There exist several legends associated with this deity. It is widely believed that Lord Ayyappa’s origin can be traced back to Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. According to this narrative, Lord Vishnu assumed the enchanting form of Mohini to entice the demon Bhasmasura, who had been granted the power to incinerate anything and everything. When the asura attempted to burn Lord Shiva, the deity sought Lord Vishnu’s assistance. Lord Vishnu took on the guise of a seductive maiden named Mohini and cunningly led the asura to self-immolation, saving Lord Shiva. After this event, Lord Shiva is said to have united with Mohini, resulting in the birth of a son named Dharma Sastha, who later incarnated as Lord Ayyappa.
Another account of Lord Ayyappa’s birth revolves around the demon king Mahishasura and his sister Mahishi. Following Mahishasura’s defeat at the hands of Goddess Durga, Mahishi harbored a burning desire for revenge and sowed chaos in the universe. After undergoing intense penance, she managed to appease Lord Brahma, who granted her a boon that only a child born to Vishnu and Shiva could vanquish her. Exploiting her boon, she became seemingly invulnerable. In order to thwart her, Lord Vishnu assumed the form of Mohini and joined forces with Lord Shiva to conceive a child. This child was named HariHara Putra, and the primary purpose of Lord Ayyappa’s birth was to eliminate Mahishi.
One of the most renowned tales recounts how Lord Ayyappa was discovered by Raja Rajashekhara Pandiyan, the ruler of the Pandalam Kingdom, during a hunting expedition on the banks of the River Pampa. The baby wore a precious jewel around his neck, which filled the childless king with joy. He brought the child home and named him Manikanda. As Manikanda grew, he displayed remarkable courage and martial prowess. Meanwhile, the queen gave birth to a son. When the king intended to declare Manikanda as the Crown Prince, one of the ministers poisoned the queen’s mind, convincing her that her son should hold that title instead. Consumed by her maternal love, the queen was persuaded to remove Manikanda from the picture and bribed the royal physician.
To accomplish this, the doctor falsely prescribed tigress milk as the sole remedy when the queen feigned severe stomach pain. When no one volunteered to venture into the perilous jungle on this life-threatening mission, the brave Manikanda stepped forward to fetch the milk and informed the king of his decision. Despite the king’s protests, Manikanda fearlessly entered the forest. Some accounts suggest that he carried food and coconuts bundled on his head, which is believed to be the origin of the concept of the ‘Irumudi’ carried by pilgrims to Sabarimala to this day.
Manikanda returned to the palace riding a tigress with her cubs. Those who had conspired against him realized he was no ordinary human. They immediately humbled themselves and sought his mercy. The king also begged for forgiveness for not recognizing his divinity and treating him as an ordinary son.
When the king wished to build a temple for him, Lord Ayyappa suggested the sacred location at Sabarimala, situated on the banks of the Pampa River. Lord Ayyappa detailed the rituals that devotees would need to follow on their pilgrimage to Sabarimala. After imparting his blessings to the king and the royal council, he vanished. Subsequently, the king constructed the Sabarimala temple according to Lord Ayyappa’s instructions.