There are five important temples dedicated to Lord Ayyappa in the Western Ghats in Kerala, including the famous Sabarimala Shrine. It is believed that these temples were founded by Lord Parashurama. Dharma Shasta or Lord Ayyappa is represented in different stages of his life in these temples. Legend has it that Lord Ayyappa passed through Kulathupuzha, Aryankavu and Achankoil on his return to Madurai with the milk of leopardess.
- In the Ayyappa temple at Kulathupuzha near Thenmala in Kollam District, Lord appears as Balaka or child and is known as ‘Manikantan.’
- At Aryankavu in Kollam District, Lord Ayyappa appears as a young man – Brahmachari. The temple is closely associated with the Pandi Raja of Madurai.
- At Achankoil Sasta Temple in Pathanamthita District, the Lord appears as a Grahastha with his two consorts Poorna and Pushkala. The idol of Ayyappa here is in Rudraksha Shila.
- At Sabarimala, Lord is depicted in the Vanaprastha form. And this is the most popular shrine.
- At Ponnambala Medu or Kantamala, the Lord appears as yogi and the ‘Makaravilaku’ emanate fromhere.
It must be noted that temples dedicated to Lord Ayyappa or Dharma Shasta can be found in several parts of Kerala, in other Indian states and in foreign countries. In Kerala, even in temple dedicated to other gods in Hindu pantheon, there will be a Sasta shrine.
The Lord Ayyappa Temple at Kulathupuzha near Thenmala in Kollam District of Kerala is an important shrine visited by Ayyappa devotees especially during the Mandala-Makaravilaku season. This Shasta shrine is located on the banks of Kulathu Puzha, a tributary of Kallada River, and is in the reserve forest. The deity here is Manikantan or the child form of Lord Ayyappa. There is an interesting legend regarding the origin of the Ayyappa Temple at Kulathupuzha. Once and elderly Brahmin returning from his Rameshwaram pilgrimage camped on the Kallada Riverbank. His servants started the preparation for the evening meal and they looked out for stones to create the makeshift oven.
They found a fixed stone nearby and brought two stones to create the oven. But the fixed stone was bigger than the two stones. The servants placed two stones on top of other to adjust the height. Suddenly, the first stone grew a bit taller. The poor servants raised the level of the two stones again but the fixed stone again grew a bit taller. This exercise of adjusting the height continued for awhile.Finally frustrated with the fixed stone, one of the servants hit the fixed stone with another stone. Suddenly blood gushed out of the fixed stone and the scared servants ran and reported the matter to the Brahmin. The Brahmin sprinkled some tirtha (sacred water) brought from Rameshwaram on the bleeding fixed stone. Soon, Lord Ayyappa appeared in the form of child before the Brahmin and his servants. The local chief who came to know about this incident built at temple for the deity.
Kulathupuzha town is situated on the Thiruvananthapuram – Shenkottai road. Kulathupuzha is 60 km north-east of Thiruvananthapuram and 64 km east of Kollam. Nearest railway station is at Kollam.
Aryankavu Ayyappa Temple
The Ayyappa Temple at Aryankavu in Kollam District is one among the five most important temples dedicated to Lord Ayyappa in Kerala. The shrine at Aryankav is known as Aryankavu Shastha Temple and Lord Ayyappa is depicted as a teenager (young boy) here. Ayyappa is known as Tiruaryan here and therefore the place got the name Aryankavu. Surrounded by forests, the temple is located on the Trivandrum – Tenkasi National Highway. Just like in Sabarimala, women from the age 10 to 50 are not allowed inside the Aryankavu Ayyappa Temple.
The rituals and pujas followed at Aryankavu Sastha Temple is that of Tamil tradition. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple has idols of Devi, Shiva and Sastha. A young Ayyappa sits in the middle with Devi on the left side and Shiva on the right side.
The festival at the temple is celebrated during the last days of the Sabarimala Mandala Kalam. The most important festivals observed here include Pandiyanmudippu, Trikalyanam and Kumbhabhishekam.
The temple can be accessed by traveling on Kollam – Punalur – Thenkasi road or by traveling on the Trivandrum – Thenkasi road.
Achankoil Sastha Temple
Achankoil Shastha Temple, or the Dharmasastha Temple, is one among the five important temples dedicated to Lord Ayyappa in Kerala. Lord Ayyappa leads the Grihastha Ashrama life here – he is depicted as a family man or leads married life here. He is depicted along with his two wives – Purna and Pushkala. It is believed that the idol here was installed by Lord Parashurama. The Achankovil Sastha Temple is famous for curing poisonous snake bites. The left hand of the idol of Ayyappa at Achankoil Shastha Temple always holds ‘Chandan’ (sandalwood paste) and Thirtha (holy water). The Chandan and Thirtha are considered to have medicinal properties to cure snake bites.
The temple complex also contains other deities associated with the Ayyappa legend. The festivals and rituals held here have strong Tamil roots.
The most important festival here is celebrated from the first to tenth day of Malayalam month Dhanu (December – January).
There are bus services from Punalur and Chengottai to reach the temple. Also there are private services from Konni, Aryankavu etc