It was probably Yuri Gagarin who was able to see the planet Earth in it’s true shape for the first time in human history.Before him Aryabhatta, Copernicus and Galileo were only able to arrive to the shape of the Earth from various derivations.What I am arriving at is that, it’s very difficult to see ourselves from inside.It takes an external “point of view” to see things in real light(shape). Probably this is the same reason some of the best documentations on Indian history and culture has been done by foreigners(completely my view, you may disagree with me).
Gopuram at Madurai Meenatchi Temple
The Aiyannar project with Prof.Nina Sabnani is quite unique in this regard.Though my origins are from Tamil Nadu where these Aiyannar gods belong to, I have been a partial alien to the culture since I was brought up in army campus across India (mostly metropolitan cities).Inspite of that I spent last 1/3rd of my life in Chennai so I also smell of Tamil,well, it’s Tamizh.It would be really interesting to see how my two selves wrestle against each other in the process of understanding a legend that’s part of a culture that’s both native and alien to me.And then there are few more “self” of me which have caused a lot of delays in the project, like the “game designer” me, who is on the wreckless path to make the game “deVign” a masterpiece work of art in game and then there is “practical” me, who wants to settle his financial debts, hence, does a few freelance works with little success.
The first thing that comes to any non-tamil about Tamil Nadu would be the colorful gopurams dotted over every corner of the state.What’s probably less known is about the white horses of scary looking gods that is found at the edge of every village.
Starting point: It started with a regular questions or rather friendly mockings I used to get from my north Indian friends.They used to ask if the south Indians really worshipped Ravana (usually depicted as the evil force whom the hero Ram defeats in the most celebrated Indian epic, Ramayana).I always used to give them a reply that it is their misconception and they might have confused Aiyannar for Ravana.I couldn’t explain beyond that because it was only a guess.The only thing I knew about Aiyannar before this project was that they are ‘angry gods’ guarding the villages and families who accept animal sacrifices in offerings.
Secondary Research : The design education which I am pursuing at IIT Bombay teaches me to have a thorough research from internet ,books and various sources before researching first hand. While doing so the first stop of secondary research in today’s world is “Wikipedia” which says that :
“Ayyanar (also spelt Aiyyanar, Ayanar or Iyenar) (Tamil: ஐயனார்) is a Tamil village god, worshipped predominantly in theIndian state of Tamil Nadu and Tamil villages in Sri Lanka. He is primarily worshipped as a guardian deity who protects the rural villages. His priests are usually Brahmins and non-Brahmins, who belong to mostly the potter caste, but other caste members also officiate in his temples. The temples of Aiyanar are usually flanked by gigantic and colorful statues of him and his companions riding horses or elephants. There are number of theories as to the origins of the deity as well as the etymology of the name. He is associated with god Aiyanayake by the Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka.”
Contradictory views on Aiyannar : The tamil Wiki says something else.In fact something very different from her English counterpart.Google translater helped me to read it through.
Aiyannar or Aiyappan : Essentially, the tamil version of wiki tells the story of Aiyappan(son of Shiva and Vishnu in Mohini form) as the story of Aiyannar.In fact it says Aiyannar and Aiyappan are one and the same.This was very contradictory to the normal belief which my family members including me held before.For us Aiyannars were the guardian gods at the edge of the village and Aiyappan is a god who lives on a mountain called Sabarimalai somewhere in Kerala where thousands of devotees flock to every year.Aiyappan has almost been a cult in the past 80 years.
Introspection on the identity of Aiyannar and Aiyappan : Since childhood I have seen idols of Aiyannar as well as Aiyappan.The images that spring up in my mind on utterance of these names is something like you see in the left.
Apart from the differences in the visual representation (syntactics) of both these gods which is shown in the table below there are a lot of differences culturally (which I called semantics of these two gods)
Syntactic differences between Aiyannar and Aiyappan
The semantic differences between these two similar sounding gods are
Semantic Differences between Aiyannar and Aiyappan
Those were some of the most obvious differences I could find out from my own introspection.I found more interesting differences and similarities between them during my journeys.But finding the differences between these gods is not the goal of this project.This project is to find the story behind the Aiyannar legend though I will be quoting the differences and similarities with Aiyappan at regular intervals.For now I would like to conclude the discussion on differences between these two gods with this link which talks about it in detail.
There were few more text which I found which were talking about the Aiyannar history without the Aiyappan slant.One of them was talking about Aiyannar as local guardians of villages in Tamil Nadu who was affiliated to Shiva Empire at Kailash mountain.I will be unfolding the story in the next blog where I am documenting my first trip in this project.
Though I went on a journey with an open mind, I did had few to-begin-with type of questions to find answers for :
1. Who is Aiyannar ?
2. Why and How the meat and alcohol is offered to Aiyannar ?
3. Is the Aiyannar legend related to the epic Ramayana ? or any other ?
P.S. I will be updating the detailed descriptions of my two journeys (so far) in the future blogs.The first journey was a road trip from Madurai to Thiruchendur where the Aiyannar temples are maximum density.The second trip was a trip to the Bhadrakali temple in Coimbatore which proved to be a temple guarded by BAKASUR (a demon found in Mahabharata story) but not an Aiyannar.I am planning to make two month long trips to Tamil Nadu (one in the month of October/November and second in January) in the trail of White horses.
For reading further in the project click here