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|History of Ayyavazhi|
|Ayyavazhi religious practices|
Ayyavazhi functions autonomously. But since it was not recognised as a separate religion it was considered as an offshoot of Hinduism only officially and not religiously. Though it has not received official recognition, it has evolved into a distinctive religious phenomenon, making its presence felt in India's southern districts of Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli and Tuticorin. As one of the fastest growing sects of southern India, its rapid growth had been noted in the Christian missionary reports of the mid-19th century.
Ayyavazhi focuses on Ayya Vaikundar; according to Akilattirattu Ammanai, the holy book of the sect, he was the Manu avatar of Trimurthi. The ideas and philosophy of the religion is based on the teachings of Ayya Vaikundar and the religious texts Akilattirattu Ammanai and Arul Nool.
The religious phenomenon of Ayyavazhi made its presence felt primarily by a movement of people across the country, and their confluence around Ayya Vaikundar. A large number of people criss-crossing the country and their convergence around Vaikundar at Poovandanthoppe created an excitement in the country. The majority of those that participated in this religious phenomenon of Ayyavazhi was from the subaltern section of the society. It was a great challenge right from the beginning stage of the development of Ayyavazhi, for the Christian missionaries to their proselytising mission. It was evident from the reports of them. Though the vast majority of the people to gather around him was from Chanar cast (a social group), there are evidence that people of different castes crowded round. There seems to have been an intermingling between the people of different castes that gathered around him.
By the middle of Nineteenth century, Ayyavazhi had come to be a recognisable religious phenomenon, making its presence felt in South Travancore and South Tirunelveli. The growth of the phenomenon had increased significantly from the forties through the decades. After the time that Ayya was bodily present the religion was spread on the basis of the teachings of Vaikundar and the religious books Akilattirattu Ammanai and Arul Nool. The five Citars and their descendants visited several parts of the country and carried the mission as per the instructions of Vaikundar. Mean while the Payyan dynasty started administration of Swamithoppe pathi. While other Pathis came under the administration of the native followers of Ayya of that places. On the other hand hundreds of Nizhal Thangals arose across the country year by year. And Bala Prajapathi Adikalar was one of descendant of Payyan dynasty is a notable figure in the present day history of Ayyavazhi. He laid foundations for a large number of Nizhal Thangals across Tamil Nadu and in some parts of Kerala and Maharastra.
Scriptures and holy placesEdit
The holy books of Ayyavazhi are the Akilattirattu Ammanai and the Arul Nool, and they are the source of the religion's mythology. The Akilattirattu Ammanai was written down by Hari Gopalan Citar by hearing the events (contents of Akilam) told by Narayana to his consort Lakshmi. But there was no definite history about the origin of Arul Nool; but generally belived that it was written by Citars and Arulalarkal (one who get possessed by divine power). It contains the prayers, hymns and instructions for the way of worship in Ayyavazhi, rituals, prophesies and also many acts. To the Ayyavazhi devotees, there are five holy places, called Pathis, with "Panchappathis" being the greatest. The activities of Ayya Vaikundar is historically associated with them. The temple of Swamithoppepathi is the headquarters of the Ayyavazhi religion. Since all the Panchappathis were in the district of Kanyakumari, the district as a whole is considered as a sacred site by the nation-wide Ayyavazhi followers.
The symbol of the Ayyavazhi religion is a 1,008 petalled lotus carrying a flame-shapped white 'Namam'. The lotus represents the 1,008-petalled Sahasrara (in Tamil, Ladam ) and the Namam represents the Aanma Jyothi or atman, sometimes translated as "soul" or "self".
Worship centers Edit
Pathis and Nizhal Thangals were centers of worship and religious learning established in different parts of the country by devout followers of Ayyavazhi. They served as centres for propagation of the beliefs and practices of Ayyavazhi. There are more than 7,000 worship centers throughout South India. Since Ayyavazhi is not a organised religion, Swamithoppepathi serves, religiously but not officially, as the headquarters of all.
Pathis were the important centres of congregational worship, being relatively bigger structures like that of a temple. They obtain their significance from the fact that Ayya Vaikundar and his activities were historically associated with these centers of worship. They were six in number.
- Main article: Nizhal Thangal
Nizhal Thangals were simple structures, not so large, built for the purpose of worship, and for learning the teachings of Ayya Vaikundar. They served as centers of education during those days. Food and shelter were offered to the needy in these centers. Even some of them were established when Vaikundar was bodily present. Even now charity on food is one of the main activities conducted in these centers.
Adherents of Ayyavazhi believe in both reincarnation and the Dharma Yukam but condemn the caste system . They also reject the use of murti in worship, but Ayya Vaikundar recognized the human need for an image to focus on and introduced a non-anthropomorphic symbol (see Nizhal Thangal).
This practice is similar to that of other Hindu sects that use non-anthropomorphic symbols. Shaivism, for example, uses the linga as the symbol of God, while Vaishnavism uses the saligrama. Similarly, in Ayyavazhi, the Elunetru, which is placed in the Palliyarai, is considered a seat of God rather than God himself. The same is true of the Elunetru's alternative name, Asanam, which means "seat."
Ayyavazhi beliefs are closely related to those of Smartism and Advaita Vedanta. Hence, Ayyavazhi's followers believe that Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva are different aspects of the same God. (see also Ayyavazhi and Hinduism).While some claim that the beliefs of Akilattirattu are related to Dvaita and Vishishtadvaita, Ayyavazhi endorses the concept of Ultimate Oneness.
Followers of Ayyavazhi differ from other Hindus in that they recognize a Satan-like figure, Kroni, who is the primordial manifestation of evil and who manifests in various forms, (for example, Ravana and Duryodhana) in different ages or yugas. God, as Vishnu, becomes incarnate in his avatars, including Rama, Krishna and eventually Ayya Vaikundar, to destroy the foremost evil.
Kroni, the spirit of Kali Yuga, is said to be omnipresent in this age and this is one of the reasons why the followers of Ayyavazhi, like other Hindus, believe that the current yuga, Kali Yuga, is so decadent.
Charity is Ayyavazhi's main mission. One can see Anna Dharmam (offerings of food) in Ayyavazhi centers of worship at least once a month.
Santror - The SubjectsEdit
The Santror are a people who are the subject of the religious vision of Ayyavazhi. It is both a religious and a social category in its connotation. Today most of the followers emphasise more on the religious dimension of this category than the social. They give it an inclusive character and universal reach to mean anyone who is noble, as the literal meaning of this Tamil word would have it, and anyone who belives in the vision of Ayyavazhi. However the concept, as it occurs in Akilattirattu Ammanai is more specific, with a considerable importance attached to the social dimention of it, without, however, ruling out a space for universal connotation. In its specific and social reference, it represented the social group of Chanar.
In the religious universe of Ayyavazhi, the teachings on Dharma has two levels of understanding: One, as a principle of 'righteousness', and the other, as a concrete activity of 'charity' or almsgiving'. As a principle, Ayyavazhi asserts that the prime motive of the avatar of Vaikundar was to establish Dharma in this world by destroying the evil force of Kaliyan. But on the way, it detached the caste identities by stating that it was not suited for the present Kali Yukam. A quote in Akilam reads, " Cast away the head-shaking devils and the eighteen castes in to the sea, mountain and fire".
In Akilam, it was stated that people, even as listening to the teachings of Vaikundar, realised that the evil of Kali, i.e., Kroni was gradually being withdrawn from the world and that dharma was being established in its stead. Transposed to the social plane, this principle of dharma was considered as the mission of " protecting or salvaging the lowly, the oppressed". A quote in Vinchai reads, "To uplift the lowely is dharmam". As a practical activity in sociology, doctrine of dharma meant charity and almsgiving. This was taught to be the way to seek God. People were specially exhorted to undertake charity on material goods, and do it without discriminating among the beneficiaries. It is interesting to note that the great Indian saint, Swami Vivekananda applied this principle of Ayyavazhi dharma concept in practice and this may lead support to some followers of Ayyavazhi who claim that he was influenced by the religion.
- Main article: Ayyavazhi Trinity
The theology of Ayyavazhi differs from other monistic religions. It speaks of Ekam, the ultimate Oneness from which all that which exists formed. It also speaks of a oneness that exists behind all differences. It speaks of Sivam and Sakthi and Three lesser God-heads, Sivan, Vethan and Thirumal. It also speaks of several lesser Gods. But in Kali Yukam, due to the cruel nature of the boons offered to Kaliyan, Thirumal cannot destroy the sixth fragment of Kroni directly so all God-heads were unified into the Ekam, and Ekam Incarnated in the world as Trinity (Ekam, Narayana and Human) to overcome the boons and to destroy Kali. Akilattirattu Ammanai also speaks of Dharma Yukam in which Vaikundar rules like a king. Since all were unified in Vaikundar, in Kali Yukam Vaikundar was the Supreme Power and he was the only worshipable God. So in this regard Ayyavazhi is also viewed as a monotheistic religion.
Dualism in Ayyavazhi Edit
The Kroni, the primordial manifestation of evil, was fragmented into six. Each was destroyed in successive Yugas; finally, Kaliyan (the last) will be sentenced to hell after the final judgement which led to the consideration of Ayyavazhi towards dualism. Kaliyan is called an evil spirit which came to the world. So it was commonly accepted that the destruction of the maya (evil spirit) was symbolised in such a way. But the scripture is most commonly concerned with Ultimate Oneness right from the beginning to the end. So the dualistic views were contrasted by the monistic narration. Also the contents of Arul Nool, based on the teachings of Vaikundar, which were belived to be written by arulalarkal and Citars, is completely monistic.
Pantheism and panentheism Edit
Though Ayyavazhi is mostly connected with the concept of Ekam, some followers advocates Ayyavazhi as Pantheistic, sticking to the concept Ekan (one who appears as oneness or Ekam in Tamil) which was used to refer God in Akilam seven. In this expression, the Akilam lays the groundwork for viewing Ayyavazhi as a pantheistic faith. In a quote in Kappu, the very first part of Akilam one, the author of Akilam says, "By keeping us inside yourself, please help us".
Regarding Panentheism, there are many quotes in Akilam to suggest it, but more which reveal Ayyavazhi as monistic. For example, during the Vinchai, inside the sea, Narayana, seeing Vaikundar, says that "You are Sivan, you are Thirumal, you are Nathan, you are the Tapas, and you are the one who is omnipresent in all which exists". And when Vaikundar is jailed in Thiruvananthapuram he alleviates the Santror by saying "I am the one who created the Ekam and the one who is omnipresent everywhere". -- (Akilam 13:395).
Inclusivistic and exclusivistic ideas Edit
This formula of inclusivism and exclusivism was applied in the religio-cultural universe of Ayyavazhi is one that is not found anywhere else in the world. Though there are separate verses towards inclusivism and exclusivism as central themes in Akilam, the mixture of both is unique.
View on godsEdit
It accepts all God heads of several religions such as Christ, the concept of Allah and almost all God-heads in Hinduism. It also says that the one and the same God incarnates in different parts of the world at different time for rescuing the people from sufferings. But due to the advent of Kaliyan and because of the cruel nature of his boons, for the first time the supreme God or the God beyond Conciouseness (Ekan) incarnates in the world as Vaikundar and so all the God-heads were surrendered and all the previous scriptures had lost their substances. And for the Kali Yukam, Vaikundar was the only worshippable God. And hence, the theology of Ayyavazhi was channeled towards exclusivism finally.
View on scripturesEdit
The manner in which Akilattirattu Ammanai treats the scriptures of different religions is somewhat complicated. While Kalineesan arrests Vaikundar and proceeds towards Thiruvananthapuram, the situation of Vaikundar was narrated as, "As once on the non-liberative Cross, suffered the beatings of thorns, dead and reanimates for uplifting the poor, for this yuga here, he suffer this for the liberation of the downtrodden." By this it means that Vaikundar was the one who incarnates as Jesus and so by this verse Akilam accepts Christ. But it did not recognise The Bible. Thus, a quote about Venneesan reads, "He created a Veda (scripture) of his own intention". Also telling about Kaliyan it says about Bible that ,"There will be a religion of him which tells the world to treat greatly, the Cross." Likewise, Akilam accepts that the term 'Allah' and views it in relation to 'Ekam' (the supreme power). But it rejects the religion of Islam and its ideas. A quote reads, "There will be another which make a call to the world to put upon caps."
Similarly in Hinduism, Akilam accepts the incarnation of Rama and Krishna but seems that it rejects the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Because it did not mention about them not even n a line. That is, it rejects the religion-based ideas which were created and based on the incarnations. Thus, it accepts only the four Vedas as the 'Books of Perfection'. However, this view of the Vedas is not inconsistent with Hinduism's views nor is different. In Hinduism, the Vedas are viewed as Shruti, or primary scripture, while other scriptures such as Ramayana are viewed as Smriti or secondary scripture. But later, Kaliyan had bought the Vedas as boon and so the Vedas had lost their substance by the advent of Kaliyan. It also says that he (Kaliyan) had performed several additions and had hidden several contents of them. And hence God incarnated as Vaikundar. So for the present age, Akilattirattu Ammanai is the only 'Book of Perfection'.
Again to reiterate, as per Akilam, the Vedas are hence the only religious text to be followed and all others were mere incarnations of God and thus, the religion based ideas based on such beliefs were created by the intention of man but not of God. But since now, the Vedas were destroyed by Kaliyan, for the present age, Akilam, which describes the incarnation of the Supreme God, Ekam is the only 'Book of Perfection'. By this Ayyavazhi rejects all other scriptures and follows only Akilattirattu Ammanai.
In the prevailing ecstatic religious ambience, some followers of Ayyavazhi have performed some shamanic actions in the worship centers in order to impart effectively certain messages to the ordinary folk. As part of shamanic practice, they have exhorted the people on various matters, practiced divination (Kanakku) to discern the causes of sickness and misfortunes, and 'foretold future happenings'. Some LMS reports attest to the prevalence of shamans and shamanistic practices in centers of Ayyavazhi. This was now in practice in some worship centers.
Also it seems that the Akilattirattu Ammanai recognizes shamanic acts of worship. A quote in Arul Nool reads, "For imparting knowledge and making things clear, I kept those who practice divination in the temples." Though shamanism was practiced in Ayyavazhi, it was accepted by Akilam only as an ignorant way of worship (beginning stage in worship) or the initial way to teach a beginner the metaphysics.
- Main article: Ayyavazhi mythology
The mythology of Ayyavazhi makes explicit the fact that the essence of this vision is an account of a history - a past, a present and a future - meant by weaving together of empirical facts as well as mythical accounts. It unfolds around three axiomatic typologies, namely Santror, Kali Yukam and Dharma Yukam. It transverses through a past, a present, and a future in a teleological manner. The basic concepts give a symbolic vision which is at once religious and social.
It was closely linked to that of Hinduism. The first part, which talks about the previous yugas and the advent of Kali, shares some events, mythical characters, and concepts with Hinduism. But many of them were regenerated in different form. The number of Yugas and Avatars differs from Ayyavazhi to Hinduism. The view on Kali is different and it was personified in Ayyavazhi, which was not found in Hinduism. Differentiating this, Akilam says that the true concepts were destroyed, so that all previous scriptures had lost their substances due to the advent of Kali. See the article, Ayyavazhi and Hinduism, for a discussion of the similarities and differences between them.
In the second part, the book speaks of God incarnating in the world in the Kali Yukam (the present age) in order to destroy the evil spirit, the final and the most serious manifestation of Kroni. God incarnates as Vaikundar, and since Vaikundar lived recently, he was well known in history. So in the second part of the mythology many mythical as well as historical facts were woven together. Most of the events were noted in history.
- Main article: Ayyavazhi religious practices
In addition to the philosophical concepts and mythology, the rituals of Ayyavazhi proceed in their own way. The ritual corpus of Ayyavazhi can be said to have conducted a social discourse. The individual rituals and symbols, the unique features of worship, the ecstatic mode of religiosity, and the ritual healing - all these elements of the ritual corpus of Ayyavazhi contributed to the formation of an emancipatory ideation and a social discourse. It uplifts and treats the disenfranchised with greatness, religiously as well as sociologically. Examples of this include the physical as well as spiritual cleanliness through Thuvayal Thavasu, eliminating untouchability through Thottunamam, self-respect and courage through headgear, and unifying various castes through Muthirikkinaru.
The utopian formulaEdit
Ayyavazhi proposes an emancipatory utopia under the banner of Dharma Yukam. The core of the proposal was that Ayya Vaikundar had come to establish and rule over the Dharma Yukam in the place of Kali Yukam by sentencing Kroni to hell by the final judgement to him. Since the concept of Dharma comes as a lynchpin around which the grand concept of Dharma Yukam revolves, an understanding of the latter needs to start with that of the former. The Dharma was taught 'to uplift the poor' and the result of that will be the Dharma Yukam. The preachings of Vaikundar and the ritual practices enunciated by him had challenged the caste based inequalities.
Another point to be taken note of in the symbolic vision of Ayyavazhi is its conception of time. In its list of eight Yugas, the foremost Dharma Yukam is said to be ruled over by Vaikundar as the everlasting king. There were no signs of circular conception with this eight yugas. It present a linear conception of time by narrating Dharma Yukam beyond time and space. This is in contrast to the circular conception of time that was prevalent in the Hindu ethos. The circular conception of time was an essential ingredient of the theories of karma and rebirth. But Ayyavazhi seems to approve this karma and rebirth but place Dharma Yukam after completing or beyond all these. It was controversial and rare to belive that the definition of Dharma Yukam points to personal liberation. About Dharma Yukam, it was said that, "a reign ruled without the discriminations of caste creed and race". Ayya Vaikundar was said to rule along with the Santror and Seven Virgins as one.
Identity of AyyavazhiEdit
Ayyavazhi worship was marked by simplicity. The character of simplicity emerged in Ayyavazhi in contrast to the obscurantism and the 'fearsome' aspects of elite and folk forms of worship. The prayers, conducted in Tamil, brought home the religious sentiment in a direct and simple manner. The minimum of rubrics involved, and their easy intelligibility, added to the simplicity factor.
The communitarian aspect was yet another feature that distinguishes Ayyavazhi worship. The significance of this communitarian dimension needs to be understood within a context when individual worship was the order of the day. The absence of idol worship and priestly meditation, and inclusion of alternate type of centers of worship, the Pathis and Nizhal Thangals, were other characterised Ayyavazhi worship. The concepts of Panividai (ritual service) and Panividaiyalar (one who performs Panividai) as alternate forms of ritual service and ritual servant respectively added to the uniqueness of Ayyavazhi worship. The neologism related to worship enhanced the uniqueness.
New religious phenomenon Edit
It may be concluded that Ayyavazhi emerged as a 'new and singular' religious phenomenon. Amidst the various traditions — the sanskritic Hinduism, the newly-introduced Christianity, the not-so-prominent Islam, and the ubiquitous folk forms of worship — Ayyavazhi was developing as a distinctively alternative religio-cultural form in South India, its place of origin.
This fact had been recognized by the followers of Ayyavazhi. They addressed their religion with a new nomenclature, "Ayya Vazhi" ("the path or way of Ayya") and thereby confirmed its new identity. They considered it, on the one hand, as ghee churned out of the existing religious traditions and, on the other, as a new phenomenon that had come to replace the old traditions. They believed, on the one hand, that Vaikundar had 'unified' all the existing deities unto himself and, on the other, that the essence of the old traditions had gone awry with the advent of Vaikundar. They placed their religion within the existing traditions and yet perceived it to be different from them.
The distinguishing aspect of Ayyavazhi needs to be seen against the background of the sanskritic tradition whose pre-eminence was upheld by the State. That Ayyavazhi had emerged differently against this religious tradition is a pointer to its distinct singularity.
The emergence of Ayyavazhi needs to be seen also against the presence of the British in India. From a sociological perspective, reform movements in general were patronised by the British in the nineteenth century Thiruvithankur. But Ayyavazhi was never patronized by the British; it arose and stabilized without their support. In one sense, it was anti-establishment, presenting itself to be new, both in terms of a difference and in terms of a synthetic character. It called itself new, as well as a medley of the extant traditions.
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