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Until 10th century AD, almost 85% of the
people in Kerala were Buddhists or Jains.
Following the attack that took place
between 10th and 12th century AD,
Hinduism established itself. It was
Paramara Parasurama (970 AD) who
conquered Kerala and initiated the process
of conversion to Hinduism. This is the
same Parasurama, who is mentioned in
Hindu scriptures, as the one who threw his
axe and reclaimed the land, which he later
gave as gifts to Brahmins. The reference to
‘reclamation’ is to indicate the process of
reclaiming Hindu Dharma from the
influence of Buddhism and Jainism, or the
country from their hold. The battle axe was
the most common weapon used in those
days by the soldiers. Parasurama took
over the Buddhist places of worship and
converted them into Hindu Temples. He
then gave charge of these temples to
Brahmins to run them according to Hindu
rites of worship.
This was followed by the attack of Cholas
(999 to 1102 AD). During this period, the
Buddha vihars were converted into Siva
temples. The Jaina vihars were changed
into temples of Vishnu. The nunneries
(where the Bikshunis lived) became Devi
temples. What we see today as temples of
Dharma Sastha were originally Buddha or
Jaina vihars. (Vihars were Buddhist or
Jaina monastic retreats.)
During the later period, under the
leadership of king of Pandalam, a Buddhist
pilgrimage centre, which is now known as
Sabarimala, was conquered. In this
conquest the king of Pandalam, must have
taken the help of the Muslims residing in
the precincts of Erumeli. As a result, Vavar
(Babar), a muslim commander, finds a
place in this story or legend. All these
events took place around 1600 AD.
The place conqured by the King of
Pandalam, belonged to the Maravars of
Tamilnadu. After the conquest, the king
became a believer in Hinduism. As a
result, this shrine became a centre of
Hindu worship. Both the Saivaites and
Vaishnavaites tried to take control of this
temple. Based on a compromise between
these two groups, the story or legend of
Hariharaputra (son of Vishnu and Siva)
gained popularity. May be in order to ward
any further onslaughts, a temples with 18
narrow steps was built, which made access
to this shrine difficult.
Till recently, Brahmins did not visit this
temple carrying the traditional bundle of
coconuts and rice (Irumudi-kettu). They
called the temple as a Pulaya (lower caste
Hindu) temple. Even today, the clothes
worn by the devotees represent those worn
by the lower castes/tribals.
The Mudra (symbolic gesture) attributed to
Ayyappa is unique, where the index finger
of the hand is kept joined with the thumb,
leaving the other three fingers free. This
symbolizes the steadfast aim of the
devotee to achieve nirvana, by taking
refuge in the three jewels (Triratnas),
Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the
fundamental commitments of a Buddhist.
(Buddha- the awakened one. Dharma- the
truth and tenets expounded by him.
Sangha- the community following these
principles.) Lord Buddha is popularly
depicted as sitting in Padmasana (lotus
pose) with the fingers of both hands held
in Chinmudra.
There is no class discrimination in
Sabarimala. Everybody is an Ayyappa (a
representative of the deity) or a
Malikapuram (mother godess). Even this
concept has its roots in Buddhism and its
principle of equality. Though people
practiced different professions or crafts,
there was no caste distinction in
Buddhism.
The chanting of Saranam (refuge in God)
is part of Buddhism. Buddham Saranam
Gachhami (I take refuge in the enlightened
One), Sangham Saranam Gachhami (I take
refuge in the community of Bikshus/
Bikshunis,), Dharmam Saranam Gachhami(I
take refuge in the practice of Truth and
righteousness). Today, these have been
changed to ‘Swami Saranam’ and
‘Dharmasastha Saranam’. That is the only
difference.
The affidavit was filed in response to a
notice issued by the court on a petition by
the Indian Young Lawyers Association and
five other women advocates challenging the
ban in vogue for several years.
It said: “Some scholars of ancient Kerala
history say that the Sabarimala Sastha
Prathista was once a Buddhist shrine. The
rituals chanted by worshippers are
synonymous with the ‘Saranathrayam’ of
Buddhist disciples (Budham Saranam
Gachami; Dharmam Saranam Gachami;
Sangham Saranam Gachami).” However, the
government had no intention of creating any
controversy, it said.

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It was one of the most unexpected and the
most hurting situation for millions of
Ayyappa Swami devotees when the
Tranvancore Devaswom Board (TDB)
confirmed that the Makara Jyothi that
appears on the edge of the Ponnabalamedu
hill (on the 14th of January, every year) at
Sabarimala is man made.
Every year, millions of Ayyappa Swami
devotees used to visit Sabarimala and the
Temple trust managed to gather crores of
rupees as a revenue. Now the fat is, the
Jyothi that appears on the hill slope is man
made and this “fake” process of creating a
Jyothi has been ongoing from hundreds of
years! So are all Ayyappa swami devotees
been fooled? Are Ayyappa devotees been
misled?
Another interesting fact here is, most people
in the Kerala were aware of this fake
creation of Makara Jyothi. The truth came to
light when the High Court questioned the
temple authorities about the Makara Jyothi,
whether it was natural or a man made one.
The President of Travancore Devaswom
Board then revealed that it was man made.
Sow how is it actually done? Read below –
On every 14th of January at about 7:00 pm,
a few people from the Kerala Forest
Department, Kerala State Electricity Board,
TDB, authorities from the Sabarimala Temple
and a couple of policemen carry 4 – 5 kgs
of camphor (in the form of cubes) in a plate
and a few matchsticks. They then proceed
to the Ponnambalamedu hill, light it and
show it to the devotees thrice. Since the
Sabarimala temple is situated on another
hill opposite to Ponnambalamedu (where the
camphor is lit) and about hundreds of feet
beneath it, the flame that comes out appears
to the devotees as Makara Jyothi but in
reality, it is just the flames that you are
seeing and not the actual Jyothi (light). This
entire process is done by people, along with
the support of Government of Kerala, and is
not due to the miraculous powers of GOD.
So to be honest, all devotees were fooled. Or
better to say, all devotees are being fooled
from hundreds of years.

Sabarimala was actually a Buddhist
shrine and Ayyappa was actually
Buddha, rechristened during the revival
of Hinduism and the subsequent exile of
Buddhism.
“ Dharma Sastha”, the alternate name by
which Ayyappa is known, suggests in
similar lines. “Dharma ” is a word which
is of utmost importance to Buddhists.
The ‘ Saranathrayam’ of Buddhist
disciples “Budham Saranam Gachami;
Dharmam Saranam Gachami; Sangham
Saranam Gachami ” meaning “To the
Buddha I go for refuge; To the Dharma
(Teachings) I go for refuge; To the Sangha
(Monks) I go for refuge ” portrays Buddha
and Dharma as destinations for ones
refuge. Also “Sastha ” is a widely used
synonym for Buddha.
The chanting of Ayyappa devotees
wherein they repeat the word Saranam
is also interesting. There is no other
Hindu God who is associated with the
chanting of Saranam whereas it is an
integral part of the Buddhist chants.
Ayyappa devotees making a pilgrimage
are expected to lead an austere life for
41 days – follow celibacy and refrain
from tobacco and alcohol and all carnal
pleasures as well – unlikely of other
Hindu pilgrimages. This is very much
similar to the Buddhist principles which
advocate renunciation and mental
discipline.
Another interesting aspect to notice is
the egalitarian nature of the Sabarimala
temple. Devotees here are never
differentiated on the basis of religion,
caste or color. Everyone wears the same
dress and addresses each other as
“Ayyappa” or in other words each
devotee considers each other as the God
himself. This again isn’t in line with the
Hindu system of differentiating people,
but more similar towards the Buddhist
principle of equality.
Ayyappa does not show his presence in
any of the mainline Hindu scriptures,
which are of Aryan origin. This is
obvious as Ayyappa was a Dravidian
God, who was absorbed into the Hindu
mythology. Later Hindu works added
him as Hariharaputra ( Son of Vishnu and
Shiva ) who was born out of the love
between Mohini(Vishnu) and Shiva.
The folk story of Ayyappa portrays him
as the prince of Pandalam dynasty, the
Pandalam King having adopted him on
finding him as a baby in the shores of
river Pampa. It is probable that the folk
story was absorbed into the later Hindu
scriptures, adding the missing link of the
birth (story of Mohini and Shiva).
Ayyappa’s legends speaks about him
having a Muslim friend called Vavar who
has helped Ayyappa. This also underlines
the above fact, as Islam religion
originated in mid AD 600s whereas most
of the Hindu scriptures were composed
in the BC era. The legend of Ayyappa
must have originated at a time of
religious harmony between Muslims and
Hindus. The era of Pandalam Dynasty
(1200-1500AD) of which Ayyappa’s legend
is based on, also suggests the same.
It is interesting to note that Ayyappa is
just one among the several Dravidian
Gods including Tirupati Balaji, who
convincingly seem to be rechristened
forms of Buddha.
There is also convincing evidence that
Buddhism had strong following in Kerala
during early days. Lot of idols have been
discovered across Kerala; the black
granite statue of Buddha discovered in
Alapuzha(Karumadikkuttan) being the
most prominent. A 4 foot statue of
Buddha has been discovered in
Neyyattinkara as well. Karunagappally,
Idappalli, Mavelikkara etc. have been
pointed out as chief centers of Buddhism
in early days.
Whatever be the truth behind it, with
the limited knowledge that we have ( and
as history and mythology are never
written by God himself ), it is impossible to
conclude on any of the presented views.
It is actually immaterial to the millions
of devotees of Ayyappa, to whom the
egalitarian nature, the unique
experience of controlling ones senses for
an extended period, the toughness of the
journey, the ambience and the energy
felt among the devotees in the entire trip
contributes to the ultimate satisfaction of
the unique pilgrimage to Sabarimala.
Ayyappa and Sabarimala draw millions
of devotees from across South India
every year, making it the second largest
annual religious gathering in the world
after the Hajj.

References
http://www.ambedkar.org/Tirupati/
Chap5.htm
http://www.chintha.com/keralam/
sabarimala-history-myth.html
http://www.thrikodithanam.org/
tidbits.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayyappan
http://www.rediff.com/news/
dec/31rajeev.htm
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A 1942 picture by Sri. Uthradom Thirunal
Marthanda Varma, seniormost member of
Travancore’s erstwhile royal family
(Trivandrum) during his brothers’(who was
then King of Travancore) visit to the Holy
shrine.

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