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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Sabari Peetam and Dharma Sastha

Bhagawan Ayyappa is also known as Dharma Sasta. The word Sasta is mentioned in Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas. Yajur Veda, says, “Sastha adhipathir vo asthu “(Sastha is the ultimate ruler), a reference to the supremacy of Sastha over every being.

The Maithrayani Upanishad says, “Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Sastha, Pranava and Brahman- is one and the same.” The Kalagni Rurdopanishad calls Shiva as “Sarva Sastha”. It is said, “Kalau Sasthru Vinayakau” which means in Kaliyug Sastha worship is the only way for salvation. Taittria Aranyaka says, “Anthah Pravishtas Sastha Jananaam Sarvaathma Sarvaa: Praja Yathraikam Bavanthi “Where all are united, He who has entered within, that are born, and is the self of all, is beyond comprehension. He is the Sastha the ruler of all things.

Shiva tells Parvati that he will come as Shasta avatars as and when it is warranted. Shasta means guru shakti (Guru is known respectfully as Ayya in Dakshin Bharat). Shasta also means one who controls evil powers and protects the universe. (The word Appa denotes one or the power who protects). Thus, the word Ayyappa.

206 th nama in Vishnu Sahasranama which comes in 22 nd Shloka says-

Amrutyuh Sarva-Drk Simhah Sandhata Sandhiman Sthirah

Ajo Durmarshanah Shasta Vishrutatma Surariha 

The line – Ajo Durmarshanah Shasta Vishrutatma Surariha- means He, the one who exists always, He who cannot be vanquished, the teacher who imposes order and discipline in the world, one who is called by several names and the destroyer of Asuras. Thus, Shasta means one who rules over the universe. ‘Sasti Viswam Iti Sasta’- One who teaches the Vedas to the world and governs is Sasta.

Puranic period-

Srimahavishnu takes the avatar of Mohini at different points of time as mentioned in Puranas, viz., Jagan Mohini, Bhasma Mohini, Rishi Mohini and Shiva Mohini. Jagan Mohini avatar is known for the distribution of nectar to the Devas when Devas and Asuras fight with each other after Kshira Sagar Manthan. Bhasma Mohini avatar is to kill the demon Bhasmasur.  Vishnu in Rishi Mohini avatar mesmerises Rishis with his beauty. Vishnu takes Shiva Mohini avatar at the request of Bhagawan Shiva and thereby Hariharasuta (also known as Mohini Nandana Sastha) is born to kill Mahishi (cousin sister of Mahishasur, who gets a boon from Bhagwan Brahma that a boy born to Bhagwan Vishnu and Bhagwan Shiva alone could kill her). Immediately after Hariharasuta was born Vishnu gives up his Shiva Mohini avatar and assumes his usual Vishnu avatar. Bhagawathi Kamakshi gives milk to the boy Hariharasuta, also known as Sastha.  It can be noticed that Poorna Pushkala sameta Dharma Sastha is the Kshetrapalaka of Kanchi Kamakshi temple.

The word Poorna comes in 292 nd nama In Lalitha Sahasram in 69 th Shloka which says-

 Purushardha prada poorna Bhogini Bhuvaneswari

Ambikandinidhana haribrahmendra sevita

The word Pushkala comes in 804 th nama in Lalitha Sahasram in 152 nd Shloka which says-

Kalanidhi kavyakala rasajna rasasevadhi

Pushtaa puratana pujya pushkara pushkarekshana

Pushka(la)ra (In Sanskrit the letters Ra and La can be substituted).

In Skanda Puranam there is reference to Sastha in his childhood playing with siblings Ganesh, Kartikeya and Bhairava. In Sankara Samhita it is mentioned that Kashyapa Prajapati’s son Satyaka does penance and from his two eyes Poorna and Pushkala are born. They are the incarnations of Shakti (Poorna means fulness or perfection and Pushkala means abundance).

In a fierce battle Sastha finally kills Mahishi. He gets on top of Mahishi and crushes her head with his feet. (Kaalaikatti in Kerala is said to be the place where this fierce battle took place). Unable to bear the pain when Sastha crushes her head, Mahishi cries in pain and weeps endlessly. Aludaanadi (Aludaa River, Aludaa in Tamil means crying) is said to be the place where Mahishi weeped in pain. Finally, when Mahishi is killed she leaves the animal body and gets back her original soul – Leela, wife of Dattartreya. As Leela receives a curse from her husband Dattatreya she gets Mahishi avatar. Leela’s soul relieved from the Mahishi’s body falls in love with Sastha and requests him to marry her. Sastha says he will marry her when he comes down to earth in due course. It is believed that the dead Mahishi’s body has turned into fossil at a place known as Kallidum Kundru and the devotees going to Sabarimala, on the way at Kallidum Kundru throw stones so that the dead Mahishi does not take birth again.   

Palinjna Varma, a Nepali King and devotee of Kaalika devi wanted to avoid death and decided to give 108 girls as bali. Sastha councils Palinjna Varma and dissuades him from giving bali. Palinjna Varma offers his daughter Pushkala for marriage with Sastha. Later, Sastha rescues Pinchaka Varma a Kerala King from getting tormented by devils and demons. Pinchaka Varma offers his daughter Poorna Devi for marriage with Sastha. Knowing this, Palinjna Varma gets annoyed and gives a curse to Sastha that he would be born as a human being for 12 years. Thus, Ayyappa is born in human form out of this curse.

Ayyappa s story

In 10th Century AD, King Rajasekara Varma in Kerala of Pandala dynasty finds a child in the forest in Phalgun month (Uttara star) who is none other than Sastha who takes the human form on account of the curse of Palinjna Varma that he will be born as human being for 12 years. The child named as Manikanta is brought up by Rajasekhara Varma (an ardent shiva devotee) and his queen (who is a devotee of Bhagwan Vishnu). The minister of the kingdom tries to poison Manikanta but Bhagwan Shiva rescues Manikanta. Thereafter when the queen becomes ill, the wily minister says that tiger’s milk is to be given as cure for her illness. Manikanta goes to the forest to fetch tiger’s milk. Bhagwan Indra assumes the form of tiger and offers the tiger’s milk to Manikanta. Other Devas too take tigers’ avatar and Manikanta reaches the King’s palace with fleet of tigers and tiger’s milk. The King and Queen realise that Manikanta is not an ordinary person but has divine qualities and request him to become the prince. Manikanta refuses to become the prince and leaves all his ornaments in the palace and goes to Sahyadri mountains to do penance. He also explains Sastha Gita to a tribal women Sabari (not the Sabari of Ramayan) and sits at Sabari Peetam on the Sahyadri mountains. It is said that Parasurama builds the Sabarimala temple with 18 steps wherein under these 18 steps the powerful weapons of Manikanta are kept. These 18 steps are also said to represent eighteen elements of human body – the five senses or the Gyanendriyas, five Karmendriyas, the five Praan Vaayus (Prana, Apana, Vyana, Udana, Samana), the mind, intelligence and pride.

The soul of slain Mahishi who has been waiting for Sastha to come in human form now approaches Manikanta and requests him to marry her. Manikanta tells her that he will marry her the day on which no first-time bachelor devotee comes to Sabarimala temple. On the way to Sabarimala temple there is a place called Sarangutti. Every devotee who visits Sabarimala for the first time does a ritual by throwing arrow at this place. One can find on any day countless arrows at this Sarangutti. Therefore, poor Mahishi keeps waiting and hoping that on someday there will be no devotee at Sabarimala who is a first-time visitor so that Manikanta will marry her. Mahishi is said to wait there as Manchambika also known as Malikappurattamma. After having darshan of Sabarimala Ayyappa temple, devotees visit Malikappurattamma temple, which is very nearby. Every year on Makara Sankranthi day Manikanta’s ornaments (left at the palace by Manikanta when he went to Sabaripeetam) are brought to the temple.     

According to Hindu beliefs sage Parasurama created the land between Gokarna and Kanyakumari originally known as Parasurama Kshetra (now Kerala). He is said to have built 64 villages and 108 Sastha temples there. It is believed that due to the curse of Adi Shankara (8th Century AD) non vedic and atheist forces started spreading in Kerala and between 11th century to 15th century sea pirates who entered Kerala and forest thieves and dacoits started destroying several temples and looting the wealth of the temples. In the process Sabarimala temple too was destroyed. During this period Sastha takes birth in human form as Kerala Varma and controls these bad social elements viz., forest thieves and dacoits. One such dacoit Vavur surrenders to Kerala Varma. There is no authentic historical evidence to say whether Vavur was Hindu or Muslim. (Vavur is worshipped in Darga in Erumeli by the people of both Hindu and Muslim religions). It is quite possible that in order to promote religious harmony this tradition would have been started in those days, which continues even now. Kerala Varma reconstructs Sabarimala temple and becomes a Jyothi on makara sankranthi and leaves the mortal body.

 A guardian deity, Ayannar is depicted usually outside, on white horses or elephants, holding staffs and whips in many temples in Tamilnadu and Kerala, which is believed to represent the Kirata Sastha (i.e., Sastha who took the avatar of a soldier or warrior as Kerala Varma). When Arjuna performs penance before Mahabharata war, Bhagwan Shiva comes in disguise as Kirata (a hunter in forest) and Parvathi Devi comes as a hunter’s wife. Pleased with Arjuna’s penance Shiva gives the weapon Pashupata Asthra to Ajruna. When Shiva is attracted to the beauty of his consort Parvathi who has assumed the hunter’s wife’s avatar, Kirata Sastha (who later assumes human form as Kerala Varma) is born to them.

The yoga pose in which Ayyappa sits is found only in Sabarimala. At Sabari Mala, the Mandala Puja (41 days) is considered the most significant festival, which falls between mid-November and mid-January. During this period the number of tourists is said to be at its peak. On the 12th of January every year, all of Ayyappa’s jewellery begins to be transferred from the palace where he lived, to the Sabarimala Peetam. When the jewellery finally reaches the temple on the 14th January, it ascends the 18 sacred steps to Ayyappa’s shrine and his vigraha is finally adorned with ornaments, following which there is an Aarti.

   It is after this Aarti the devotees worship him in the form of light. Legend has it that every year, on what is now called Makara Jyothi, Ayyappa grants his darshan in the form of light (Jyothi) rising up from the east side of the temple, up above the Hills of Kanthamalai.

The devotees who take up the mandalam Deeksha have to observe absolute celibacy and abstinence from meat and intoxicants for a period of 41 days, walk with barefoot and travel barefoot all the way to the top of the Sabarimala hill where the shrine is located. During the trip, the devotees also carry the irumudi or the cloth bundle in which ghee filled coconuts are taken as offerings to the deity at the hilltop. Devotees who perform the mandalam Deeksha are required to cross the golden eighteen sacred steps or the Padhinettu padi, in order to reach the main shrine at the top. Whereas, those who do not perform the mandalam deeksha but visit the Sabarimala temple have to go for darshan without crossing the golden eighteen sacred steps. Around 40 to 50 million devotees visit Sabarimala every year. The temple is located at Sabarimala hill amidst 18 hills at an altitude of 1,260 M (4,134 ft) above sea level and is surrounded by mountains and dense forests, inside the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Perinad Village, Pathanamthitta District, Kerala. The temple is open for worship only during specific days in a year.

Some people draw parallels to certain similarities in Buddhism and Ayyappa deeksha and that is quite possible since Kerala has Buddhist influence since 3 rd century BCE. Nevertheless, the origin of Bhagawan Ayyappa can be traced to Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas as a Hindu God.  

Nearest Airports to Sabarimala- Trivandrum (107KMs), Kochi (110 KMs), Madurai (120 KMs).

Nearest Railway stations to Sabarimala- Kottayam (160 KMs), Chengannur (112 KMs)


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(The Author acknowledges using the contents of Youtube video of Sri. Nanduri Srinivas in the article).

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Dr. B.N.V. Parthasarathi
Dr. B.N.V. Parthasarathi
Ex- Senior Banker, Financial and Management Consultant and Visiting faculty at premier B Schools and Universities. Areas of Specialization & Teaching interests - Banking, Finance, Entrepreneurship, Economics, Global Business & Behavioural Sciences. Qualification- M.Com., M.B.A., A.I.I.B.F., PhD. Experience- 25 years of banking and 16 years of teaching, research and consulting. 200 plus national and international publications on various topics like- banking, global trade, economy, public finance, public policy and spirituality. One book in English “In Search of Eternal Truth”, two books in Telugu and 38 short stories 50 articles and 2 novels published in Telugu. Email id: [email protected]


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