R Harinarayanan , Research Associate, Kerala Chapter
Concept of Makarajyothi and Makaravilakkuku
Makarajyothi and Makaravilakku are popularly associated with Sabarimala. Many devotees around us also believe that Makaravilakkuku and Makarajyothi are the same. This is a common misconception among few people. Because Makaravilakku and Makarajyothi are two. Why such a concept is popular even among the devotees who are the regular devotees of Sabarimala. Hence to trace the identity of both the terms are a need of time.
Makaravilakku is the Karppoora Aaradhana (Camphor Worship) performed at Ponnambalamedu. Makaravilakku day falls on January 14-15 every year. According to legend, it is believed that in Ponnambalamedu, Karpura worship was performed by Devas, then by Maharishis, and later by Malayarayans. Today, Devaswom Board employees and Ayyappa devotees reached Ponnambalamedu safely and burned camphor. It is figuratively lit three times.
Makarajyothi means a star that appears in the sky. The star that rises on the first day of the month of Makara and stands only for a moment is called Makarajyothi. This star is most visible after sunset. But it disappears in a short time. This happens due to the peculiarities of the topography. But according to belief, this star appears on the day when Thiruvabharanam (Deities Sacred Ornaments) is brought from Pandalam to Sabarimala.
Ponnambalamedu: Rituals and Beliefs
Millions of people visit Sabarimala to see Makaravilakku. The Makara lamp is lit at Ponnambalamedu under the Kerala Forest Department. On this day, i.e., when Makarajyothi appears, Karpurarati is performed at Ponnambalamedu and is called Makaravilakku. It is clearly man-made. As in the Sabarimala temple, we consider the Karppoora Aarti performed by encircling the fire around the idol. Symbolically, the Makaravilakkuku is lit three times. The rising star at this time is called Makarajyothi, and the Aarti performed at Ponnambalamedu is called Makaravilakkuku.
Makarajyothi appears on the Makarasamkramana day. It is a holy day for Hindus. This is the day the Sun transits from Dakshinayana (Winter solstice) to Uttarayana (Summer solstice). Makarajyothi can be seen on the horizon in some parts of the world on this day and is quite a terrestrial phenomenon. Thus, Sabarimala Sannidhanam is an area where Makarajyothi can be seen. Over time, tribal communities living in dense forests lit fires and worshiped there during this transition at Ponnambalamedu. That is, Makaravilakkuku is the fire lit by humans as a part of their belief and worship, and Makarajyothi is the earthly manifestation. Ponnambalamedu is the terrain that can be seen from Sabarimala. The ancestors used to say that there was a temple at Ponnambalamedu. There are still remains of an ancient temple there. Moreover, a stone pedestal inscribed with Sri Chakra is said to be there.
Uttarayana (Summer Solstice) begins with Makarasamkrama (the transition day of sun from winter solstice to summer solstice). As per Hindu belief, Makarasankrama is generally considered the Brahma Muhurta of the Gods. So, it is also a time with many special features. We can see Makarajyothi only for a few seconds. It appears like any star. However, due to the geographical features of this place, it often quickly disappears from the eye.
History and other Beliefs
Let’s examine the relationship between Sabarimala and the Pandalam royal family. Ayyappan was a member of the Pandalam royal family. The young man, who had extraordinary martial prowess and acquired Tapasashakti through Athmashakti, later learned the importance of Sabarimala during Kananavihara. The story of him leaving home due to internal problems in the royal family, traveling through the forest in search of tiger’s milk and obtaining it as per the queen’s wish, defeating his enemies with his yoga power, and becoming Mahishi Nigraha is still alive today in the form of myth. Pandalam was then associated with the Pandya dynasty. Some people in the Pandalam region came from Pandya land for fear of Tirumala Nayakan. The Pandalam dynasty had good relations with Travancore. Perhaps Manikandan, known as Ayyappan, developed this country. Today, history and legend intermingled and are indistinguishable. This kind of mystification has happened in our history. It has often caused a lot of disruptions to the study of history. After defeating the enemies, including the Marava group, Ayappa went to the forest for deep contemplation and austere spiritual meditation. He left his royal power and luxuries, and after that, he came into union and coalesced with the idol of Sastha in the temple present in today’s Sabarimala. This land, seen by Makarajyothi and nestled between eighteen mountains, is holy. It is thought that there may have been a temple in the forest there in the past.
A Yogivarya, after his death, is known and exists as the deity or idol he conceptualized and worshipped. It is in this concept that Sivalinga is enshrined in Sree Narayana Gurudeva temples. By the same logic, the idol in the Hariharaputra concept is associated with Ayyappan. Shasta is conceptualized by Vishnu and Mohini. Shaiva, Vaishnava, and Shakteya traditions were integrated into Kerala only after the time of Shankaracharya. As the founder of the Advaita tradition, many of his maxims of Advaita Sankalpa became famous in Kerala. It can be said that the term Tattvamasi became famous in Sabarimala in connection with the Advaita thought about the unity of Shaiva-Vaishnava-Shakteya concepts.
Performing Poojas daily, like other temples in Sabarimala, is impossible as it is located in a dense forest. So, it is possible only at certain times. Special ceremonies and Poojas are performed at Sabarimala in conjunction with Makaravilakkuku day. Makara Sankrama Pooja is the biggest highlight of this day. Makarasamkrama Pooja is performed when the Sun moves into the Makara Rasi (Zodiac of Capricon). The diety was ornamented with Thiruvabharanam on this particular day, an important ceremony that takes place along with it. The Pandalam king stands as the paternal figure to Sabarimala Lord Ayappa. The seniormost member of the Royal family goes to Sabarimala escorted by people carrying the sacred ornaments of the deity (Thiruvabharanam) made by the Pandalam king for Ayappa. Thiruvabharanam is carried in three caskets. It is also believed that on this day, Garuda accompanies Thiruvabharanam. On this day itself, after the Makaravilakkuku, Lord Ayyappa Swamy is taken on an elephant as a procession from Mani Mandapam and brought towards the holy eighteen steps and then returns for inducting in the Srikovil (Sanctum sanctorum).
Some historians consider Sabarimala to be a Buddhist temple. But it is completely illogical and irrational. Shasta is seated in Chinmudrangita form (The Chinmudra is performed by holding the thumb and index finger together to form a circle while keeping the remaining three fingers straight and hands on the thighs). All the Buddha idols found in Kerala belong to Abhaya Buddha. It distorts history with sectarian and narrow political interests. There is no absurdity in thinking that the Saranamantras chanted aloud by the pilgrims were meant as divine Mantras and to drive away the wild beasts while traveling through the dense forest.
Sabarimala is one of the prominent pilgrimage centers in Southern Bharatha. The temple has played a pivotal role in building and consolidating Hindu dharma and philosophy in Southern India. There is a period of austerity before going to Sabarimala, during which the Sanatana believer indulges in contemplation, self-control, and exploring his life in the Dharmic essence. This goes beyond caste and religion and is a period to go above such discrimination. It is a period of contemplation and austerity for everyone in a house when they undergo such observances to visit Sabarimala. The deity in Sabarimala, popularly known as Sree Dharmasastha or Sri Ayyappa is an integral part of Indian belief system with different identities like Revantha, Ayyanar, Ayyappa, Sastha which unites the devotees deeply. A threat to Sabarimala is indeed a threat to the entire Hindu culture. Sabarimala is an Icon of Hindu unity and philosophy. It is by making these aspects the ground that should one evaluate various incidents and controversies, including Makaravilakku, Makarajyothi, incidents of the Sabarimala arson case, and the Women entry into Sabarimala.