sakthi energy, which helps in life sustenance on this earth, Vishnu is considered the sustainer, the operator of life on this earth, after all it is the two versions of the same energy. The two sides of the same coin.
As we saw earlier, Sakthi is not conscious without Shiva. This unconscious latent energy called the Kudalini is dormant at the base of the spine (Muladara or Basic Chakra)
On the other hand, Shiva or the consciousness is at the crown of the head (Sahasrara or Crown Chakra).
When the Sakthi arises and united with Shiva, that is called liberation or nirvana or enlightenment or moksha. There is no more duality, only absolute oneness, the two merging into one. Once this is achieved, then there is nothing else but bliss and unconditional love.
Lord Ayappa’s birth gloriously signifies the birth of the enlightened from the unification of the Shiva and Sakthi energies. That born from the unification of Purusha and Prakriti. After all, Vishnu in Mohini form is Sakthi isn’t it?
Sakthi / Prakriti, is composed of three qualities or Gunas. These are Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. These are the prime qualities that help the Sakthi energy to diversify and function in this earthly world.
All objects in this world are the combinations of the three gunas. Sattva is the quality of being stable and in harmony. Rajas is the quality of distraction and activity and Tamas is the quality of dullness, darkness and inertia.
Lord Ayappa killing Mahishi, the buffalo, does not literally mean slaughtering the buffalo. Buffalo here means inertia and killing the inertia or dullness is the first step towards enlightenment. Tamas means decay, degeneration and is the principle of materiality. The Basic or Root or Muladara chakra is where the inertia lies and this chakra roots one to the earthly living. So, Mahishi Marthana means killing the tamas and awaking the Sattva in us.
Ayappa Worship and processes followed
The worship of Ayappa and the course followed through the mandala period to visit him at the Sabarimalai during the month of Makara has a noble significance too.
Lord Ayappa is said to have attained enlightenment at the age of 12. Why mandala vritha, why irumudi, why diet, why black attire, why Makara poojai, why 18 steps and so on… curious aren’t you?
The entire process of Ayappa worship for one mandala and visiting him on Sabarimalai is the complete process that one should actually go through to attain liberation or enlightenment. That’s the whole purpose of making someone go through the worship process. Actions repeated many times become habits, don’t they? Today, are we doing it with awareness is a question though.
We know the technical aspects of liberation, when the Sakthi energy rises up and comes in union with the Shiva energy in our Crown chakra…very technical isn’t it? In order for this to happen, the chakras should be in harmony and the channels connecting the chakras should be free of energy blocks thus enabling the energy to rise up and travel upwards.
We have been through so many births and we carry a huge load of accumulated garbage… takes a while to clear up this block…no kidding.
In fact this is what meditation does. It helps in clearing up this garbage. However, one should be satvic even for meditation to happen. Otherwise we just sit there with eyes closed for hours… been there seen that right?
So how does one become Satvic? Food plays a major role in affecting the 3 gunas. For example, stale food can make one tamas, highly spicy food can make one rajas. So, during the mandala vritha for lord Ayappa, one is asked to eat freshly cooked satvic food. Also, food should be vegetarian, because eating meat makes one tamas. ‘No meat’, not just because we are killing animals, but just that meat takes more time to digest (human system is not made to digest meat). It takes up to 72 hours to digest meat and the food sitting for a long time is stale food, either inside or outside.
Giving rest to our five sense organs is also another process of taking us inward. For example, watching a movie also makes one tamas after the 3 hours of watching. The sense organs become so tired. Try inhaling the perfume you like the best. After few minutes your nose is tired of the smell that you loved the most.
In general, all pleasure seeking activities that take your focus outward and keep you off balance are avoided during this period of time.
Satsangs are a great way to bring the mind to the center. Ayappa bajans are well-known for that. Group chanting and singing are very effective.
Here’s a secret. Taking bath in cold water activates the chakras and increases our alertness.
Need to talk a little about colors here. Why the shirt you wear is green or red or whatever? Why do we see colors?
When the object holds on to all other colors and reflects that one color, it shows up as that color it is reflecting. For example, the shirt you are wearing is red because it holds on to all other colors and reflects red. Right? We know this.
Bottom line, anything we reflect or give away, that is what we are. A black color holds on to everything and does not give away any color. It signifies the human being and the desires and cravings we hold on to in our lives. An ordinary person with desires and cravings and seeking pleasure is holding on to so many things in life. He goes through the entire process during the mandala period with black clothes to signify this.
Here’s another secret. That is why yogis prefer to wear white clothes, as they do not want to hold on to anything, even the colors. White color reflects all colors. It does not hold on to any color.
Why mandala and what is it?
A mandala period is anywhere between 40 to 48 days. The human body goes through a specific cycle physiologically every 40 to 48 days. Any kind of practice if done for one mandala period seeps into the system and becomes effective. It thus becomes a habit. All sadhanas are said to be practiced for 48 days so it becomes a habit. Even in Ayurveda, a medicine is asked to be taken for one mandala for it to work effectively.
Technically, a moon’s cycle from one full moon to the other is about 29 days; plus 11 days (Ekadashi) is a mandala. Moon is always considered to play a major role in causing changes at the emotional as well as the physiological level. The moon represents the mind (and this is a subject of study by itself). Yes, a women’s menstural cycle is in sync with the moon’s cycle to go from full moon to new moon and back. (This is a separate topic for discussion and correlates so much astrologically).
Ghee and coconut in irumudi
We know that the physical body is mortal and will perish whereas the soul inside is immortal and will never die. The coconut with a hard shell outside and that which decays inside represents the physical body and the ghee (which never is spoilt) represents the soul. Once the devotee reaches Sabarimalai, this ghee is poured on to lord Ayappa, meaning the devotee’s soul or atma reaches the enlightened above when one leads a satvic life and does all that is needed to (a snapshot of that shown is in the practices during the mandala period).
The path to Sabaramalai, at least in those days was not so easy…called periya pathai. It involved walking through dense forests, trekking hilly regions to reach the sannidhanam. So is the path of liberation. Looks tough isn’t it? But now, Sabarimalai can be reached quickly from Bamba and thus is the path of liberation. Not as tough as we think it is. Want to give the enlightenment process a try?
It is logical for people walking through the forests and hills, to carry their personal belongings separately from the coconut and ghee that was taken as offering to the lord. It made sense to carry it on their heads so hands are free to climb hills.
Some say that it symbolically indicates the good and bad karma luggage we carry with us as we go through our lives towards our path of liberation.
Both makes sense.
The Sakthi / Prakriti is made up of the 3 gunas, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.
The tanmantras (from Sattva), are the subtlest form of elements, which are the objects of the 5 sense organs. These are smell, taste, sight, touch and hearing.
The five sense organs (Rajas), these tanmantras correspond to are nose, tongue, eyes, skin and ears.
The five elements (Tamas), which correspond to the five sense organs are Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether. These are at the gross level.
The human being travel is from gross, to subtle and to the subtlest right?
The 18 steps corresponds to the 3 gunas and the 15 attributes that go with these.
We start at the gross level, tamas, overcome the tamasic nature, then step up to the Rajas nature, overcome this to move up to the Satvic nature. Reaching here, on the 18th step we see Ayappa’s darshan, indicating enlightenment, reaching the abode of lord Ayappa (in other words the Sakthi energy uniting with Shiva in the Sahasrara or the crown chakra).
The table below elaborates this.
|1.||Root Chakra (Mooladhara)||Earth||Smell||Nose|
|2.||Sex Chakra (Swadishtana)||Water||Taste||Tongue|
|3.||Naval Chakra (Manipura)||Fire||Sight||Eyes|
|4.||Heart Chakra (Anahata)||Air||Touch||Skin|
|5.||Throat Chakra (Vishudhi)||Ether||Hearing||Ears|
We see how the 5 chakras relate to these attributes at the gross, subtle and causal levels.
Thus we see how the 18 steps take us from the gross level to the subtlest form. The 18th step is Satvic, the pure form in complete harmony, light, luminous and centered. Isn’t this the right state to become enlightened?
Lord Ayappa’s worship process all makes sense now isn’t it?
Yet another question that bothers many of us, especially women. Yes you got it.
Why is Sabarimalai open only to men and not women?
First of all, visiting Sabarimalai is open to all. It is not restricted to women. However, reaching lord Ayappa by climbing the 18 steps is not allowed. So, why is that?
At a superficial level, yes, it definitely makes women furious and wonder why.
During the menstrual period in a woman, a significant amount of energy in her body is working in the downward direction towards the reproductive organs.
Temples are places loaded with cosmic energy (not sure about newly established temples though). When soaked in this cosmic energy, ones energy within the body is forced to rise in upward direction.
When a women during her menstrual period goes to a temple, then there is a force that is pulling her energy to rise up, whereas due to physiological changes happening currently, there is a demand for the energy to flow in the downward direction. This confusion hinders the regular functioning of the body and may impact the functioning of the reproductive organs.
The 18 steps are highly powerful with mantra chanting and prayers. This is why women are not allowed to climb up the 18 steps from puberty till menopause. I do not see women suppression here, however, it would have made more sense if we all (including men) were made to understand the rationale behind this so women got their due respect. Salute to thyself…Women!!
Lord Ayappa in Chin Mudra
We see lord Ayappa in meditative pose with one hand in Chin Mudra. The Chin Mudra is the yogic gesture that represents the unified nature of the soul with the higher consciousness… the coming together of the Prana vayu with the Udana vayu in us, represented by the thumb and the index finger (This is another great study in Ayurveda).
Adding to all these, every Ayappa devotee is called ‘Swamy’, to indicate God is in you and in me, in everyone. The journey towards moksha will help us realize this.
Swamiye Saranam Ayappa!!