- There are many popular stories associated with Him among the devotees. The stories differ, but there are certain common elements:
- Ayyappa lived in the Pandalam Palace as the son / savior of the King.
- He had super-human or divine knowledge, wisdom, and courage and loved the King and his people.
- He protected the King and the kingdom from the attacks of enemies.
- At the end of His life in Pandalam, He vanished into the forests and is ever since worshiped at the Sabarimala temple.
The most popular and widely accepted story tells that Lord Ayyappa had His human sojourn as the son of the Raja of Pandalam. At that time, Raja Rajasekhara Pandiyan ruled the kingdom of Pandalam. During one of his hunting expeditions, the Raja was puzzled to hear the wails of a child on the banks of the river Pampa, and was surprised to find a resplendent infant there. The beautiful baby with radiant face wore a bead (‘mani’) around his neck. The King, though pious, charitable, just, and God-fearing, had no children. He accepted the child as God’s gracious response to his fervent prayer for an heir to his throne. Manikandan grew into a boy well versed in academic lore and martial arts. Meanwhile the Rani gave birth to a son. The King regarded Manikandan as his elder son. He decided to crown him as the Yuvaraja. The King’s corrupt Minister had a deep dislike for Manikandan, and made the innocent Queen believe that ill would befall her if Manikandan was crowned Yuvaraja and that the kingdom actually belonged to her son.
They conspired to get rid of Manikandan by hook or crook. They bribed the royal physician into becoming an accomplice of theirs. The Rani pretended to be afflicted with severe pain in the stomach, and the physician prescribed the milk of a tigress as the only cure. The King knew that none could be deputed for a mission that was so patently suicidal. However, the youthful and valiant Manikandan stepped forth and volunteered to fetch the milk. Despite the worried protestations of his foster-father, he set out for the fearful forests.
Days later, Manikandan entered the palace precincts riding a fierce tigress and followed by a pack of its cubs. The schemers were frightened into confessing their nefarious plot. They and others now knew that Manikandan was no ordinary being. They were convinced of His divine origins, and prayed to Him to be with them for their own salvation and for the safety of the kingdom. However, Manikandan was now determined to leave the place.
Filled with happiness, grief, fear, wonder and bhakti and self-surrender, the king prayed for the mercy and blessings of Manikandan. He repented he could not fully visualize the truth of the divine powers of the Lord and repeatedly requested Him to forgive him for behaving as if He were only his son. The Lord lovingly embraced the King who continued to pray: ” Lord, kindly bless me by freeing me from my egos and the worldly life of birth and rebirth and grant me ‘ mokshaâ€™ (salvation). Kindly continue to be the saviour of my family and stay eternally in my kingdom.â€ Manikandan then enlightened the King on the path of attainment of ‘moksha’. These words of the Lord are contained in â€˜Bhuthanathageetha’. To the King who is by now mentally cleansed and completely immersed in ‘bhakthi’, Lord Ayyappa said: “I am to free you from all worldly sorrows & worries and to grant you ‘moksha’. All those who are and would be born in your family shall have my blessings unfailingly. I am always accessible to ‘bhakthi’ and only ‘bhakthi.” The Lord told the King that he could construct a temple at Sabarimala, north of the holy river Pampa and install His deity there. Ayyappa also explained how the Sabarimala pilgrimage shall be undertaken, emphasizing the importance of ‘vrutham’ and what the devotees can attain by His ‘darshan’.
The Lord further consoled the King saying that the devotees who held him and his descendants in ‘bhakthi’ shall happen to be devoted to Him as well. Manikandan then blessed the King and all others assembled there, and vanished. The King duly constructed the temple at Sabarimala, dedicated to Him.
There are various tales connected with Lord Ayyappa: the discovery of the child at Pampa, Manikandan’s youthful days in the Pandalam palace, bestowing the power of hearing and speaking upon the deaf and dumb son of His teacher as Guru-dakshina, His friendship with Vavar, bringing the tigress’s milk, accomplishing His divinely destined mission of annihilation of the demoness Mahishi, eliminating the forest-thug Udayanan, bestowing moksha on Sabari, blessing His foster-father with moksha and so on. Legend also goes to say that Manikandan was the incarnation of Lord Dharma Sastha. Raja Rajasekhara was in his previous birth a rich and pious ‘Brahmin ‘ by name Vijayan who was a very strong believer and devotee of Lord Dharma Sastha.
Another tale goes like this: Lord Ayyappan as Manikandan born to Pandala Maharaja is set to conquer the King Udayan who is a strong Buddhist and has been harassing the people of Pamba region. Maharaja sends Manikandan to learn martial arts Kalari to Cheerappanchira, the Muhamma of today in Alappuzha district. The panicker there trains him of Kalari. It is here where the Guru’s daughter Nila falls in love with Lord Ayyappa (Manikandan) but He refuses to marry telling he is a Bhrammachari and has a mission. She offers a sweet made out in a function in their family which Lord likes. This sweet payasam was what turned out to be the Aravanapayasam today.