SREE DHARMA SHASTA

Shasta’s birth finds mention in the SkandaPurana.BHOOTANATHOUPAKYANAM,an ancient Sanskrit text also recounts the circumstances of the birth of Shasta as told by sage Suta of Naimisaranya,located on the banks of the river Gomti to his disciples.

Shasta is actually a crystallization of the boundless mercy of Narayana with the serene gnana of Paramashiva,a virtual combination of boundless kindness with ascetic gnana.According to His Holiness ShriChandrasekharendraSaraswathi,theSankaracharya of KanchiKamakoti Mutt ,Shasta is ‘When the merciful charm of Narayana and the serene gnana of Shiva combined an effulgent light was the outcome.Out of this effulgent light or tejas was born Shasta or Hariharaputra also known as Ayyappa or Ayyanar’.

The avtharam of Hariharaputhra or Shasta had a purpose.Karambika ,the sister of Mahishasura ,on learning of her brother’s death at the hands of Goddess Chandika Devi ,had vowed to avenge it.She had succeeded in propitiating brahma through strict penance and had become virtually invincible and beyond the shadows of death.Among the wide ranging boons granted to her, she could not be killed through metals ,stones, trees,air,water,fire and also falling a prey to diseases.The most disturbing part of the plethora of boons granted to her was she could be killed only by a son born of Hari and Hara who had lived for 12 years in the earth among mortals.The last part of the boon granted to her virtually insulated her from the jaws of death.

Devendra the King of the Devas was given a beautiful flower garland by the habitually short tempered sage Durvasa,which he adorned the head of his elephant Airavata.In no time due to the enchanting fragrance of the flowers,honey bees with their humming noise started flying around the garland in a bid to tap honey,This irritated Airavata,who in a bid to chase away the bees using its trunk,also got rid of the flower garland given by Durvasa , flung it to the ground and stamped over it.This infuriated Durvasa to such an extent that he cursed the devas that they be subject to birth and death . This meant the Devas were no more immortal again. He also told the Devas that once they have Amrit,brought about by the churning of the ocean of milk or palkadal,their immortality will be restored.

In the meanwhile the arrogant and cruel Mahishimukhi had unseated Devendra with ease and had become the ruler of Devaloka.With the devas no more immortal,with virtually no rights in Devaloka,theywere challenged for a battle by the Mahishi.The deva guru Brihaspathi,advised the devas and their leader Devendra against any such challenge and instead asked them to approach Lord Brahma in the satyaloka for a solution.Lord Brahma pacified the devas and assured them of a solution.Lord Brahma accompanied by Lord Maheshwara approached Lord Vishnu for a solution.Together they created the Sundaramahisham out of their ‘amsas’,to attract Mahishimukhi .They then asked the Sundaramahisham to go to devaloka ,entice Mahishamukhi make her dwell in sensual pleasures and later take her to earth and live there for some time pursuing material and sensual pleasures,and when the purpose of his birth was over,Sundaramahisham would return and merge in the trimurthis from whom he was created.

Accordingly,Sundaramahisham goes to devaloka and succeeds in enticing Mahishi and after enjoying in the Devaloka for a considerable period of time comes down to the earth as directed by the Trimurthis.

In the meanwhile,the churning of the ocean of milk takes place,with active cooperation of Devas and Asuras.Among the many things and beings that emerge out of it comes the Amrit,which is coveted by the Devas and Asurasalike.Soon the asura king Mahabaliforcibily takes the pot of Amrit away and walks off.The inconsolable devas approach Mahavishnu and begs Him to help them.To alleviate their grief Mahavishnu takes the enchanting form of Mohini,appears before the Asuras tricks them through sleight and retrieves the pot of Amrit for the devas.The devas then partake it and are freed from Durvasa’s curse and get back their immortality.

Lord Maheswara hears about this maya of Lord Vishnu,and expresses his desire to see it.Initially Lord Vishnu does not oblige, but later he reveals the form of Mohini using which He had tricked the asuras.Shiva who had burnt Kamadeva to ashes,looses His composure and embraces Mahavishnu in the form of Mohini,and soon crystalises into the THARAKA BRAHMA MOORTHI Sree DHARMA SHASTA.The Devas rejoice on the birth of SASTHA as their redeemer from the cruel Mahishimukhi or Mahishi is born.

Sastha stays initially at Kailas in the company of Shiva,Parvathy,Ganapathy and Subramanya,assisted by Bhringi and Nandi.There He is imparted knowledge of all that is required to be mastered by His father the all knowing master Lord Paramashiva.One day Lord Paramashiva calls Shasta aside and lets him understand the purpose of His incarnation,which is slaying of Mahishimukhi or Mahishi,for which He should dwell 12 years on earth as a human being.Shasta consents and Lord Paramashiva blesses Him and lets Him known that He would bring succour to the inhabitants of the earth especially during Kaliyuga as the boon giver of Kaliyuga or KALIYUGAVARADHAN.

MANIKANDAN

VIJAYA BRAHMANAN,the earlier incarnation of Pandala Raja of Pandyan descent gets the Vishwaroopadarshanam of Shasta near the urakkuzhitheertham,wherein Shasta promises to serve him as his son on his next birth.VijayaBrahmanan is born as RajashekharaPandian of Pandalam in his next birth.Theroyal couple remains childless for a long time.The Raja prays to his ishtadevata Lord Shiva for a son.Time flies by.Once when hunting on the banks of the Pamba near Valiyanavattom,he hears the helpless cries of a child.Immediately he rushes in the direction from where heard the cry only to find a beautiful little male child hardly a month old.The aura in the child’s face attracts the Raja,who picks it up lovingly,and is immediately in a dilemma whether to take the infant home or not.Just then a radiant aged brahamana appears from nowhere,and puts the Raja’s doubts to rest.Thebrahmana tells the King that since the King was childless,he can consider the child as godsend and take it home .The child is a kshatritya and is faultlessto the core,he will with the passage of time become a brave and virtousone.Thebrahmana tells the King that he should not ask for more information about the child.He also reminds the King that the real identity of the child would berevealed in his 12thyear.He also tells the King that since a gem studded necklace is found on his neck,he be named MANIKANDAN.(Mani-gem,Kandan-one who wears it on his neck.)Soon the brahmana vanishes into nowhere.

King Rajashekhara takes the child with utmost love and affection to the Pandalampalace.Soon a bond envelopes between the King and the little one,which remains till the very end.The child as advised by the brahmana is named Manikandan.Manikandan brings all round joy to the royal household.The Raja gets all the necessary observances done when a new born kshatriya baby arrives on Manikandan.Manikandan turns out to be a brilliant,sharp and immensely talented boy.At the appropriate time,the King arranges for Manikandan to be sent to a gurukulam.The talented youngster completes his education in an amazingly short span of one year.The guru instantly recognizes Manikandan’sdivinity.Before taking leave of him,the guru requests Manikandan to have mercy on his deaf and dumb child and to cure him of his inherent shortcoming atbirth.Manikandan,in no time blesses the child,and the child is cured of its shortcoming to the joy of his father.Manikandan requests the guru that this miracle be kept a secret,as he did not want his divinity to be made public.

Manikandan’s mere presence in the palace brings all round fortune.In the course of time,KingRajashekhara’s wife Perundevi gives birth to a male heir.He is named Rajarajan.Though a son is born to Rajashekhara,he is convinced that Manikandan is responsible for this all round change in the fortunes of the Kingdom,and decides to anoint Manikandan as heir or Yuvaraja.This decision angers the prime minister of the kingdom.Seething with anger and hatred at an unknown boy being given unwanted honours,he plans his first move to do away with Manikandan once for all.He gets into terms with evil sorcerers and black magicians,resulting in Manikandan being bed ridden with sores all over his body.The King gets the best physicians in the land to treat Manikandan,to no avail.Then all of a sudden when all hopes were apparently lost,asanyasi arrives from nowhere claiming healing powers.The worried King immediately arranges for the sanyasi to examine Manikandan.The ascetic opines that it is the handiwork of sorcerers and asks the king to arrange for a satrusamharahomamfor the well being of Manikandan.The King consents,and immediately after the completion of the homam,Manikandan is miraculously cured.The sorcerers who had done the heinous act meet with a gory end,much to the chargin of the prime minister.

The evil scheming prime minister never gives up.He comes up with an even more diabolical plan.He succeeds in poisoning the queen Perundevi’s mind, convincing her that her son Rajarajan will be deprived of his birthright to rule Pandalam,and would languish like an ordinary prince if Manikandan becomes the ruler.Perundevi falls to the ministers evil designs and agrees to be a part of his plan to eliminate Manikandan.Next the primeminister bribes the court physician heavily,and enact the drama of the queen feigning an incurable headache,and the physician asking for an improbable cure in the form of fresh tigress milk to be mixed with herbal remedies.On hearing of the queen’s illness and the strange prescription,the King feels literally lost.Manikandan understands the king’s dilemma and immediately asks his permission to do the impossible.The king refuses at first,but with absolutely no choice,coupled with Manikandan’s loving insistence on performing the improbable task,herelents.The asks for soldiers to be sent along with Manikandan,forassistance,butManikandan opts to go alone,much to the glee of the prime minister.

In the meanwhile,theMahishimukhi after engaging in amourous pursuits along with Sundaramahisham in the earth,related earlier with relation to the birth of Shasta,and his earthly advent in the form of Manikandan,is informed by her own clan,that her Kingdom of Devalokam in Amaravathi,is usurped by the devas.In a fit of rage,Mahishimukhi speeds to devaloka,forgetting about even Sundaramahisham,herbeloved.Mahishimukhi challenges Devendra for a battle.A pitched battle ensues,and in the end the tireless Mahishimukhi unseats Devendra,the King of the Devas,who goes into hiding.TheMahishimukhi becomes the undisputed ruler of the three worlds.

As Manikandan made way from Pandalam to the dense forests,some ladies mocked him for his foolhardiness.As soon as Manikandan reached the forest,LordMaheswara sent his bhootaganas to assist him.Shivabhootaganas like Vaparan, Khadushabdan,Veerabhadran , Koopakarnan,Ghandakarnan,Koopanetran among others were at the beck and call of Manikandan.Accompanied by Shivabhootas,Hariharaputhra arrived at the banks of the holy Pamba.There, expecting Hariharathmaja’s arrival many sages and saints were eagerly waiting to pay their respects and do poojas to Shasta,which they did to their hearts content.Then these sages and saints took Manikandan atop a mountain some 10 yojanas away from Pamba where they had created a temple made of gold through their austerities or tapa shakti where they seated Manikandan in a throne studded with gems and did what is called Rishi Pooja to ManikandaShasta.Today’sPonnambalamedu atop the Kanthamala is just symbolic,as,the real Ponnambalamedu cannot be seen with all and sundry with naked eyes.

After giving divyadarshanam to saints and sages ,the time becomes ripe for Mahishinigraham,asManikandan proceeds to devaloka along with his bhootaganas and challenges Mahishimukhi.The enraged Mahishi,immediately accepts the challenge and a fierce one to one combat ensues.Manikandan catches the Mahishi firmly by the horns,swirls her around with easeand flings her down to earth.She falls with a thud on the banks of the Azhutha.Before she can get up Manikandan appears before and places his foot firmly on the throat and begins his Mahishisamharadance,to which Lord Shiva appears nearby ,fastens His vehicle Nandi to the Anjali tree and watches His son dance.This place is revered to as Kalaketti.Mahishi realizes that her end is near at the hands of Hariharaputhra.She extolls him with her songs of praise and begs Him for forgiveness.The kind Lord jumps down ,blesses her and rids herof her curse.She begs Him to marry her,which the Lord politely refuses as He is a naishtikabrahmachari,and instead elevates her as Goddess Malikapurathamma. In the meanwhile the body of the Mahishi is buried at Azhutha using boulders to bury it.The place where the Mahishi is buried becomes Kallidamkunnu.

Pleased with the kindness shown by the Lord in getting rid of Mahishi,DevarajaIndra takes the form of a huge tiger,thedevis’ take the form of tigress’ and the devas the form of tiger cubs,whichManikandan mounts and goes back to Pandalam.The frightened subjects lock themselves up in their homes out of fear.Everybody is convinced of the divinity of Manikandan.The Raja of Pandalam,RajashekharaPandian,begs for forgiveness and insists that the wicked primeminister will be suitably punished.Manikandan pardons all the wrong doers.The Raja insists on Manikandan being made the King,which is refused on the ground that the purpose of the avatharam of Manikandan is comming to its natural completion.Manikandan asks the Raja to build a temple on the spot where the arrow He is about to shoot falls.The Raja agrees.Manikandan shoots an arrow and gives the Raja the divine sight to see where it has fallen.Manikandan then gives upadesham to the Raja and disappears into nature.

The devout RajashekharaPandian builds a temple where the arrow had fallen,atop a hill in which Sabari had done penance.Inside the temple he consecreated Dharma Sastha of whom Manikandan was an avatharam.Thence stands the temple which we all revere as the Sabarimala Temple today.

THE CONCEPT OF SHASTA WORSHIP

The concept of Shasta worship needs to be clearly understood ,as even today bhaktas are unclear whether Ayyappan and Shasta are one and the same.People go temples of Shasta were the PRATISHTA of Shasta in most cases is flanked by his consorts Poorna and Pushkala and in some other cases His pratishta is flanked by his consort Prabha and son Satyaka.All this is confusing to a common bhakti who is told Ayyappan is a naishitikabrahmachari.

Shasta is jyothiswaroopan,nirgunaparabrahmam,one without form.He is the crystalisation of the powers of Shankara and Narayana.Our ancients gave male sankalpam to the formless brahman as Godhead and female sankalpam to his powers or shaktis.Sankalpam means assumption.All these concepts were coined for the understanding of the abstruse with relative ease.Hence the jyothiswaroopan that Shasta isgiven a male form,hisshaktis or powers are shown as his wives.TheIcchaShakti,Gnana Shakti and Kriya Shakti are represented as His wives and His Ajnashakti as His son Satyakan.

The Shasta sankalpam that is predominant in Kerala is different from that which is in vogue in Tamilnadu.In Kerala the common sankalpam of Shasta is PrabhaSatyakaSamethaShasta.Among the Namboodiris and Nairs of Kerala of old,who have Shasta as their paradevata,it is the PrabhaSatyakaSametha Shasta that is commonly seen.As per the beliefs in Kerala ,the concept of Vettakorumakanexists,but is unrelated to Shasta according to the beliefs of the Namboodiris and Nairs,who have Vettakorumakan as their paradevata.Though the kalam drawings of Vettakorumakan and Shasta look alike to the layman,there are intrinsic dissimilarities.

As per the beliefs that is widespread in Tamilnadu ,the concept of Shasta worship is slightly different.PoornaPushkalasametha Shasta is the commonest sankalpam of Shasta that is seen here.PrabhaSatyakasametha Shasta is almost unknown,thoughSatyakan is worshipped along with PoornaPushkalasametha Shasta in Shastapreethis,a popular mode of Shasta worship particularly in and around Tirunelveli,and to a lesser extent in other parts of Tamilnadu especially among tamilBrahmins.Ayyanar is another common name attributed to Shasta in Tamilnadu.

In Tamilnadu especially among tamilBrahmins,Shasta is assumed to have eight forms and had taken eight incarnations’Ettavatharamunduettuswaroopankalundu’ so goes one the most famous of Shasta Varavupattus sung during Shasta preethis.The eight forms of Shasta are MAHASASTHA,VISHWASASTHA,LOKASASTHA,DHARMASASTHA,VEDASASTHA,KAALASASTHA,KIRATHASASTHA AND SANTHANADAYAKA SHASTA.

Almost all the temples built by the migrant tamilbrahmin settlers in Kerala have the sankalpam of PoornaPushkalasamethaShasta,whereShastapreethis are celebrated annually with great pomp.Of the temples built by the tamil Brahmin settlers in Kerala,the Kochi ThekkeMadomKarthan temple is one of the most famous with the idol believed to be the replica of KolathurAyyan at Kalladaikrichi,though,themoolavigraham of KolathurAyyan is a stone without any form carved in it.

Manikandan and Ayyappan are believed to have been the two well knownavatharams of Shasta.TheAyyappaavatharam became so popular in Kerala that almost all Shasta temples situated in groves or kavus became identified with Ayyappan and came to be known as Ayyappankavus.To cite an example the famous Shasta temple at Chamravattom came to be known as ChamravattomAyyappanKavu,Mundamukha Shasta Temple became well known as MundayiAyyappanKavu and so on.

In Kerala,a majority of the temples dedicated to Shasta have Lingaroopapratishta,meaning the idol of Shasta is in the form of a Shivalinga.In such instances,one can find three conical shaped stone lingams on a coomonpeetam or seat signifying Shasta ,Prabha and Satyaka or Shasta,Poorna and Pushkala.In many temples,Shasta is worshipped as a swayambhoo or self formed where the idol is an irregular stone.In some temples,thesannidhyam or presence is invoked in a peetam or seat,which may be fixed or movable.In such cases no other idol is found and poojas are performed to this peetam.In a majority of the cases where the peetam is the main pratishta,thepeetam is normally made of wood,which is changed if and when it is found to be damaged.In some temples dedicated to Shasta,the presence of Shasta is invoked in a sword or mudravadi,also known as mudra pirambu in tamil.Mudravadi is a bamboo cane and is considered to be the symbolic representation of Shasta.

To sum up,Manikandan and Ayyappan are the two avatharams of Shasta,with the Ayyappaavatharam or more precisely the avatharam of Aryan Kerala Varman,being the relatively more recent and most popular.Ayyappan and Manikandan were naishitikabrahmacharis who merged in the main godhead Shasta after the purpose of their avatharam or incarnation was fulfilled.Shasta is neither married nor

which we worship as formless God, with human attributes being attributed to Him by our ancients to further our understanding on the nirgunaparabrahmam .
SWAMIEYA SHARANAM AYYAPPA.