Vaisnavaganza: Ayyappa

by Aranyakananda

This will be my final entry in this series entitled “Vaisnavaganza”. I had meant it to be a way to learn more about the depths of Vaisnavism and where its belief system came from and I think I have learned quite a bit more than I knew before. But I want to move on to other topics beyond just forms of Vishnu. Who knows, maybe I will throw another installment of Vaisnavaganza in from time to time. But for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed my thoughts on some of the less prominent Avatars, and other figures related to Lord Vishnu.

So for my last one, I want to discuss Ayyappa. Less prominent possibly because “controversial.” He is also called Hariharputhra, because He is said to be the offspring of Vishnu and Shiva. Not Vishnu himself though, but Mohini, the only female Avatar of Vishnu. Even so, it is one of the few examples of Hindu scripture which is interpreted by some as suggestive of homosexuality. But the true depth of this episode is in the fact that many demons had tried to distract the ascetic Shiva by taking the form of a woman to get Shiva to concern Himself with the affairs of the world, only to be scorched in the process. Only Vishnu, in the form of a woman held this much sway over Shiva.

As some of you may know, I worship Vishnu, sometimes in his Maha- form, sometimes as Narayana, less often as Krishna, and recently as Harihara, which is not just Vishnu but Vishnu and Shiva as one thorough reality. For this reason I find Ayyappa to be appealing.

His story, like many of those which I have featured in recent posts, can be found in the Puranas. And it is mostly interesting in the circumstances around His birth, not in His biography itself. Again, I did not intend to go deeply into the mythology behind this diety, but I wanted expand a bit. Because when I featured Mohini in a recent post on the 24 avatars of Vishnu, I did not go into the reason why Vishnu incarnated as female. The story goes thusly:

Durga had killed the demon king Mahishasur, after which his sister, Mahishi, resolved to avenge the death. Mahishi happened to have a boon from Lord Brahma that only a child born as a result of the union between Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva could kill her. I don’t know what it was about the boons handed out by Brahma in the Puranas, but it was the same type of boon that resulted in Vishnu having to incarnate as Narasimha (half-lion, half-man).

But I digress.

Vishnu saw that this demoness, Mahishi could potentially unleash all varieties of fresh Hell in the world, and so He incarnated as Mohini, and the rest is history, and Ayyappa was born.

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One Response to Vaisnavaganza: Ayyappa

  1. Dhrishti says:

    So nice! Ayyappa is one of my favs, really, and I think your post here is a nice “crash course” on how He came to be.

    In regard to the “homosexuality” you referred to earlier, I read once, and I’m going to get it wrong here, that his name is made of three components “A,” “yoni/yonti,” and “yappa/jappa” – which is meant to be very indicative of His origins. “A” is a suffix that negates, so it translates as something like “not.” “Yoni/yonti” is in direct reference to the female hoo-haa (reproductive organs). And the third component translates as something like, “born.” And so his name rather literally means, “not from a female born.” Although Mohini might have been physically female, but it was still understood that Ayyappa had two dads. 🙂

    Om Shanti

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