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05 January, 2017

In Indian Culture..Why do we worship Lord SASTHA (HARIHAR)?

      On the peak of Sabari Hill at the southern tip of the Sahyadri ranges stretching southward into Kerala, there is an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Ayyappan, who is popularly known as Sabari Mala Sastha.  This temple can be reached only by foot through the jungles which is infested with wild animals.

       In Hinduism, the transcendental message of the Vedas has been conveyed to man through the technique of Mysticism.  This technique is employed in all religions, but in the Hindu scriptures it has been developed to artistic perfection.  Saastha is one of the Hindu deities which has a deep mystic significance.

       Lord Ayyappan is the son of Lord Siva and Mohini (Lord Vishnu) in a delusory enchanting form.  Ayyappan stands for constructive destruction which is combination of Vishnu (construction) and Siva (destruction).  He is considered the 'Protector' of the weak.  He saves mankind from sickness, diseases and miseries of the world and endows them with Gnana [knowledge] leading to spiritual liberation.

       The Vishnu Purana describes that in heaven the gods and the demons - the devas and the asuras - decided to sink their differences temporarily, to come to a mutual understanding for a joint endeavour to churn and draw the nectar (amrutam) from the milky ocean, on which Lord Vishnu is described as ever reclining in yoga nidra(yogic sleep).  The gods and the demons stood on either side, used the Manthara mountain as the churn, and Vasuki, the mighty serpent, served them as the rope.  The great churning of the milky ocean started.


       The churning first produced a deadly poison called Halahala.  Seeing this poison spreading in all quarters, the living beings flew for protection to Lord Siva.  Siva, in His divine compassion for them, received the poison in His palm and not knowing what to do with it, decided to drink it Himself. When He swallowed thus the poison to save the universe from disaster, Mother Divine, the consort of the Lord, strangled the neck to prevent the poison from going down the neck.  The poison spread over the neck region and hence it is that Siva's neck is blue in colour.  He is called Neelakanta (Blue-necked).  The churning continued after the removal of the poison and several beautiful and powerful things issued forth from the ocean.  They were all given away and the gods and the demons pursued in their churning until the last of the products - the nectar (amruta) - emerged.  As soon as the nectar appeared, the demons snatched it from the gods and ran away with it.


       The gods prayed to Lord Vishnu to retrieve their loss.  The Lord answered their prayers and agreed to bring back the nectar (amruta) to them.  Meanwhile, the demons quarreled among themselves as they could not agree upon who should distribute the nectar and how much each should get.  In such a state of confusion, Lord Vishnu appeared in the enchanting form of a maiden named Mohini.  Fascinated by the seducing beauty of Mohini, the asuras (demons) stopped their quarrel and stood passionately gazing at her divine beauty.  Having attracted them thus, Mohini offered to distribute the nectar justly.  The demons accepted her suggestion and sat down to receive their share. Before the actual distribution started, however, she objected to their lustful looks, which were offending her modesty, and laid down a condition that they should keep their eyes closed until the distribution was over.  Whoever opened his eyes would lose his share.  Obediently, they all shut their eyes and waited for their share.  While they were thus sitting and waiting with their eyes shut, the maiden ran away with the pot of nectar (amruta-kalasa).  The demons learnt it too late that the maiden and the nectar had disappeared.


       Upon the request of Lord Siva this episode was narrated by Lord Vishnu.  Siva wished to see that enchanting form of Mohini who tricked the demons.  He was warned that the Maya form was too irresistible.  Siva insisted, being proud of His continuous tapas (austerity) in Kailas.  But lust is the last weakness to leave one's bosom.  Vishnu conceded to the request and once again took the maidenly form - the Mohini, one who deludes all.  Parameswara was charmed by that divine maiden, and a child was born of the contact of Siva and Vishnu, Saastha was that child. 

Mystic significance

       This simple story has a deep mystic significance.  It is an objective representation of a subjective phenomenon.  It explains the spiritual path leading to the Goal of perfection; the state of Immortality symbolised by the gaining of amrutam.  Amrutam means deathlessness or immortality.


       The milky ocean represents the Pure (sattwic) mind.  The gods (devas) stand for the higher nature/tendencies and the demons (asuras) for the lower nature/tendencies in man.  The individual (ego) who desires to spiritually evolve and obtain Immortality (amruta) must first cleanse his mind of its impurities and maintain it in a relatively pure sattwic state (milky ocean).  Such a mind is churned by the process of Assertion and Negation.  The seeker asserts that he is the divine Self and negates the perceiver feeler thinker and the material equipments as 'not-self'.  The whole process of such subtle discrimination and analysis between the good and the bad, the Spirit and the matter, the Real and the unreal is accomplished by the great churn, the subtle-intellect (Manthara).

       As a result of such discriminative analysis and contemplation, man evolves spiritually.  The evolution is first marked by the purging of low passionate animalistic tendencies (vasanas), which are symbolised by the issuing of the poison from the ocean.  These vasanas are detrimental to the well-being of mankind.  They pollute the head (discrimination) and the heart (feelings).  Hence, the consort of Siva, Parvati (representing sattwic mind) - arrested the poison in the throat of the Lord, i.e. kept it in between the head and the heart, not allowing it to poison either the feeling of the heart or the clear thinking of the intellect.

       As one evolves further in the spiritual path, one develops higher faculties and powers, siddhis, including the capacity to perform miracles.  These are represented by the attractive gifts that arose out of the churning.  The gifts were however not meant for self-aggrandisement but for distribution to others.  Similarly, if the powers obtaining by spiritual sadhana (practice) are not dissipated in selfish and ego-centric pursuits, and the seeker continues in his spiritual path, he gains the final reward of Immortality (amrutam) - the state of God Realisation.

       The bad tendencies in man trade even on the spiritual treasure gained by him.  In other words, they make use of his newly-gained spiritual distinction for self aggrandisement and low purposes. Such men are easily tempted by the enchanting sense-objects (Mohini).  'Moha' means delusion. Mohini, therefore, is 'delusion personified'.  Those who have low animal impulses and passions are deluded by the enchantment of the sensual world and they are blind to their own spiritual beauty. When they are thus led away by the senses, whatever spiritual unfoldment they have gained is lost. this idea is indicated in the demons (asuras) losing the nectar (amrutam).  

       Lord Ayyappan is the son of Siva and Vishnu.  Siva is the God of Destruction while Vishnu is the God of Sustenance.  These two powers are combined in Ayyappan, since he helps to destroy all low negative tendencies and maintains the pure sattwic nature in the seeker.  The Lord is considered the God of Constructive-Destructivion-the 'Protector'.  He protects our spiritual wealth and powers by maintaining the thought of godliness and destroys all other thoughts pertaining to the worldy infatuations.

Hari Hara Sutha

       This power of maintaining a single thought of the great Reality is invoked from Lord Harihara Sutha, as He is also known, meaning the son of Hari (Vishnu) and Hara (Siva).  Without that great powers no meditation is is possible.  Hence all vedantins invoke His grace for maintaining a consistency in their meditation.

Ayyappa temple on Sabari Hill

       The Ayyappa temple on Sabari Hill, in Kerala, is one of the most popular pilgrim centres in South India.  Devotee from all over the country, belonging to all creeds and classes visit this sacred shrine .  Unlike other temples, the pilgrims visiting this temple have very strict and rigorous preparations to go through before reaching the divine altar.  The usual custom is to observe strict austerities and self control for forty-one days preceding the visit to the temple.  By such tapas (austerities) the mind is made to withdraw from the enchantments of the worldly objects and possessions and it is slowly directed to the thought of the Reality: Ayyappa Swami Saranam,

       During this period of tapas, the devotee is allowed to wear only black or saffron clothes and a mala and he has strictly to perform the daily rituals.  The special clothes indicate that he is dead to the world of peceptions, emotions and thoughts. m He remains in constant prayer immersed in the thought of Ayyappan, the Self in him.  'Swami Saranam' is his watchword: "the Lord alone is my protection, my safety".  

       The way to the temple is through jungle and the pilgrimage is undertaken by foot.  The idea is to further develop the concentration of the mind, which has been already prepared by strict austerities. All along the ascent to the shrine, the devotee tries to maintain the one thought of the Lord in his multiple experiences.  When such single pointed concentration and meditation is maintained, the Truth reveals itself to the seeker, which is symbolised by the darshan (vision) of the Lord in the temple.  The eighteen steps which lead the pilgrim to the plateau where the Lord is 'seen' have their endless mystic meaning in the number eighteen.

Source: Excerpts from the book on "The Symbolism of Hindu Gods and Rituals
by Swamy A Parthasarathy.

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