The ancient temples at Achencoil, Aryankavu and Kulathupuzha are steeped in the Ayyappa legend

Myths and legends grow deep in the forests of the Sabarimala hills and spread far and wide. But nowhere do they find stronger expression than in the three ancient Ayyappa temples on the eastern mountain tracks of Kollam district. During the Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrimage, the temples at Achencoil, Aryankavu and Kulathupuzha resound with the chants of “Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa.”

Hindu mythology says they are among the five Ayyappa temples consecrated by Parasurama in the Western Ghats. The temples at Sabarimala and Kanthamala are the others. It is said that through an ancient forest route, the distance between each of these temples was just 39 km (some say it is 30). But now, that route has vanished.

At Kulathupuzha, the deity is known as Balakan, at Aryankavu as Ayyan and at Achenkovil as Andavan. Nearly 25,000 pilgrims arrive at each of these temples every day during the pilgrimage, a good majority of them from Tamil Nadu. The rituals reflect a fine combination of Tamil and Malayali cultural traditions. The pilgrims pray and make offerings at these temples before proceeding to Sabarimala.

The Kulathupuzha Balakan, also known as Manikantan, is venerated as the child form of Ayyappa. The temple is situated on the banks of the Kulathupuzha, a tributary of the Kallada. The idol is not in a single stone, but of eight pieces of stone. The legend behind it is that when a Brahmin on his way back from Rameswaram went to bathe in the river, his servants made a hearth with three blocks of stone to cook food. But one stone always remained taller than the rest, whatever the adjustments made. When they attempted to drive that stone down, it broke into eight pieces and started bleeding. When the Brahmin returned, he saw Manikantan in the stone and reported it to the king of Kottarakara.

The king then ordered the construction of the temple (believed to be more than 700 years old), and the idol was created using the eight stone pieces. Later, when the area came under the Kingdom of Travancore, the kings worshipped at the temple on their way to Shencottah and Ambasamudram, the north-eastern boundary of the then Travancore.

The Aryankavu Ayyan, also known as “Tiruaryan,” is venerated as the adolescent form of Ayyappa. The temple is situated on the banks of the Rajakoop stream, another tributary of the Kallada. The majority of the pilgrims are from Tamil Nadu, most of them from the Saurashtra Brahmin community.

This is the only Sastha temple where a ritualistic ceremony known as “Thiru- kalyanam” for the wedding of Ayyappa takes place during the Sabarimala pilgrimage. A ritual depicting the betrothal, or “Pandiyan Mudippu” ceremony, is held. By tradition, the wedding ceremony gets aborted.

Differing rituals

The temple has an exclusive Kalyana Mandapam for the ceremony and its walls are decorated with erotic sculptures on the model of those in the Khajuraho temple. The rituals inside the temple follow Kerala tradition and those outside follow Tamil Nadu customs. Here, most devotees venerate Ayyan as the son of the Pandiya King of Madurai.

The Achencoil Andavan, or “Arasan,” is venerated as a family man and is depicted with his wives, Purna and Pushkala. The temple is situated on the banks of the Achencoil. Devotees see the temple as a refuge to cure poisoning from snakebites. The left hand of the idol of Ayyappa at this temple holds sandalwood paste and holy water (Tirtham). Devotees consider a combination of the two to have medicinal properties to cure the poisoning. The festivals and rituals held here have strong Tamil roots.

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