shAstA in the drAviDa country

Unlike khaNDobA, mallaNNa or mallAri of the upper peninsular India and Maharashtra, in the drAviDa country the homologous equestrian deity does not get identified with mArtANDa-bhairava. Instead he remains pretty distinct and is known as shAstA (dramiDa: chAttAn) or Arya (dramiDA: ayyan or ayyanAr). He has a tremendously popular cult atop the shabari hill in the chera country (just like khaNDoba in Jejuri), but as it exists this cult is far removed from his pristine form, more commonly seen amongst the drAviDa-s of the modern TN. Some smArta-s ignorantly call him a large peyy (dravidian word for bhUta or ghost), but my clan, like any proper polytheist, have great regard for him as a major parivAra-devata of kumAra. Several shrIvaiShNava-s also look down upon a band of tenkalai vaiShNavas from Tirunelveli, who worship ayyan as their primary deity and refer to him in disparaging terms.

Two common tales exist about ayyan: one which is widely known but probably of later provenance is that he is harihara-putra born from mohini and shiva. This is seen in some temples in both the drAviDa and the chera desha-s. In this context, in some ayyan shrines rudra may be depicted as a muni gazing at viShNu, depicted as a bewitching mahAnagnikA, with a cobra covering her yoni. As per the other tale indra generated a new god, or brought up sUrya-s son, who was ayyan. When the villagers, often described as being of the kullAlar guild, asked indra for a deity to protect their grAma-s he send ayyan along with two agents respectively generated by rudra and viShNu: changali karrupu chuvami and muttu karrupu chuvami. The deva-s also gave ayyan two wives: pUrNA and puShakalA (just as with khaNDobA). In protecting the people ayyan along with his host of warriors (see below) killed many demons. They also thrashed errant villagers and maintained law and order.

There are several old shrines of ayyan in the tamil country and their antiquity is supported by the mention of such shrines in the shilappadhikAraM. One of the oldest shrines of shAstA is seen in a site just outside the village of Karivalamvandanallur (32 kilometers northwest of the village of Kazhugumalai). Here there is an ancient grave yard of Dravidians buried in urns. Beside it is a stream and a rocky hill suddenly rises next to it. On top of this hill is the archaic shrine of kari-chAttAn (shAstA on the elephant) from the sangam period. Outside it one can see numerous pitchers with ancient offerings to the god and old votive horses of a bygone era. There Arya sits in silence flanked by his two wives. There one feels the primal presence of shAstA — none of the melodramatic outbursts of bhakti that the travelers to shabari mention. It is also a different experience from Jejuri amidst the throngs of rustic mahArATTa and dhangars. Here there is only silence, but for the occasional bird, yet all around you feel the god and his wives.

In later temples ayyan is typically accompanied by several other sub-shrines usually to other deities, always counting to 21 though they may differ from shrine to shrine. pUrNA and puShkalA may be located inside the shrine of shAstA himself beside him or occasionally have their own shrines. The commonly found ones are:
piLLaiyAr (vinAyaka); murugan (kumAra); agni-virabhadran (agni-vIrabhadra); different kinds of karrupu chuvami-s (e.g. muttu-karrupu-chuvAmi, changali-karrupu-chuvAmi, kazhuvaDi karrupu); karrupAyI amman (a sister or wife of the karrupu-s) mU-amman or pEchI-amman (dhUmAvatI or rakta-jyeShTha, usually shown with a winnowing basket); bhadrakALI amman (bhadra-kAlI); rAkkAyi-amman (rAkA); meyyANDI amman; muniyANDI (a muni-formed deity); paitya irrulappan or suDalai [suDukAT] madan; irulAyI amman (wife of paitya irulappan); nAgappan; sonai chuvAmi (he is the deity associated with the urn burials. Some drAviDa-s inform me that he is actually a variety of karrupu and might be called sonai karrupu.); mAchi-chuvAmi (he rides a tiger like Arya in the chera country); sapta-kanya-s (the deified Pleiades open cluster). There is also a shrine for the first pUjArI of the shAstA cult (the Adi-pUjArI) and, on occasions, a sannayAsI.

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