Akilam was written down by Hari Gopalan Seedar, one of the five disciples of Vaikundar, at his residence in Thamarai Kulam village, at the present Kanyakumari district in Tamil Nadu. The opening foot of the Kappu was commenced to Hari Gopalan Seedar in a divinely inspired semi-conscious state called ‘Sukuthi Nithirai’ on the 27th of the Tamil month of Karthikai in 1016 Kollam Era (December 1841 CE), through which Vaikundar commissioned him to write down the narrative of the Lord Narayana coming on to the Earth. According to legends he began it at night and continued writing for days. Another legend says that he began it on Friday, the 27th Karthikai 1016 K.E, and completed on the seventeenth day – on the second Sunday of Margazhi 1016 K.E. It was at this spot, where the Kappu of Akilam commenced, the Thamaraikulam Pathi, a prime holy site of Ayyavazhi, was constructed later. After the earthly life of Ayya Vaikundar, the tied-up palm leaf manuscript, which was until then not opened, was untied and unfolded. It reveals the cosmic process of ascertaining the spacetime, creation, further evolution and the history of the universe. It also includes the social and spiritual teachings, regulations and ethics essential to lead a human life. As per the instructions found in Arul Nool, a secondary scripture (which is a collection of 11 books), Akilam was preached by the Seedars, (the 5 disciples of Vaikundar) far and wide.
Akilam was recorded on palm leaves until 1939. Thereafter efforts were taken to publish it in printed form. Fearing the restrictions from the then Travancore Kingdom, Akilam was partitioned into two parts and only the first part which includes the events before the advent of Vaikundar was printed and released.
Akilathirattu was written as poetry in Tamil language. The narration alternates between two sub-genres called viruttam and natai. Both sub-genres employ many poetic devices like alliteration and hyperbatons. The authorized Palaramachandran Version (PRV) contains 15148 verses (excluding the Kappu). Akilam maintains more than one context for its verses throughout the text; a superficial and sociological sense on the one hand and a highly philosophical and subtle idea on the other. While the floating ideas of the lines could be comparatively easily communicated, the underlying theme couldn’t be understood unless oneself is well aware about the basics of Hindu pantheon of gods, Hindu scriptures, Dharmic concepts and philosophy etc. Moreover, the book focuses on the devotion to Vaikundar, considered to be an aspect of the God Vishnu. It is a poetic narrative in Tamil, and is considered by critics as an excellent compilation of the various aspects of Indian mythology, spirituality and beliefs about God. The first 8 chapters of the book narrate the events starting from the creation of the Universe to the time exactly before the incarnation of Vaikundar. The ninth chapter describes in detail the events taking place in the divine plan during the incarnation of Vaikundar. The last 8 chapters focus the legendary, empirical and mythical aspects pertaining to the incarnational activities of Vaikundar which transform the present Kali Yukam eventually to Dharma Yukam. In addition to the mythological events Akilam also provides an extensive quantity of historical facts, especially that of mid and late 2nd millennium CE.
The original palm-leaf manuscripts written by Hari Gopalan Seedar are today seen damaged and it is hard to recognize the contents. It is preserved as a relic by the descendants of the Seedar. There are three direct Palm-leaf versions which were copied from this first version. They are, the Panchalagkuricchi Version, the Swamithoppu
Version and the Kottangadu Version. Of these, the Panchalankuricchi Version is said to have been written down by Hari Gopalan Seedar himself copying from the main version and the other two versions were copied later. The Panchalankuricchi Version is an incomplete version. The events after Ayya attaining Vaikundam are not available in the Panchalankuricchi Version. Apart from the three above a few more versions are also availabale. They are: the Nariyan vilai Version, the Varampetran-pantaram Version and the Saravanantheri Version. Print versions include the Palaramachandran Version (PRV) and the Ayya Vaikundar Thirukkudumbam Version (VTV). But of this two, The VTV is often criticized since it is allegedly abound with omissions and unauthorized additions. Though Thirukkudumbam claims that these additional lines were added from the early palm-leaf versions (Panchalankuricchi Version and Kottangadu Version) which are missing in the PRV, this version is not accepted widely.
There are also few other versions including the Anbukkodi Makkal Iyakkam Version and the Kalai Ilakkiya-peravai Version which are unfamiliar to the public. All the released versions except Palaramachandran Version (PRV) schedule the whole contents into seventeen sections as per the Thiru Eadu-vasippu partition, which divides the entire contents into 17 chapters. The Sentrathisai Ventraperumal version (SVV) which was released in 1965 includes more than 2000 additional verses which are not found in any other versions and the publishers do not provide any justification for including these additional verses. However the Palaramachandran Version (PRV) is the not only widely accepted and the largest circulated one but also accredited by the headquarters at Swamithopu. It is also the only version which was printed and circulated for the last 70 years; the last edition, the 13th, was released in 2010. Though many versions are already available in Tamil, Akilam is yet to be translated or even transliterated to any other language. However, given the complexity of the ideology integrated into the language and the simultaneous multidimensional metaphorical leads, which a single verse could generate, translation is not at all an easy task though the language used seems simpler.
The Akilam narrates itself as the essence of the account of a history: a past, a present and a future – meant by weaving together of empirical facts, historical events as well as mythical accounts. It moves around three axiomatic typologies, namely Santror, Kali Yukam and Dharma Yukam, placing
their base on the concepts and events of previous yugas that are associated also with other Hindu puranas, Ithihasas etc. The God-heads namely Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Sarasvati, Lakshmi, Parvati, Skanda, and Ganesh were all found part of mythology throughout the scripture.
The book starts with the explanation given by Vishnu to His consort Lakshmi about the evolution of Universe, life forms and subsequently of human beings, and the reason for his multiple-arrivals to earth. It is said that there is a total of 8 aeons or yugas and we are currently in the seventh yuga called as Kali Yuga, the age of deterioration. For each yuga there is a demon that will be destroyed by Vishnu. In the first yuga, Kroni was born. Vishnu fragmented him into six pieces and each fragment will incarnate as demon in each Yuga. The first four yugas are said to be the Neetiya Yuga, Chatura Yuga, Nedu Yuga and Kretha Yuga. These four yugas do not have parallels in the mainstream Hindu mythology. The fifth yuga is said to be the Treta Yuga in which the Lord Rama incarnated as human. The sixth yuga is the Dvapara Yuga, and there is a short but striking description of the life of Krishna and the Bharatha war. Additionally there is said to be another event called the birth of Santror or noble people at the closure of Dvapara Yuga. The Santror transcended the Dvapara Yuga and continues to exist in the Kali Yuga. Kali Yuga, the seventh Yuga begins with the birth of the evil spirit called Kali. Kali is believed to be cognate with the modern human beings. Then was born the Neesan, the demon for the Kali Yuga.
It is said that this demon became the kings of earth in various places and tortured the lives of the Santror. Because of this Lord Vishnu advised Neesan to stop torturing the Santror. But he would not listen to the lord and so in order to stop the rule of Neesan and to bring an end to Kali yuga, Vishnu made a grand plan to make Vaikundar incarnate in the Human ancestry. Vishnu plays a dual role as Father regulating the Son, Vaikundar and at times as Son himself. In other words, Vishnu himself, as turine power (that of Ekam, Narayana and Santror) incarnating in the world as Vaikundar in the Kali Yukam (the present age) to destroy the evil spirit, the final and the most serious manifestation of Kroni. Since Vaikundar lived recently, he was well known in
history. So from Chapter 9 onwards many mythical as well as historical facts were woven together. Most of the events and rituals in Akilam such as Muthirikkinaru, Wearing of Head-gear during worship, Thuvayal Thavasu all were noted in history. These rituals too have different and muti-faceted operational, spiritual and historical meanings.
The theology of Akilam differs considerably from other monistic teachings. It speaks of Ekam, the Oneness from which all that exists formed, and also an ultimate oneness that exists behind all differences. The Ekam, which is articulated as the supreme divine power itself, is supposed to remain unaffected by maya deep inside every changeable matter as an absolute constant. In theological terms, God is, in the highest sense, formless, infinite, gender-less and beyond time and space. The term Ekam in Tamil language give simply the meanings, “one”, “absolute”, “the whole which exists”and “the incomparable”; all give some sort of direct monistic definition about God from the Akilam theology.
As recited in Thiruvasakam -2, in Chapter 10, The Sivam and the Sakthi are the first to get evolved from Ekam. The Natham(voice), Trimurthi, other lesser gods and the entire universe further evolved. The Trimurthi are greater among the personified Devas. Siva, one among the Trimurthi, was the supreme power until Kali Yuga. Vishnu is the supreme from the advent of Kali Yuga. Then, from the incarnation of Vaikundar, again the powers of all godheads, including that of Vishnu, is transferred to Vaikundar. Ekam, the supreme oneness as one among the Trinity (Ekam, Narayana & Sanror) takes a place within Vaikundar for the present age. Therefore, Vaikundar is said to be the supreme power. However, a quote from Akilam thirteen says this supreme oneness (Ekam) itself is created by Vaikundar, who is a personified God. In this regard, theology of Akilam being centered on Vaikundar, is more monotheistic rather than monistic. No other god-heads, even the Father of Vaikundar, Narayana, have gained an equal or greater status than Vaikundar. Vaikundar is a turine power who includes the qualities of the Santror, Narayana and Ekam within himself.
That Kroni, a primordial evil manifestation, was fragmented into six and each fragments took birth and plays an anti-Vishnu roles throughout the successive six yugas; he was finally destroyed by a final judgment which is followed by the god-ruled Dharma Yuga, gives some dualistic dimension to Akilam based theology. But since the focus of Arul Nool, the accumulation of the teachings of Akilam is extremely monistic and since the final fragment of Kroni itself is called Kalimayai (a conception rather than a physical or material incarnation), it was commonly accepted that the ‘Maya’ is symbolised in such a way that contrasts the dualistic view of the theology. Apart from all these, there are also separate quotes in Akilam which give pantheistic and panentheistic definition to its theology. The theological ideologies found in the book seem to serve as an excellent link between the Dharmic and Abrahamic religious conceptions. Despite for the term Ekam, a supreme state where the difference between the Creator and the creations nullified, the book is strictly theistic and not atheistic.
Teachings and Impact
Akilam teaches a set of values that are theological, sociological and philosophical. Of these the ideas of the first 8 chapters span throughout the various teachings found in previous Hindu scriptures and from chapter 9 onwards, a set of revolutionary teachings, in all aspects were focused. The theological teachings revolve around the supremacy of Vaikundar while the sociological teachings mainly focus on breaking up the inequalities prevalent in the human society.
The teachings of Akilam too are always twofold, sociological and mystical. The mystical teachings are devoted to revealing divine knowledge, while social teachings are primarily concerned with eliminating inequality and discrimination in society. The teachings encourage a positive relationship with God, as opposed to one based on fear, encouraging referring to God as Ayya, “dear father”, strengthening their intimacy and affection towards God.
Mystical teachings of Akilam focus on supreme oneness of nature and all living beings. Among its variations, the theology always maintains this
focus on oneness. The evil of Kali blocks the ultimate or supreme oneness prevailing between individual souls and the universe, creating among them a false sense of individuality and extreme pride. ‘Ekam’—the “over-soul” or the supreme soul—is identified as the whole of existence, changeless in nature and ubiquity. This is the one which undergoes different changes with respect to space and time because of the evil force maya.
All creations are said to have evolved from this Ekam, the supreme consciousness. All the qualities of Ekam are within each soul and everything evolve from it. Each and every individual soul is a reflection or mirror of the absolute Supreme, Ekam, which provides the textual basis and metaphor for the mirror’s role in Ayyavazhi worship. Human and all other souls are restricted and limited by the evil of Kali. This is why individual souls are not able to attain supreme bliss, and so are secondary to Ekam. Once a soul overcomes the influence of maya, it becomes one with Ekam. Its individuality is gone, and thereby it is Ekam. On the other hand, this supreme consciousness is personified in Akilam 15 (Chapter 15) as Paramatma (over-soul) by which, God is the “Husband”, while all other souls are his “consorts”,symbolised by Thirukkalyana Ekanai, where Vaikundar marries the individual souls. Also, the philosophy of Akilam applies a common formula for the creation of human beings and the rest of the universe. Thus whatever exists externally to human beings exists also internally. Akilam, in its social teachings clearly and explicitly condemns the caste based. It heavily criticizes the caste discrimination rather than the ‘Caste system’ itself. The Teachings of Akilam has also served as an engine of social reform, particularly in the area of Travancore, which was previously noted for its unusually strong caste system. In addition to untouchability, un seeability and unapproachability was developed in the then South Travancore. On the contrary, the mingling of 18 castes in Ayyavazhi centers was a vital element in the transformation of society.
Reflecting upon the teachings found in Akilam and its impact, sociologically, Ayya Vaikundar was viewed as the first to succeed as a social reformer in launching political struggle, social renaissance as well as religious
reformation in the country by several research papers from leading universities, government publications, historians etc . Vaikundar is considered the pioneer of the social revolutionaries of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. He was also said to be the forerunner of all social reformers of India. Akilam displayed sympathy for the laboring classes, and opposed to the often excessive taxes they were forced to pay. From the beginning the followers, fortified by the teachings, have also taken a strong stand against political oppression. This is most clearly seen in Akilam, where the Travancore king is identified as Kalineesan, (one who is a captive of Kali) in the social sense. Initiated by the teachings found in Akilam and its impact in the then Tamil and Malayalee society, Ayyavazhi was considered to be in the forefront of movements for Human Rights and Social Equality. The rituals taught by Akilam conducted a social discourse; Its beliefs, mode of worship and religious organisation seem to have enabled the group to negotiate, cope with and resist the relation of authority. Its teachings also effected many social changes in southern India, resulting in the emergence of a series of social and self-respect movements such as Upper cloth agitation, Temple entry agitation and other movements including those of Narayana Guru, Chattampi Swamikal, Vallalar and Ayyankali.
Akilam includes the mythology of Mahabharata, Ramayana, Kantha Purana and Vishnu Purana, etc; but with limited details. It includes only the main events that are directly linked to the main-stream story flow. But to undergo a detailed study on each, the appropriate scriptures that include those events in detail need to be referred. Akilam provides all these collectively in brief with an overall narrative, which make it unique. Many philosophical and other concepts from dharmic scriptures are found in Akilam; some of them are completely accepted, some are regenerated, while others, specifically rituals are rejected. The List of Yugas and the Avatars and Asuras of the corresponding Yugas as per Akilam are listed below.