Ayyavazhi and Hinduism

This is an article comparing the beliefs, mythology, theology, rituals etc of Ayyavazhi and Hinduism. Though Ayyavazhi exists within Hinduism officially it functions autonomously.

A general view of Ayyavazhi may seem make it similar to, or serves as an offshoot of, Hinduism. But in regards to religious practices, belief, and sociology, Ayyavazhi differs from traditional Hinduism. Though Ayyavazhi followers don't call them as Hindus, as per official accounts Ayyavazhi was still considered within Hinduism.

Hindus view Vedas, Gita, other texts from the Shastra canon, rather than the Akilam. But Ayyavazhi believe they (Hindu scriptures) once exist, but now lost their substances because of the advent of Akilam. Akilam at one point, but feel they were merged by later, and that Kaliyan bought the Vedas as a Boon and so all the Previous religious books including Agamas and Puranas lost their Substances, and so Akilattirattu Ammanai was the only book of perfection. Also there are several dubious claims that the present day Vedas are not accepted by Ayyavazhi as books of Perfection because there is a quote in Akilam about Venneesan "“Avan pilathaal vedamondruntakki”" (He created a Veda of his own intention). In sum, all previous religious texts were lost their Substance in the vision of Ayyavazhi at the very moment Kaliyan came to the world.

Though Ayyavazhi has many differences from popular Hinduism, it has many beliefs and practices in common. As Hinduism is really a group of numerous branches, Ayya Vazhi is closest to Smartism and its Advaita beliefs in thought.

Differences between Ayyavazhi and mainstream Hinduism

Religious Practices

The religious practises of Ayyavazhi largely differ from traditional Hinduism. Akilam says that previous practices were not wrong, but that they were changed because of the abnormal, cruel nature of Kaliyan and his boons, which the Universe had experienced before. Akilattirattu Ammanai says that the whole acts and rules of the Universe had changed by the advent of Kaliyan. Thiru Nadana Ula, a part of Akilam eight discusses this change in detail.

Wearing of Thirunamam

The religious mark used by the people of Ayyavazhi is a unique one. The people of Ayyavazhi wear a vertical white mark on the forehead in the shape of a flame, starting from the central point between the eyebrows, and going straight up near the top edge of the forehead. The flame shape represents Aanma Jyothi or Atman. "(See:Symbol of Ayyavazhi)" Zealous devotees smear it on the exterior of the upper arms and over the chest. This white mark is unlike the one worn by a Hindu of Vaishnavist tradition who wear it on the forehead in the shape of 'U', or of Saivist tradition who wear it horizontally as three parallel lines. The white powder used for this mark was made from coarse white soil, found at lower layer of the earth, while ash is used in Hinduism.

At present, those who 'serve' in Pathis or Nizhal Thangals wear this white mark for the people and give a portion of it to their hands. People carry it home as holy object, and some of them even swallow a little of it believing it to be medicinal.

Wearing of Head Gear

One of the significant ritual actions that distinguishes the Ayyavazhi male worshipper from others is 'wearing a headgear' during worship. Ayya Vaikundar seems to have enjoined upon his male followers to tie on a headgear when they came to worship God, considering it as a crown. Accordingly, the male followers seem to have tied on a headgear during worship. This is to reveal that every people are kings and every one is to rule the Earth. This philosophy is told symbolically by the practice of wearing the headgear since the wearing of headgear is considered a matter of Pride. It was as a counteraction to the practice of tying a cloth around the waist, which symbolizes one’s bondage.

It became a ritual action to be performed before the people entered the Pathi to worship. The male devotees usually removed their upper garment and tied the headgear and entered the Pathi for worship. To this day this practice is followed.

Worship in Front of Mirror

This is yet another unique practice that distinguishes Ayyavazhi from other Hindu religious traditions. The Nizhal Thangals and Pathis have, in their sanctuary, a mirror to reflect the images of those who come to worship. People pay obeisance to their God standing in front of this mirror, facing the Elunetru amidst two oil lamps. Even in the houses of the people of Ayyavazhi, the place earmarked for their daily worship has at least a mirror and a lamp. This placement of mirror symbolize that God is inside oneself and it is of no use to seek God elsewhere. This practice is different from the placement of murti, or icon in Hindu Temples, in that this is a non-anthropomorphic form of worship. In different denominations of Hinduism, Saivites venerate the linga and Vaishnavites venerate the saligrama in a non-anthropomorphic method of worship.

A New mode of Worship

The mode of worship of Ayyavazhi presented itself to be something new in that milieu. It distinguished itself from features of worship of the Sanskrit religion and folk religions. Instructions for abandoning temple worship, temple offerings, priestly functions, blood sacrifices, and image worship abound in Akilam. Unlike some practices in Hinduism, it says, "Do not institute Temples, Do not offer puja, blood sacrifices, do not kill animals, do not worship images made of Clay" etc. It was a 'new mode of worship' and differentiated itself from the existing traditions of the time.

A Distinct Language

The Tamil language is considered sacred, rather than Sanskrit, as is holy within mainstream Hinduism. In Akilam there is a quote that Tamil will be the language in Dharma Yukam. Also unlike other Hindu scriptures in Tamil, Akilattirattu and Arul Nool were written using a simple form of language, even extracts from ancient Hindu scriptures are found in it, translated simply, so that common people can understood.

Beliefs

Apart from religious practices, a few beliefs of Ayyavazhi are different from Hinduism.

Vaikunda Avatar

Ayyavazhi believes Vaikundar is the incarnation of Narayana in this Kali Yukam, sent to destroy the evils of Kali yuga. Hindus accept Kalki rather than Vaikundar as the Incarnation who will be sent to destroy such evil. Also, Hindus believe that the spirit of kali yuga has yet to be destroyed, but Ayyavazhi says that the spirit of Kali Yuga started its decline immediately after the Avatar of Vaikundar arrived. This was due to the torture of a Pantaram (Vaikundar), tortured because he had promised to Thirumal that he did not harm any Pantaram.

Eight Yukams

Regarding Yukams, Ayyavazhi believes in a system of Eight Yukams while Hinduism suggests a system of four Yukams.

Kroni

Ayyavazhi believes in a primordial manifestation of evil Kroni similar to Satan in Abrahamic Religions, while Hinduism doesn't have any similar personification of Evil.

Trimurthi

The view on Trimurti (three aspects of Brahman) is similar to Smartism, which like Ayya Vazhi, recognizes that Brahma, Vishnu and Siva are different aspects of the same God. By contrast, for example, in Saivism, Sivan (the Tamil name for Siva) is considered superior while in Vaishnavism Vishnu is considered superior. In Ayyavazhi all the three were considered equal in all the previous six Yukams. But only in Kali Yukam are all the powers surrendered to Narayana by Sivan and Nathan because Kaliyan was created by them without discussion with Narayana. Regarding Vaikunda Avatharam, Ayya Vaikundar is superior to the three because the Moolamoorthy or Paramathma, superior to Trimuthi is that who incarnates as Vaikundar, but in Hinduism it was Vishnu who incarnates. However Vishnu was the first to form in this Universe within the three according to Akilam.

Dharma Yukam

Ayyavazhi believes in a Dharma Yukam where Vaikundar rules the world with the Santror Makkal. In Hinduism they believe in Satya Yuga which does not mention Vaikundar.

Unifying the Deities

In Ayyavazhi, Vaikundar performed symbolic marriages by which he unified all the powers of the universe into himself and so all were seen as one, which is similar to the beliefs of Smartism. But in other branches of Hinduism, they acknowledge different powers as superior and may worship different powers in different forms.

Sociology

Congregational Worship

Amongst the Ayyavazhi, congregational worship is practiced, while in Hinduism the Priest chants the mantras and performs rituals, and the others watch all these things. But in Ayyavazhi the Panivediyalar chants the mantras and the others repeat it.

Thottu Namam

In Ayyavazhi Thottu Namam means 'wearing Thirunamam with a personal touch', which means the Panivedaiyalar will bestow the Thirunamam by touching the forehead of the devotees. But in Hinduism the Priests gives the Prachatham by throwing, in the belief that if he happened to touch the worshipers body it would make him ritually unclean. In olden days this was practiced because the Brahmins kept a distance from the other castes. This 'Thottu Namam' was an intentional counteraction of this ancient Hindu tradition, put forward by Ayyavazhi.

Ayyavazhi Marriage

Unlike the traditional Hindu way of marriage, Ayyavazhi does not have many ritual practices. But it also differs from traditional Hinduism in marriage as a whole. In Ayyavazhi the couple was seated facing the geographic south witnessing the Thuvaraiyam Pathi in the Indian Ocean. In addition to the priest, all the people who witness the marriage will chant the mantras, and praise the couple following the priest, while in Hinduism this was done only by the Priest.

Funeral practice

In Ayyavazhi the body of the dead is buried, unlike in Hinduism. Generally, Hinduism mandates cremation and limits burial to monks, and children under five.

The body is buried in a position that faces to the geographic north in a Padmasana position. No boxes such as coffins are used. The body is just placed inside and covered by sand or Namam (sacred soil). This practice is done in belief that the deceased is performing austerity for the unfolding of Dharma Yukam. There was also a belief that the body of a person who was free from birth will not decay, and will be preserved as it is. Then as the Dharma Yukam unfolds, Vaikundar will blow a Conch shell and these people will rise from the grave. This scenario resembles the Last Judgment in the Abrahamic religions.

The practice of burial is strikingly similar to funeral practices, in Lingayatism, a reform movement in Karnataka, like Ayyavazhi, which was critical of the caste system. Unlike Ayyavazhi, Lingyatism focuses on Shiva as the supreme God.

Similarities between Ayyavazhi and Hinduism

Religious Practices

Dress during worship

Like Hinduism the male worshippers of Ayyavazhi do not wear any upper garments during worship. Footwear is prohibited in worship centers. Also in Ayyavazhi, the female worshippers do not go the worship centers during the period of Menses, like other Hindus.

Circumambulation

The practice of circumambulation is quite commonly seen in Ayyavazhi like in Hinduism. In Ayyavazhi the devotees use to take a bath and circumambulate the outer Pathi and then the inner Pathi and then the sanctum sanatorium.

Saffron

Saffron is considered as sacred in Ayyavazhi as well its father religion, Hinduism. All the Panividaiyalars (those who perform Panividai) in Pathis and Nizhal Thangals will be dressed in a saffron dothi and saffron headgear which are collectively known as Kavi Vasthiram. This is also the colour of the flag that is to be hoisted in Pathis, as told as Chandiravarnam, and is the colour of the Ayyavazhi flags hoisted over their temples.

Rudraksha

Like Hinduism, and particularly Saivism Ayyavazhi consider Rudraksha as sacred.

Theertham

Like Hinduism, Ayyavazhi stress Theertham. But according to Ayyavazhi, Muttirikkinaru and Muttappathi were considered most sacred.

Theology

Ultimate Oneness

Ayyavazhi like the Advaita tradition within Hinduism accepts the Ultimate Oneness, which is akin to the concept of Brahman. It says that it was from the Ekam the whole universe formed. Thiruvasakam - 2 describes the formation of this present Universe. Like Advaita, it believes that Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva are different aspects of the same God.

Incarnation

Just as Mahaprabhu Caitanya was thought of as an incarnation of Vishnu (and more specifically of Krishna) in Gaudiya Vaishnavism so too is Ayya Vaikundar thought to be an incarnation of Vishnu. It is believed that God incarnates Himself to educate his children on obtaining a union with Him.

Reincarnation

Ayyavazhi like Hinduism believes in reincarnation. It states that all lives are continually reborn until they reach Dharma Yukam, the state of Moksha.

Karma

Ayyavazhi disciples too believe in the law of karma and that practing good karma will grant them Moksha. The practice of good karma is what leads one to God.

Moksha

Moksha is the goal of the Ayyavazhi. The Ayyavazhi disciple believes like other Hindus that this too is a union with God in which the soul achieves perfect Shanti ("peace") and Swarga ("heaven.")

Ahimsa

Ahimsa is Sanskrit for "non-violence" and the Ayyavazhi too believe in this principle.

Vegetarianism

The Ayyavazhi too like many Hindus believe in the vegetarian principle, which is an important aspect of Ahimsa. Ayya Vaikundar is considered an incarnation of Vishnu and in Vaishnavism, meat-eating is forbidden.

Chanting of the Lord's name

This principle is known in Sanskrit as Sankirtana Yajna, it is an essential sacrifice especially for this age. It is believed that chanting the name of the Lord is an auspicious way to worship the Lord.

God is inside everybody

In Hinduism it is believed that within the body, there exists the soul but that the spirit of God is also present within the heart of every human being. The Ayyavazhi too believe that God is present within humans.

Final Judgement

In the Ayyavazhi tradition, it is believed that in the final judgement, the demon will be sentenced to hell while Vaikundar and Santror will rule the world. In Hinduism also it is believed that God Vishnu will incarnate Himself to destroy this age of hypocrisy.

Sanskrit

Although the Ayyvazhi prefer using a local language rather than Sanskrit, devotees name their children in Sanskrit (e.g. Vaikunar, Krishna, Narayan.)

ee also

*List of Ayyavazhi-related articles
*Ayyavazhi
*Hinduism
*Hindu reform movements
*Hindu Renaissance


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