The following has been taken from several Web sites. Please let me know your opinions.
It's the Iyyappa season again. Millions of Iyyappa devotees converge at Sabarimala in Kerala. The Sabarimala pilgrimage has seen a sudden spurt over the last couple of decades.
The pilgrimage to Sabarimala is different from pilgrimages to other major centres in Hinduism. It requires the devotee to observe severe austerities for 41 days. The devotee must "keep away from all social activities and spend his time praying and singing bhajans" and "must eat only vegetarian food and abstain from meat, physical or verbal violence, alcohol and tobacco and intoxicants in any form. The devotee must sleep on the floor, use a wooden block for a pillow and walk barefeet."
Such austerities are not required for other pilgrimages. And it is this difference that makes the pilgrimage and Iyyappa interesting.
The austerities followed by the Iyyappa devotees are similar to the vows, known as ashta-shilas, taken by Buddhists.
The Iyyappa temple in Sabarimala was built by a Pandalam king. The Pandalam dynsasty is an offshoot of the Pandya dynasty of Tamil Nadu. And the Pandalam king who built the Iyyappa temple was not a Hindu. He was a Buddhist.
And naturally, the 'temple' he built was in fact, a Buddhist monastery. The temple is supposed to be the place where a great Jain or Buddhist monk attained Nirvana.
Whoever created the myth of Iyyappa as a Hindu God who is the son of Vishnu (Mohini avataar) and Shiva has also brought in a Muslim saint called Vaavar. All Iyyappa devotees go first to Vaavar's mosque at Erumely and then proceed to the temple. They never bother to think how Iyyappa who is supposed to be the son of Shiva and Vishnu, could have possibly met got help from a Muslim who lived just a few hundred years ago.
The pilgrims' chant of 'Swamiye Saranam Iyyappa' is similar to the Buddhist chant of 'Buddham Saranam Gachhaami'. In no other Hindu temple is the word 'Saranam' used in a chant.
The Makara Jyoti which appears mysteriously in the Sabarimala forests on the Makara Sankranti day gave it the name Potalaka. The surprise: The Dalai Lama's palace in Lhasa is called - Potala!
Hsuen Tsang refers to Avalokitesvara* on the Potala in the following words, summarised by Waters (1905): "In the south of the country near the sea was the Mo-lo-ya (Malaya) mountain, with its lofty cliffs and ridges and deep valleys and gullies, on which were sandal, camphor and other trees. To the east of this was Pu-ta-lo-ka (Potalaka) mountain with steep narrow paths over its cliffs and gorges in irregular confusion..."
The posture of Iyyappa is unique. He is the only God in the Hindu Pantheon who is in a sitting position. Almost all images of Buddha are in sitting position. Some Iyyappa temples in Kerala have the idols of Iyyappa almost alike the Buddha idol.
Iyyappa is also known as Dharma Sasta. As is well known that word 'Dharma' is deeply rooted in Buddhist literature. Eg. 'Sadhamma' means Teachings of The Buddha. Sasta is a well known epithet applied to The Buddha. Even today The Buddha is referred to as Sasta in the daily prayer of Buddhists, e.g. 'Sattha dev manussanam'. The Amarkosha mentions Sastha as one of the names of Buddha.
Unlike in other temples, caste barriers are weak in this temple, which is a common feature of all those shrines which were previously of Buddhist faith. This became necessary for the Brahmins to concede to, so that masses could be wooed away from Buddhism.
This must be viewed in the light of the fact that Brahmins, led by Adi Shankara, were on warpath against Buddhism. After driving away the Buddhists, they took over the Buddhist monastaries and converted them into temples. There are stories of Adi Shankara and other saints 'winning' in debates with Buddhists.
Though Buddhism disappeared from the South, it integrated into the southern culture. Buddha had become reincarnation of Vishnu. Some sects have replaced Balarama or Parasurama with The Buddha in the ten incarnations of Vishnu. The worship of Sathanar, Ayyanar, Dharma Raja and Bodhi Raj are old Buddha worship. (Notice the words Dharma, Satha, Bodhi etc)
Iyyappa has the vajradanda, a crooked stick in his right arm. The vajra is a characteristic weapon of Bodhisattva.
*Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, is one of the most important and popular Buddhist dieties. Although he originally was conceived of in a Mahayana context, he has been worshipped under different names and in different shapes in nearly every form of Buddhism in every country Buddhism has entered. Avalokitesvara first appears in Indian Buddhism. He is originally mentioned as one of a number of bodhisattvas. These bodhisattvas are personifications of various attributes of the Buddha.