Ayya Vaikundar (c.1810–c.1851; Tamil: அய்யா வைகுண்டர்), also known as Incarnation of Lord Vishnu, was a 19th-century social reformer and iconoclast who worked for the upliftment of downtrodden people in the Kingdom of Travancore. He is central to the Hindu denomination of Ayyavazhi, as per holy scripture. Akilattirattu Ammanai says that he was Lord Vishnu. In order to attain human form, Vishnu used the body of previous (Krishna) avatar for the incarnation of Ayya Vaikundar, kept in Parvatha Ucchi Malai (a mythical mountain believed to be in this region) after the completion of the Krishna Avatar. In order to attain natural growth of the human body, Vishnu used the soul of Sampooranathevan a deva also called Mudisoodum Perumal, he was granted moksha (liberation from the cycle of death and birth, synonymous with heaven) before the Ayya Vaikunda Avathar in the sea.
He was born in 1809 to Ponnu Madan and Veyilal Amma at Poovandanthope in the Kanyakumari District (part of Travancore then). They initially named the child Mudisoodum Perumal, meaning "Lord with a crown". But the people complained to authorities about the name and they forced the parents to change his name to Muthukutty.
Muthukutty was a religious boy who had special interest in Vishnu. The holy book Akilam mentions that he set a pedestal for Lord Vishnu in his house. At age seventeen, Muthukutty started to live with Thirumalammal from the nearby village of Puviyur and she lived with him only to serve him during his public activities. Thirumalammal had been married, but left her former husband to marry Muthukutty. According to quotes found in Akilam, they had a male child, who was sired by her first husband. Muthukutty earned his living as a Palmyra palm climber and as an agricultural laborer.
Ayyavazhi scripture Akilam tells of a legend of a child who was born dead. Next, immediately the soul of Sampooranathevan was installed into the body, kept in Parvatha Ucchi Malai (a mythical mountain believed to be in this region) after the completion of the Krishna Avatar. According to the legend, the parents found the child still for a time immediately after birth, then the child began to behave normally. Thereafter, that boy grew up called Muthukutty in human history and Sampooranathevan in Ayyavazhi mythology.
Ayyavazhi followers believe that Ayya Vaikundar transformed during an encounter with a deity.
In his twenty-fourth year, Muthukutty was struck by illness and suffered for a year. His mother took her sick son to the temple at Thiruchendur, during a festival there. He went into the sea and disappeared. The parents searched for his body for one day. According to legend, on the third day, Lord Vishnu appeared on the sea-shore. On seeing him, Muthukutty's mother mistook him for her son and tried to embrace him. He told her that he was no longer her son, but the son of Supreme Lord Narayana. Then he started walking towards Detchanam. This place became a holy place for the devotees of Ayyavazhi and they erected a temple there named Avatharappathi. This event is celebrated during the festival of Ayya Vaikundar Avataram.
Ayya Vaikundar, who arose from the sea at Thiruchendur (per Akilathirattu Ammanai) on 20th of the Tamil Month of Masi (March 4, 1831 CE, Friday) is considered a unique avatar by the followers of Ayyavazhi. Akilam, speaks about it in great detail, as summarized below:
In each of the five yugas prior to the transformation of Ayya Vaikundar, as each fragment of Kroni (evil or Devil) came into physical form, the Lord Vishnu incarnated as well, destroying them. However, in this the sixth yuga, the evil was called Kali, (not the Hindu deity) and having no physical form (see Pre-Incarnational Events for this account) he occupied the mind of people of earth as the Mayai (illusion), causing them to behave discourteously. Kaliyan claimed, it was impossible to destroy him in this yuga as in the previous ones as he held the boon from gods, it was impossible for Narayan, or any others, to incarnate in the world to destroy him.
Since God could not incarnate directly, He incarnated as Ayya Vaikundar in three stages.
- The first stage of Avatar was the born dead child (birth of the Body).
- Next, immediately the soul of Sampooranathevan was installed into the body, along with the Spirit (not Soul) of Narayana kept in Parvatha Ucchi Malai (a mythical mountain believed to be in this region) after the completion of the Krishna Avatar. This was the second stage of the Avatar.
- Then in the sea (during the 24th year), the soul of Sampooranathevan was granted moksha (liberation from the cycle of death and birth, synonymous with heaven), unified to the Ultimate Soul. Now, the Spirit of Narayana along with the Ultimate Soul (Paramatma) incarnated in the body of a human being (Muthukutty). (see:The Incarnation) This is the third stage of Avatar and from then he was called Ayya Vaikundar. Then Ayya Vaikundar was given Vinchai by Narayanar.(see: Vinchai to Vaikundar).
Upon reaching Poovantanthoppe, (present-day Swamithope), he undertook a penance. The penance consisted of three stages, each spanning two years. A tradition describes his postures during the six-year tavam as follows: during the first two years, he stood inside a six feet deep pit; during the next two years, he squatted on the ground; and during the last two years, he sat on a raised platform. His appearance was squalid, "long and entangled plait of hair" and frayed clothes. He spoke less and subsisted on frugal meals.
Akilattirattu speaks of his incineration of evil spirits as an important event in Ayya Vaikundar's incarnation. It took place when he was performing his penance, which he had announced to be the means of destroying the kalimayai - the illusory evil force. He gathered the people and caused some of them, both male and female, to be possessed of the evil spirits (peyattam). The possessed ones danced in front of the crowd as if the evil spirits had come upon them. Vaikundar, then, ordered these evil spirits to make an oath, in front of the people, to surrender their powers and incinerate themselves. When he had finished his orders, the dancers fell flat on the ground and burned.
Similarly, Vaikundar performed another action to 'seize the esoteric evil powers'. Akilam says that he took away the powers of those who knew to perform witchcraft, sorcery and other magical rituals. People living in the hills, called as Kanikkarar, were believed to be powerful shamans, having powers to contain or to provoke the demons. Vaikundar, in a trance, made some of them testify that they had surrendered their powers. People grew appreciative of Ayya's actions. They began addressing him as Vaikuntacami. This implied an attribution of divinity to Vaikundar. Vaikundar exhorted the people as follows:
There are no demons, no devils. No ill effects of magical practices, No disease, no pain and no extortion of taxes, And, therefore, live courageously.
Ayya Vaikundar has five disciples (citars). According to holy scripture Akilattirattu Ammanai the Pandavas of previous Dwapara Yukam was made to take birth in this Kali Yukam as Citars of Vaikundar. They are Dharma Citar, Bhima Citar, Arjunan Citar, Nakulan Citar and Sakatevan Citar.
Vaikundar as PandaramEdit
The fame of Vaikundar began to spread in the countries of Travancore and Tirunelveli and he was gradually recognised as a religious person with extraordinary powers. He was addressed as a Pantaram, a religious person hailing from and serving the ordinary folk. Akilattirattu addresses him as Narayana Pantaram.
People came to listen to his teachings and instructions, to be cured by him of different diseases, to witness, worship and serve a religious person. Vaikundar encouraged the people to come together around a well to take a ritual bath, irrespective of caste. He encouraged them to dine together in his presence.
He stressed that he had come to abolish Kali Yukam and to usher in an age of Dharma Yukam, when the now-oppressed and suffering people would be liberated and rule the land under his leadership. 'Uplift of the lowly is dharmam’ was a constant refrain in his teachings. People were encouraged to serve as catalysts for the destruction of Kali by transforming themselves to be 'people of Dharma Yukam' and to acquire a new character. The new character would come upon them, he said, if they learned to live with self-respect, social dignity and fearlessness. Underscoring the importance of self-respect and social dignity, he said, ‘if one lives with dignity and self-respect, the kali would destroy itself’ . He said when people grew out of kalimayai, Dharma Yukam would unfold and in that age, he would rule over the people as Dharma Raja, the king of Dharma Yukam.
Arrest and imprisonmentEdit
Against the background of the growing popularity of Vaikundar and the convergence of people around him in multitudes, a complaint was lodged against him with the king of Travancore. The king arrested Vaikundar and tortured him.[not in citation given] Ayya may have been arrested on 11 November 1839, but the date is not mentioned in Akilam.
After he returned from imprisonment, Vaikundar inspired a group of his devotees to undertake a religious exercise called Thuvayal Thavasu. He also performed miracles. He married Saptha Kanniyar as Narayanar (see: Marriage with the Seven Virgins), the Seven deities in the form of Ekam (see:Marriage with the Deities). He initiated festivities (see: Festivals and Celebrations)." The deities were made to 'come upon' some of the female devotees who became their human media and a marriage ceremony was performed. Ceremonial processions were held amidst singing, incantations and shouts of joy by the followers. Several rites and rituals were instituted during these occasions.
Later Vaikundar was invited by his devotees to their homes and treated in a grand manner. By way of soliciting his blessings, his devotees carried him to different places. During these occasions, he laid foundations in various places for small shrine-like centres, called Nizhal Thangals. Vaikundar came to recognize five individuals as his closest disciples. Through one of his disciples, Hari Gopalan Citar, he wrote the holy book, called Akilam.
Vaikundar died on 3 June 1851. According to Ayyavazhi followers, he is said to have attained Vaikundam. However, this date is disputed, as Samuel Mateer mentions the year as 1848. As he attained Vaikundam his body was interned in a tomb and, around that, a pati (temple) was later built. His devotees continued to visit this site and performed the rituals as they used to do when Vaikundar was bodily present. His life and works remain the foundation of the Ayyavazhi. The head temple of the Ayyavazhi religion is the Swamithoppepathi and is located in the Village of Swamithope.
In popular cultureEdit
The film Ayyavazhi released in 2008 was based on the life of Ayya Vaikundar.
- Nadar 1989, verse 431-438 Narayana ordering two celestial saints to bring the body of Mudisoodum Perumal for the incarnation of Vaikundar
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