The descedants of Pandya dynasty discarded by Thirumala Naicker Diwan of Raja Vijayanagar, who was then ruling the Pandya Kingdom, comprising of Madurai, Tirunelveli, Ramananthapuram, were living scattered in places like Valliyur, Tenkasi, Shengottah Achankovil and Sivagiri. At that time, Pandiyas were ruling in many parts of Travancore and the descendants of Pandiya dynasty belonging to Chempazhanattu Kovil, living in Sivagiri were given the right to rule the country of Pandalam,the King of Travancore eight hundred years ago. King Rajasekara was the direct descendant of this dynasty.
King Rajasekara was very talented, courageous and just in his deed, People were living happily and prosperously in his regime. However, the king was very unhappy that he had no children and his subjects were also worried that he had no heir to inherit his kingdom. At the request of the queen, both of them used to pray to Lord Shiva for blessing them with a child.
Mahishasuran, Son of Ramban, undertook a severe penance towards God. Lord Brahma tried every tactics to stop his penance, but having failed in his attempts, appeared before the Asura and asked what boon he wanted, from him. Mahishasuran asked Lord to give him a boon by which nobody in the earth would be able to kill him, and Lord conferred the Boon on him. Mahishasuran, armed with his boon, began to commit atrocities and murders on the earth and terrorised people. Fearing his wrath, people ran away to far away places.
The Devas seeing the atrocities committed by Mahishasuran came to the conclusion that only a divine power could kill him and approached Chandikadevi pleading to put an end to Mahishasura who was misusing the boon given by Lord Chandikadevi set out on her mission and killed Mahishasura in a duel, on earth.
Mahishi daughter of Karamba, brother of Ramban undertook a severe penance towards god in order to take revenge on the Devas, who were responsible for the death of her brother. Lord Brahma appeared and offered to confer on Mahishi any boon expect that of immortality. Mahishi asked Lord to bless her with a boon by which nobody, except the son created out of the union of Shiv (Hari) and Vishnu (Haran), would be able to kill her. Lord Brahma gave the boon and Mahishi went to Devaloka and started harassing the Devas.
The Devas incurred the wrath of Durvasa Muni who cursed them to go grey. On the advice of Lord Mahavishnu that this curse could be removed only by administering Amrutham taken from Palazhi,the devas took it from the Palazhi,but the Asuras snatched it from them. Lord Mahavishnu in the disguise of Mohini went to the Asuras and got back the Amrutham and restored it to the Devas. Lord Shiva, when went to see Lord Mahavishnu who was in the disguise of a Mohini succumbed to her beauty and out of their union, was born a child. Lord Shiva adorned the Child's neck with a golden chain and ordered that the child be entrusted to the care of his childless disciple, king Rajasekara of Pandalam.
One day King Rajasekara went for hunting in the forest adjoining the banks of River Pampa, along with his men. He started hunting courageously in the dense forest which was a sanctuary for many wild animals. After that hunting was over, King Rajasekara advised his men to take rest and sat there entertaining himself with the sight of the natural greenish beauty and the water-falls, of the forest.
At that time, he heard a child crying from somewhere in the forest. Surprised, he went round and reached the banks of River Pampa. There he saw a beautiful and bright-lit child kicking its legs and cryingout, and was in a dilemma whether to take the child to the Palace or leave it there itself. While the King was engrossed in his thoughts, a Sanyasi appeared before him and told the King that he need not be afraid of the child and take him to the Palace and that the child belonged to Kshatriya dynasty capable of mitigating all sufferings. The Sanyasi further stated that since the Child had a gold chain around his neck, his name be called "MANIKANDAN" and when the child completed twelve years, the King would know his divine history. After uttering these words, the Sanyasi disappeared.
The King of Pandalam was very joyous; he took the child to his Palace and briefed the Queen about the incident. The King and the Queen, having prayed to Lord Shiva,for a child, were very happy that they had been blessed with a child. The people also felt happy that a heir to inherit the Kingdom after the King, has been found. However, the Diwan of the Kingdom who was thinking that he would be the next crown after Rajasekara was worried.
When the child, named Manikandan began to grow in the Palace, everything began to prosper in kingdom. He was taught all martial arts and sastras and the Guru was surprised at his brilliance and agility and the extraordinary talents. The Guru came to the conclusion that he was not an ordinary child, but a divine power. After completing his education under the Guru, Manikandan approached the Guru to offer his Guru Dakshina.
When Manikanda went to his Guru for his Ashirwathams, the Guru told him that he already knew that he was a divine power and he was blessed for having been given an opportunity to have Manikandan as a student. The Guru further told Manikandan that he had one request to make and that was that his only son who was blind and dumb should be given vision and speech. Manikandan called the Guru's son and put his hands on his head and immediately Guru's son had his vision and speech. Manikandan told the Guru not to reveal this to anyone and went to the Palace.
In the meanwhile, the Queen gave birth to a male child and the child was named Raja Rajan. King Rajasekara, impressed with the talents of Manikandan, decided to crown him, treating him as his eldest son. He ordered the Diwan to make arrangements for the same. The Diwan hated this and started devising plans to prevent Manikandan from being crowned to the throne and to annihilate him. He tried various methods including poisoning of food, but failed in all these. However, Manikandan's body bore an injury due to these and ordinary physicians could not cure it. Lastly, Lord Shiva disguising himself as a physician, treated Manikandan's injury and cured him.
Having failed in all his attempts to kill Manikandan, the Diwan approached the Queen and told her that she had her own son, it was not correct to crown a person who came from the forest. He further told the Queen since Arthasastra itself has justified any misdeed if it was done to extract a good thing, he would suggest that the Queen should pretend as if suffering from severe headache and he would make the physician tell that only a tigress' milk should be brought to cure the Queen and since Manikandan would only go to the forest to bring the milk, he would be in danger from the wild animals and even if Manikandan returned without bringing the tigress' milk, the King's love for him would not be as before. The Queen, became a prey to the Diwan's plot and agreed to do what he told, so that her son could succeed the King to the throne.
The Queen, as told by the Diwan, cried out loudly that she was suffering from severe headache and the King, believing this, called the Diwan to bring in the best physicians to treat her. The Physician, brought by the Diwan examined the Queen and told the King that the Queen had been suffering from a dangerous disease and it could be cured only by applying Tigress' milk. The King sent several of his men to the forest for bringing this milk. The King understood that it was an impossible task and wanted his dear Queen to be cured at any cost and offered half of his Kingdom to anybody who brought the Milk.
When the King was thinking about this, Manikandan asked him to let him go to the forest promising to bring the milk. However, the King told him that he was awaiting to be crowned to the throne that he was also not of age and hence refused to let him go. Manikandan told the King inspite of his refusal, he had to go lest he would be cursed for not curing the Queen. Since the King persisted in his refusal Manikandan wanted the King to promise to do something he wanted. The King gave the promise and asked him what he wanted and immediately Manikandan asked the king to permit to go to the Forest. The King felt disappointed that he had been tricked and with no other alternative permitted Manikandan to go to the forest.
King Rajasekara made arrangements to send a group of his loyal men along with Manikandan, which however was refused by Manikandan on the ground that the tigress might run away seeing the crowd of soldiers. King Rajasekara sent alongwith Manikandan necessary foodstuffs and coconuts with three-eyes, in remembrance of Lord Shiva. The Panchabuthas, sent by Lord Shiva, accompanied Manikandan to Forest. However, on his way seeing the atrocities of Mahishi in the Devaloka, he went there and in the battle between them, Mahishi was pushed by Manikandan into the earth, where she fell on the banks of Azhutha River. Manikandan clashed with her there.
At the end, of the battle between Mahishi and Manikandan at Azhutha River banks, Manikandan climbed up her chest and danced violently. The impact of his dance was felt in the Earth and Devloka and the Devas were afraid. Mahishi knowing that the divine power dancing on her body was none other than the son of Hari and Haran, prostrated before Manikandan and died. This dance was witnessed by Lord Shiva and Mahavishnu from a place called Kalakatti (It is said that Leela, daughter of Kavalan, a Karamban, with a face of Mahishi and freed herself from the curse and obtained Moksha by the grace of Shri Dharma Sastha, which is described in Sabarimala Temple as Malikapurathu Amma, by which name she has a temple there)
After killing Mahishi, Manikandan went to the forest for the tigress milk, when Lord Shiva appeared before him and told him that though he had done good for the Devas, still there was one main task and that was to give comfort to the King Rajasekara who was very concerned about him and also to cure the Queen's ailment. Lord Shiva further told him that he could go to the Palace with the tigeresses and Lord Indran would help him. As stated by Lord Shiva, all female devas in the disguise of a tigeresses and male Devas, as tigers with Lord Devendran as the tiger on whom Manikandan rode, they started their journey to the Palace. When Manikandan, with the tigers and tigeresses, approached the Palace, the people who ridiculed him when the started his journey to forest whether he wanted a toy tigresses, really got panicky seeing the violent bunch of animals and started running helter shelter.
The Sanyasi who appeared at the forest at the time of King Rajasekara's visit there when he heard a child's cries, again appeared at the palace and told King Rajasekara the Identity of Manikandan. Hearing this, the King stood in great surprise and silence. He stood non-pulsed as he saw Manikandan riding a tiger and people running away. Seeing the King, Manikandan descended from the Tiger's back and told him that since the tigresses were there, he could get the Queen cured with their milk. King Rajasekara, fell at his feet and asked to forgive him for whatever happened without his knowledge, and asked him to send back the tigers as the Queens ailment had been cured the moment Manikandan went to the forest. That day Manikandan reached the age of Twelve.
King Rajasekara told Manikandan that the Diwan was responsible for all these things and hence he should be punished. However, Manikandan told the king that he need not punish the Diwan and all had happened only through the will of God, and he told further that time had come for him to go to Devaloka since the task for which he created himself in the Earth is completed and asked the King what boon he wanted from him and he was ready to give it as he was much pleased by his devotion. Immediately, King Rajasekara told him that they wanted to raise a temple in his memory and suggest a suitable place for the temple. Manikandan aimed an arrow which fell at a place called Shabari, where in Sri Rama's era a Sanyasini called Shabari observed Dhavam. Lord Manikandan told the King to build the temple in that place and then he disappeared.
At the advice of Saint Agasthya, King Rajasekara laid the foundation stone for the building Shabarimala Temple. Bhagwan Manikandan, had made it clear that he would grace only those devotees who offer Dharshan after performing Viradha for fortyone days keeping themselves isolated from family desires and tastes and leading a life like Brahmacharys, thinking of good things always, and that while coming for his darshan, they shall adorn themselves with three-eyed coconut and foodstuff/Aantha Garland in their heads, as the Bhagwan did when he went to the forest to fetch tigress milk, and bathed in River Pampa raising slogans of Saranam and climb the eighteen stairs.
As graced by the Bhagwan, King Rajasekara completed building of the temple with eighteen stairs to reach it. When the King was thinking how to put Dharmasastha's figure in the temple for darshan to devotees, he recalled the words of the Bhagwan, the River Pampa was a holy river as River Ganga, Sabarimala was a holy place as Kasi. Dharmasastha sent Parasuraman to Sabarimala who carved the figure of Lord Ayyappa and installed it on the day of Makarasankranthi. Every year lakhs and lakhs of people throng to Sabarimala irrespective of caste or creed and adorn themselves with garlands and irumudis, chants slogans on Lord Ayyappa, bathe in holy river Pampa, climb up the eighteen stairs and get the grace of Lord Ayyappa, the Dharmasastha. Saranam Ayyappa !
Story courtesy : Srinivas Fine Arts (P) Ltd., Sivakasi. Tamil Nadu.