Tag Archives: Aiyappan

White Horses of Aiyannar 4 (The Journey begins)

Secondary research continues: As I said in my previous post, comparing Aiyannar and Aiyappan is not the goal of this project but it does serve one very important purpose in the project.A comparitive description helps to describe better.I was talking about a story which I read on internet before I left for the journey.The illustrations below explains the story.

<Coming soon>

So there seems to be different stories associated with Aiyannar in every search result on google.The first documentary(below) on Aiyannar seems to be the only decent documentary available on youtube.com whereas all the others videos are made by the temple trust itself and hence is more of an marketing video for devotees of the temple.Even this documentary is about the Temple at Taiping and not exactly about the Aiyannar himself.

The other videos  like this one, were mostly by the temple trust themselves and hence lacked the “external point of view”:

More the density of Aiyannar Temples,better the hunting spot for the legend:  I learnt that Aiyannar temples are mostly found (densely spotted) in the south of Tamil Nadu specially around the Madurai region.Hence I planned a trip from Madurai to Thiruchendur.Thiruchendur was an arbitrary location seleccted to end the journey.

journey 1 – Madurai-Thiruchendur

Journey into the mindscape : I would not say that I had a fixed plan which temples to visit and whom to meet because most of the friends whom I knew were like any modern Chennaites who are planning to get their “green card” ready by their retirements.Further the generation before me (my dad-mom) also seem to be unaware of the way of life that was in Tamil villages before independence.Modernity seemed to have arrived immediately after the independence to the villages in Tamil Nadu(thanks to able governments in the 60s and 70s  which is considered to be golden period of development in the history of Tamil Nadu) and blurred the sharp impact legends and myths used to have over the minds of people.So my journey is going to be tough because I might find artifacts scattered across the state but digging the legend from the people’s unconscious that is buried under the modernity.

Orange Santro of Abdullah uncle

Allah with me in the project : I took the car along with the driver from my uncle’s college buddy, Abdullah, who is a textile businessman in Madurai having an Allen Solly showroom.I started the interview from his showroom itself.

Journey of 1000 miles starts with a step : My first interviewee was Kaleeshwaran, a boy working at Abdullah’s textile shop.I started the discussion with what you know about Aiyannar.The boy was shy and reluctant to open his mouth saying he hardly knows anything.Then he said that Aiyannar gods are “Guardian Gods” (Kaaval Deivams) who guard the villages.There are many Aiyannar names and all of them refer to one god.They are also called “Kula Deivams” (meaning guardians of the clans).In the same temple where there is Aiyannar there is also another god who can also be Kula Deivam for some families.He is called Karuppanasamy.

Pandeeshwaran - DriverThe Journey Begins Then we started off to a 200 KM journey.We stopped at every Ayyannar temple that was coming on the way and clicked pictures but could hardly get any interviews because the priests were repelled by two reasons:

(a) My driver Pandeeshwaran introducing me to the priests as a researcher from IIT doing a project on Aiyannars

(b) Me holding a huge DSLR camera while my driver is introducing me

It was really awkward that most of the priests didn’t like to be interviewed by some photographer with long uncombed hair and studs in the ears.The way my driver was introducing me to the priests , I probably looked like a pampered child who doesn’t know what to do with his life.At some places I tried taking photographs first and if somebody stops me to do so I can apologize and ask few questions about Aiyannar and get some information.I did not know the art of interviewing until I worked with some three hard-core ethnographers in action in Arunachal Pradesh with whom I joined as an assistant or rather apprentice. During this journey I still had to know that people do open up into a candid interview only after few icebreaking questions.And even for icebreaking there is no fixed methodology.Me being from engineering background I was totally unaware of talking to people , though I was able to develop a good rapport and all, I always failed to make them talk candidly specially people from the rural.This was a skill which I lacked and sometimes envied whenever I saw people who had that.My classmate Deepak Singh had this amazing skill of getting along with any kind of people easily.

A visible pattern about the temple complex : Some temples didn’t have any priests at all so I was able to click pictures freely.I started guessing which statue is which while clicking the pictures.After 5-6 temples I started realising there seems to be a pattern in the placement of the statues in the temple complex.There always seems to be one central god who seems to be from the Shiva’s family.The central god would be any one form of parvati  or Ganesha or Shiva himself (but rarely) or Karthikeyan.But mostly it was the lady of the Shiva’s family whom the Aiyannar seemed to be guarding who is locally regarded as Amman.

Guessing who's who

Other idols in the complex

I also found idols of the following in most of the complexes:

  • sages,
  • dogs ,
  • naked women,
  • shiva ling,
  • five headed snakes

Not all temples like the one above in Madurai were rich in terms of grandness. Like any temple trust goes for a plain white gopuram to save money some of these Aiyannar temples also have reduced the number of idols to save money.Some temples didn’t have two horses and instead had only one horse statue with the Indran depicted.When I asked who is Aiyannar the priests showed the not-so-scary looking statue with the fair complexion.Like the texts which I read, these temples run by low budget trusts seem to be blurring the difference between Indra and Aiyannar and some between the Kaaval Deivams(Guardian gods) and Aiyannar but they never mixed the central god (Shiva/Parvati/Karthikeyan/Ganesha) to Aiyannar.This was very clear in this long unsuccessful trip.

A Trident or Spear always in front of Aiyannar idols

Another major thing which I found in every temple even in the lonely statued temples of Aiyannar where there is no central god, there is some symbol that represents Aiyannar’s affiliation to Shiva’s family either in the form of the three-pronged-trident or Karthikeyan’s Spear(locally called as Vel)

Back to Madurai from Thiruchendur still no interviews

A trip wasted: We were already returning back to Madurai and I had no solid interviews for the project.A lot of interviews were spoiled by my over enthusiastic driver.I was really upset by the way the journey has turned out because there were also other factors influencing this trip.My over protective uncle had asked my friend’s driver to return by the next day evening and hence the driver was always in a hurry and we could hardly stay at any temple for an interview.The driver was asking me so how was the trip and I said it was good but from inside I was really upset.I wanted to take one good interview in any one temple atleast.There was one temple left in Madurai which we didn’t visit beginning of the journey which was in the outskirts of Madurai.The place was called Avuniyapuram and the temple was known as Avuniyapuram Aiyannar Koyil.I asked my driver to stop near the temple and and asked the driver not to interfere my interview.I went to the priest and asked a few questions.The priest was surprisingly very helpful and seeing the camera in my hand asked me to click pictures if I wanted to.Then I said if I could offer something to the temple as offering.He said “any one can”. I gave him Rs. 300/- and asked to do archana(pooja) to Aiyannar with pongal the next day.The priest asked me to come the next morning 9 AM for the pooja.It was already 7 in the evening and the driver also seemed to be in a hurry to return the car to his owner.I decided to stay in Madurai for one more day to record the pooja which I sponsored.

TV donated by Tamil Nadu government at a cheap guest house

I found a guest house to stay for the night which was right in front of the grand Madurai Meenakshi temple in Madurai.I tried changing some channels on the poor Television set in the room then retired to sleep.

Click here to read further in the project


White Horses of Aiyannar 3 (Literature study before the journey)

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