The idea, legend and concept of Lord Ayyappa is a typical one in Hindu Sanatana Dharma (HSD) that symbolically reflects the entire spectrum of its own evolution to the heights of Advaitic thoughts. The story of Lord Ayyappa is very interesting and how it connects the ancient with contemporary provides the best indications about the inbuilt auto-reformation process that is present within the most progressive, rational and secular religion available to mankind. Lord Ayyappa comes literally into the midst of the modern world as a renewed version of Sastha who is a product of the natural synergy of Haran and Hari. Seamless incarnations of the God into various forms with varying intensities and their interactions for the ultimate upkeep of Dharma is the best working model that is available for sustaining humanity. This is in sharp contrast with the destructive models of forcible beliefs about an unseen God who is bent on enforcing strict discipline by punishing and rewarding all humans. It is fear and not love that prevails in such beliefs.
It is not very surprising that such a human incarnation as Lord Ayyappa has happened in the very land of Adi Sankara who had earlier put the final seal of approval on Advaita philosophy. Any history beyond a few centuries in the past get mixed up with mythology and are to be taken as such. Debates and dissertations to establish its authenticity are worthless, especially when it concerns our beliefs and culture. Lord Ayyappa lived among us and he has left behind a formidable heritage that keeps on reminding us about the inseparability of God from anything including Man. There is an element of God in each one of us and the pilgrimage to Sabarimala signifies this aspect more than anything else. Symbolically all the pilgrims get completely identified as Ayyappans (God) just by putting on a chain worth a few rupees. This uniformity and simplicity may be found in many other pilgrimages, but never the height of philosophical wisdom of realizing the God within. Unlike other religions, it is not the prescribed duty of each volunteer to undertake this pilgrimage, but the natural urge within oneself to identify with his or her true self. There is no compulsion whatsoever, but only the inner quest for a pilgrimage in pursuit of rational truth.
The popularity of Sabarimala pilgrimage is growing every year. In the two month period every year, the number of pilgrims is to the tune of fifty million and it is perhaps the biggest annual pilgrimage anywhere in the world. On a rough scale the revenue generated in the region can be placed at above 500 million dollars (2500 crores of Indian Rupees) and the net annual income from this pilgrimage alone to the state exchequer (which controls the temple) is definitely more than 250 million dollars every year. It is crystal clear that the underlying logic for all festivals in Hindu Sanatana Dharma is generation & distribution of wealth, and yet it never happens in our pseudo-secular setup. A simple pilgrimage embodying the heights of Indian spirituality is fast gaining popularity through out India, but the intended churning of wealth is getting pocketed by an ‘adharmic’ setup. But how long can this loot continue remains to be seen. An oganised setup of contradicting ideologies co-operating only for the limited purpose of destroying the temple and the pilgrimage by looting the pilgrims is working overtime in Kerala.
What makes Sabarimala pilgrimage more popular is the geographical terrain that it entails. The mountainous terrain amidst dense forests where Lord Ayyappa finally chose to settle down, again symbolizes the heights of spirituality that is inherent in Advaitic thoughts. God is omnipresent, yet we need continuous ascent in thoughts and deeds to realize the God within us. Legend has it that Lord Ayyappa had Muslim and Christian friends during his times of constant efforts in the upkeep of Dharma. The legend may be true or false. But what it conveys is the message of equality and brotherhood as far as a highly intense divine existence is concerned. We see inequality and animosity around us because most of us are not making any attempt to realize the same God which is present in everyone. Each Sabarimala pilgrimage provides an opportunity to get a feel of the divinity inherent in such Advaitic practices. Irrespective of colour, creed and caste all Ayyappans carry the same God energy within them.
Success of Sabarimala has also drawn the attention of other ideologies, some elements of which are working overtime in defeating Hindu Sanatana Dharma in its land of origin. Hindu Sanatana Dharma puts great emphasis on individual efforts to achieve self-realisation (or moksha) and that has become its main drawback for sustaining itself among the predatory religions. Getting together and organizing have become primary requisites for success in the present day world even for religions. Baber and British could defeat a pre-dominantly Hindu nation like India only because of the lack of an organizational religious structure. Though weak in content, the other religious ideologies made great inroads in India only because of their superior organized missionaries and mercenaries. Increasing popularity of Hindu festivals involving mass participation is viewed with great anxiety by many vested interests. An organized Hindu religion is definitely an oxymoron, but even efforts on the part of some leaders to make ordinary Hindus realize the greatness of their ideology can upset many global calculations.
Animosity of schemers against the success of Sabarimala started decades back. There were even attempts to burn down the temple. One of our secular leaders went to the extent of declaring the burning down as a great achievement. His words like “every temple burnt will bring down evil in our society” are still sacrosanct for the pseudo-seculars in our society. The temple has come up again and the pilgrimage is climbing greater heights every year. Crafty schemers have now joined the stream with the ultimate objective of defeating it from within. There is plenty of money involved in the pilgrimage and attempts are afoot to loot the pilgrims (especially those from outside Kerala) to the maximum extent. As the number of pilgrims is increasing exponentially every year, nothing more than the simple inaction of not providing basic amenities is required on the part of enemies to make it a failure.
But whatever be the schemes or designs of its enemies, the pilgrimage shall continue to progress because more and more people are realizing its underlying message and meaning. Those who are trying to burn down one Sabarimala may end in great distress when they find a dozen more Sabarimalas coming up in other parts of India. It is better for them to remember that Lord Ayyappan is not a Malayali in the narrow context of Indian geography. Anyone anywhere can realize his or her true meaning and another Lord Ayyappan can manifest anywhere in this universe. The natural process of self-realisation with the help of our rational mind is unstoppable. The Advaitic process is formidable and an inevitable necessity for a progressive mankind. All of us will achieve realization sooner or later and it will be a world full of Ayyappans then.