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Ayyappan, also known as Dharmashastha, Shastha, Manikandan and Ayyanar is a Hindu deity who is the son of Mohini, an incarnation of Vishnu, and Shiva. He is generally depicted in a yogic posture wearing a bell around his neck, and hence the name Manikantan which literally means ‘person with a bell around the neck’.

The most prominent Ayyappan shrine is the one at Sabarimala – the abode of Lord Ayyappa – in the hills of Pathanamthitta in Kerala. The shrine receives over ten million pilgrims every year making it one of the largest pilgrimage sites in the world. The pilgrims visiting Sabarimala fast and engage in austerities under the leadership of a Guru Swami (one who has undertaken the pilgrimage to Sabarimala for 18 years). The austerity period starts on the first of the fourth month of Malayalam calender and lasts for 41 days. During this period men are clad in distinctive ritual dhotis of black, saffron and dark blue colors and lead the life of a brahmachaari abstaining from family desires and tastes. The devotees address Lord Ayyappa as Sri Ayyappan respectfully. The mantra of Lord Ayyappa is Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa which translates to Lord Ayyappa, I seek refuge in you.

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