Ayyanar, a village guardian god - an integral part of rural space of Tamil Nadu

Rural demi god, TN Ayyanarin.pinterest.com

Ayyanar statue in a village,  TN

The worship of Ayyanar, a venerated  Hindu god is widespread in the rural areas of Tamil Nadu and also in other adjacent Indian states. Considered a guardian deity, a protector of the land, village  people and cattle living there from wild animals and black magic, his shrine is commonly located on the outskirt of the village with or without a shed over him.  I have been to numerous villages in the Delta districts particularly near ,Kumbakonam Thiruvaiyaru, Thiruvarur and Peralam and never have I seen ht Ayyanar shrine in the midst of the rural space.  As he is the guardian god of the village, his permanent abode is just outside the villages.  

 Demi god Ayyanar statuehindudevotionalblog.com

Probably away from the human habitation surrounded by lush green paddy fields, etc.  one can see  the horse borne huge deity with a stern look, popped up eyes and a majestic curved moustache flanked by large  colourful statues of  his companions riding horses  and in cases elephants. Mostly made of brick, lime or cement and clay, the images of giant demi gods come with arresting colors. Daily puja with aarthi  is done both in the morning and in the evening and the priests called Pujaries  from Non-brahmin communities have the rights to conduct rituals, etc. Being Pujaries, they ought to follow certain  religious norms to perform the holy duty as the Ayyanar shrine is a sanctified place of worship In many shrines pujas are done periodically and they become center of activity during certain village festivals collectively done by the villagers native to that place. The strange looking  giant  Ayyanar God is a actually village deity (Grama Devatha) majestically set in a serene ambiance in almost every village in Tamil Nadu. 

The origin of warrior god Ayyanar worship is a subject of discussion and his worship has been around for centuries, dating back to Sangam period - 3 BCE but his place of origin and other details are shrouded in mystery and not yet convincing.  

Ayyanar idols, Gobichetti Palayam TN.upload.wikimedia.org

Ayyanar statue, near Madurai, TN.upload.wikimedia.org

Above image: This contemporary shrine near Madurai, TN is dedicated to Ayyanar, a folk deity. The shrine,  a one-man operation with his retinue. In this stone-lime clay image Ayyanar with a whip is riding a white stallion. The figures below the horse are his companions. In front of the horse is a pair of giant guardians, who are depicted as wrestlers with exercise clubs..............................

The following are some important facts of Ayyanar:

01.Tamil Sangam literature often mentions poets and traders with the name Chattan, and they are said to worship  revered Sastha as their clan deity.  Aiyanar / Ayyanar is the chief deity of Ay chieftains who ruled parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and,  it is obvious, the word could be  a Tamil adaptation of Aiyan.

02. The great famous  Tamil epic Silappadikaram (written by Elangovadical- 4th CE), mentioned about Cattan (revered Sastha) , his temples and devotees. 

03. The popular Tamil Saivite poet Appar of 7th CE made a reference to  Shiva as being  father of Chattan in his Tevaram (Tirumurai, 4:32:4).

04. Periya Puranam (compiled by Sekkizhar), a 12th century CE mentioned about Aiyanar at Tiruppidavur  and  revealed  that  Cheraman Perumal (Rama Rajashekara) a Nayanar-cum -Chera king (800—844 CE) of Medieval Kerala composed   the Tamil song in Madhya Kailash. 

05.The popularity of Aiyanar  and of his  so many bronze images increased manifold from the Chola period 9th CE .

06. Tamil Nighantus (proto-glossaries) such as Piṅkalantai (11th century CE)  and Cūṭāmaṇi Nighaṇṭu (1520 CE) - -Sanskrit annotations  profusely cited the salient features of Sastha.

07. According to Kanda purānam (14th century Tamil version of Skanda Purana) (Aiyanar in Maha chattan Patalam) Ayyan sends his commander  Mahakala to protect Indrani  from the demon Surapadman

08.The Ayyanar worship  protocols vary and  have evolved over a long period, since the time of Cholas and others  periodically  assimilating  local traditions and customs so that the devotees  would feel at home. 

Ayyappan idol in Sabarimala, Kerala.upload.wikimedia.org/

Ayyanar 14th CE iconography.upload.wikimedia.org

Above imagee:   A 14th bronze/brass idol of Sri Ayyanar sculpture (left), a depiction of Ayyappan idol enshrined at Sabarimala sanctum, Kerala (right). Compare the meditation band Yogapattam around the knees of both deities in the above images. Obviously, Ayyappan is the same as that of Ayyanar. It is further corroborated by yet another  important association - it is  the presence of Karuppa samy in the worship of both deities. (in Madurai and elsewhere Karuppa samy is the guardian god of Perumal) .........................

09. Some historians argue that  Ayyanar is actually Ayyappa (Sashta), who is believed  to be the son of Shiva. Some argue he is generally believed to be a avatar of Shiva. but his pula rituals are different from those of Ayyanar. 

10. Some records mention unlike Ayyappa, demigod Ayyanar has  two wives  Purana and Pushkala who never fail to accompany him.  Other studies on him mention that Purana, dark complxtioned, carries Varamudra in her right hand and blue lotus in the left. Whereas  Pushkala (on his left) is yellow complexioned and holds a noose in her right hand. However,  Shilparatna  mentions that Ayyana has just one wife  called Prabha and an eight year old son known as Satyakan.

11. Among the thousands of Ayyanar shrines in the villages of Tamil nadu, the most popular one is  Sri Perungaraiyadi Meenda Ayyanar Temple (Tamil: ஸ்ரீ பெருங்காரையடி மீண்ட ஐயனார் கோவில்), Kulamangalam of  Alangudi Taluk. 

As for Ayyanar or Aiyan iconography,  he is often shown alone, neither with his attendants  nor with his consorts, Mostly armed with, Chentu (crooked stick) in his right hand, a whip, stick, sword or scepter  in his hand. Often in squated posture, he wears meditation band known as Yogapaţţam or Vāgupaţţai around his knees and waist.

Other studies on him mention that he carries Varamudra in her right hand and blue lotus in the left. Pushkala (on his left) is yellow complexioned and holds a noose in her right hand. Shilparatna describes him with only one wife called Prabha and their eight years old lad known as Satyakan

The various images of  horses, dogs and other animals in the shrines of Ayyanar  bear testimony to the impact of local influence with pastoral affinity or the  lifestyle of the rural people; further, it is reminiscent of nature Worship  Unlike  Hindu gods in the hallowed temples of great antiquity  that follow Agama Shastras,  animal sacrifices to propitiate the warrior gods is an integral part. This cruel act of  appeasement of god  was banned by the Indian government, but it continues unabated in  the Ayyanar temples located deep in the villages.  

Ayyanar with his white stallion and entourage,  just like sentinal gods in the temples,  are not only  protecting his territory, but also  blesses the villagers with propitious rainfall for good  harvest for the year, welfare and prosperity. Rituals associated with Ayyanar are quite similar. Offerings include flowers, fruits, coconuts  rarely in some places local brew Kallu. Lighting of oil lamps, Aarthi during puja are part of daily puja ritual.

The famous Sabarimala God – Lord Ayyappan Shasta has evolved from the Ayyanar God and this postulation is under debate.  While one can debate if that is true or not, the fact remains that Lord Ayyanar still thrives in the small villages of Tamil Nadu.