The Lord has been ordered by the Supreme Court of India to lose his virginity. Do I agree? Hell Yes!!! As a matter of fact, the next thing on the agenda before this mandala season should to make sure that Malikapurath Amma, the love of his life be married to him ASAP. Otherwise the violation of her rights continues. She has waited long enough! Once the Tantri family decides that consummation has happened (don’t know how they do it, they seem to have his ear, well at least as per them) then the temple is no different from the one in Achankovil and she could be added to the 2 wives he already has which are Pushkala and Poorna and the son Satyaka. After all, nowhere does it says in any religious or mythological text that Malikapurthamma is prepubescent. Assuming the mythological story of the Lord killing Mahishi and a beautiful young woman appearing (not girl) is true and/or the story of Leela, the daughter of Cheerpancheri Panicker who wanted to marry Ayyappa is true, it is obvious that she was a menstruating woman which means all this while there was a woman between the age of 10 and 50 sitting right there! I reckon the only thing that Malikapurthu Amma will tell the Hon. Supreme Court of India (if she had been asked) and women who presumably will now flock there for his attention is; “Please get in line!” Another woman who has been completely forgotten in this narrative is Karuppaiamma, who sits along with Karuppuswamy. She is also not pre pubescent.
I write this as a Guruswamy, a person who can initiate Kanniswamys (the novice or the first timer) into the cult of Lord Ayyappa and tell them what to do and not do during the upcoming mandala (auspicious) season starting November in preparation and during the pilgrimage. I am sure the Kanniswamys will have a lot of questions that I have to necessarily answer and this is my preparation for that. I am drawing on my experience of having gone there numerous times and the deeksha I have taken from many Guruswamys who preceded me including my uncles.
So what is all this about?
Lord Ayyappa is Hari Hara Suthan. The son of Siva and Vishnu (in the form of Mohini) who is sent to kill Mahishi. Named Manikandan by the then King of Pandalam and raised as his own. Subsequently because of some chanakya neethi practiced by the queen and the minister, he relinquishes the throne in favor of his step brother and decides to become an ascetic.
The mercenary warrior who killed Udayanan, the infamous brigand who terrorized the erstwhile kingdom of Pandalam. The young warrior successfully collaborates with Vavar (a Muslim pirate) and generals of other smaller kingdoms to end the atrocities of Udayanan on the spice route (Western Ghats to Pandalam in the plains) which was the economic life line of the state.
The Buddhist angle
Not normally told to novices, but since I do, let me state that as well. Lord Ayyappa is also called Dharma Shastha. Buddhism was prevalent in Kerala during that time. Yes, the Hindu interpretation of whose manifestation that is remains relevant for sure, but it is also a possibility he may have been Buddhist who subsequently renounced war much like Ashoka after Kalinga.
Other Characters in the mix
Kadutha brothers, Karupannar, Villan and Mallan – All the generals who joined Lord Ayyappa in his fight against Udayanan.
A fusion of myth, history, war stories, redemption stories and creation of a brotherhood/fraternity kind of like the Freemasons. Over a period of time co-option of figures from different times in history, rituals, customs and an all pervasive story was built over this very simply to reiterate one point which the corner stone of the cult of Lord Ayyappa.
‘Tatvamasi,’ meaning ‘You are that is’! It is also the called the MahaVakya (cardinal message), as it instructs a seeker on the nature of Brahman, the ultimate truth. It refers to existence of God in everyone of us. Looking into oneself is the most excruciating task in Hindu spirituality and ‘Tatvamasi’ is the cardinal message that has influenced, and still influences, the cultural, moral and religious ethos of Indians who are devotees of Lord Ayyappa. I reckon this simple message also finds resonance across all religions hence the reason why people irrespective of religion, caste, creed and gender become devotees. To draw an analogy from Islam, this is the equivalent of inner jihad.
The journey to Tatvamasi
The 41 days vratham (penance) is nothing more than a quest to get the body to listen to your mind and unlock the power of the mind. The perfect detox in many ways. Your abstinence does not have anything to do with the Lord himself as you are the Lord and your intent it to understand that part of the sacred divine in you. Lord Ayyappa is only the embodiment of the Lord inside you.
The stories, their probable roots and relevance
The abstinence routine and the traditions and rituals associated with it most probably comes from the habits practiced by the army of the Lord in war against Udayanan. An army on the move and that too in a forested area does not have the luxury of getting shaves, cutting nails, having their food made by somebody else etc. Even the items you carry as offering to the Lord are high protein, highly nutritious and can be consumed raw or easily cooked, typical of the rations carried by any soldier going to war. Every devotee addresses each other as Swamy and there is a clear order in which everything is done. Again something that reminds us of a warrior code of conduct followed by armies on the march across the world like the Chetwode credo. “The safety, honor and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honor, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.” This is the motto of the officers passing out from the Indian Military Academy. Each one of these seemingly normal routines that any person does has to be placed into a grander narrative for the ultimate quest. So religious, moral, spiritual, esoteric meaning became associated with what are seemingly every day routines done by people.
Yuval Noah Hariri says in Homo Deus, that we homo sapiens have the ability to create and believe fiction. All other animals use their communication system to describe reality. Humanity’s greatest invention is religion, which does not mean necessarily mean belief in gods. Religion is a system of norms and values that is founded on a belief in superhuman laws. Some religions, such as Islam, Christianity and Hinduism, believe that these superhuman laws were created by the gods. Other religions, such as Buddhism, Communism and Nazism believed that these superhuman laws are natural laws. Thus Buddhists believe in the natural laws of karma, Nazis argued that their ideology reflected the laws of natural selection, and Communists believe that they follow the natural laws of economics. No matter whether they believe in divine laws or in natural laws, all religions have exactly the same function: to give stability to human institutions.
Without some kind of religion, it is simply impossible to maintain social order. During the modern era religions that believe in divine laws went into eclipse. In the future, they are likely to become more powerful yet. Silicon Valley, for example, is today a hot-house of new techno-religions, which promise us paradise on earth with the help of new technologies.
Supreme Court ruling and why people seem to have a problem with it:
- Who is the aggrieved party here? Nobody seems to know. Even the court did not know as evident from the dissenting note of one of the justices.
- What are the constitutional provisions invoked by the court? Article 14 and 15 (3) which are on gender equality and special status provided to women and children to ensure that their fundamental right to equality is in no way infringed upon. The second is Article 25 of the constitution which deals with religious freedom which is the ability to profess, practice and propagate religion.
- The final question was if the Lord Ayyappa cult is a separate religious denomination under Hinduism under Article 26?
- The court finally struck down Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorization of Entry) Rules, 1965, which was the basis on which women in the menstruating age were barred from the temple since the presiding deity was celibate.
The reason why people seem to have mixed feeling about this whole issue is because they fail to see and understand the imperative behind this. The former CJI Deepak Misra is on record of having the court play the role of a catalyst in transforming society using the constitution. If this was meant to be a lasting legacy of that vision, I guess there were better issues to pick and he did in overturning the stupid laws on gay sex and adultery. Was this as transforming of society as those two? Only time will tell!
Most people are also wary of the Supreme Court playing arbiter in issues of faith and defining the essentials of faith. They are also scared of the Pandoras box that is now open where anybody without locus standi can now question anything without actually being aggrieved. I am sure that the court in its wisdom will do what is necessary should such instance arise, but better to tread cautiously on issues that have no necessary logic, rational or reasoning like faith.
What about the women who will now travel to Sabarimala?
They will be welcomed and treated by all Swamys as a Malikpuram (the term for a female devotee). It is my belief that nothing will wrong there. I hope the temple administration and the government authorities will take the steps necessary to increase the infrastructure available to accommodate the increase in the influx of devotees.
What about the folks who oppose this?
They are not Swamys!
Aryan, the son of my good friend Hari is the last Kanni Swamy I initiated the year before. He is coming with me this time as well. Swamy, I hope this answers some the questions that you have for me. I look forward to our pilgrimage together with the new Kanniswamys.
Hari Hara Suthan, AyyanAyyapa Swamiye, Sharanam Ayyappa! Swamy Sharanam!