Ayyappan – The Son of Shiva and Vishnu

- July 8, 2022

By Kayva Gokhale 

Once, a mighty demon called Mahishasura received a boon from Brahma which made him invincible against any man. In his arrogance, he did not ask for protection against a woman and so, the Gods combined their powers to create Durga, who slew Mahishasura.

Script: Shyamala Mahadevan; Illustration: M. Mohandas

Upon learning of his death, Mahishi, the wife of Mahishasura, swore revenge. She undertook deep penance and prayed to Brahma for a boon. Brahma appeared before her. Mahishi asked him to ensure that she would not meet her death at the hands of either Shiva or Vishnu. Her boon granted, Mahishi became bold and started harassing mortals and gods alike. 

When he came to know of Brahma’s boon to Mahishi, Shiva realised that only a child born to him and Vishnu could put an end to the demoness. Shiva then approached Vishnu, who took the form of Mohini, the divine enchantress. Vishnu, as Mohini, gave birth to Shiva’s child – a boy who was fated to end Mahishi. 

Script: Shyamala Mahadevan; Illustration: M. Mohandas

The divine child was left in a forest with a golden bell tied to his neck. Soon, a king named Rajashekhara found him. Since the king had no heir of his own, he took the boy home and raised him as his own son. The boy was named Manikanthan, after the golden bell at his neck. As Manikanthan grew up, he showed wisdom and skill beyond his age. He also started performing miracles and healing the subjects of the kingdom. 

When Manikanthan was twelve years old, the queen gave birth to a son. Wanting to see her biological son ascend the throne, she plotted to have Manikanthan killed. Pretending to be gravely ill, she asked the boy to get a tigress’ milk as a cure. Though he was a young boy, Manikanthan was brave and dutiful. He willingly went to the nearby forest to fetch what the queen desired. 

The forest that he had ventured in was the domain of Mahishi, the demoness. Upon seeing Manikanthan in her territory, she decided to slay him. A fierce battle ensued, and Manikanthan emerged victorious. As his divine purpose was fulfilled, Indra appeared before him and transformed into a tigress. Other devas too turned into tigresses and Manikanthan rode into the kingdom with a horde of tigresses. 

Script: Shyamala Mahadevan; Illustration: M. Mohandas

Soon, a divine voice announced the boy’s real identity to the king and his subjects. Manikanthan asked the king to forgive the queen for her evil plot and then left his earthly abode to inhabit his true form as a god. The king then built a grand temple dedicated to the divine child, who later came to be known as Ayyappan. 

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