Ayyavazhi and Hinduism are two belief systems in India. Although Ayyavazhi continues to officially exist within Hinduism and is considered by some observers to be a Hindu denomination, members of the religion claim that it is independent. The most notable distinction between Hinduism and Ayyavazhi is their different approaches to the concepts of good, evil and dharma.
Hindus view Vedas, Gita, and other texts from the Shastra as canonical scriptures, instead of the Akilam. The Ayyavazhi believe that the Hindu scriptures were once canonical, but now have lost their Substance because of the advent of Akilam. Kaliyan bought the Vedas as a Boon and so all the previous religious books including Agamas and Puranas lost their Substances, leaving Akilattirattu Ammanai as the only book of perfection. Several dubious claims state 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). All previous religious texts have 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 tree of many branches, Ayyavazhi is closest to Smartism and its Advaita beliefs in thought.
The religious practises of Ayyavazhi largely differ from traditional Hinduism. Akilam says that previous practices were not wrong, but that they were distorted 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.
The Ayyavazhi people use a unique religious mark. The vertical white mark is worn on the forehead in the shape of a flame, starting from the central point between the eyebrows, and rising to the top edge of the forehead. The flame shape represents Aanma Jyothi or Atman. 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, worn on the forehead in the shape of a '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 a holy object, and some of them even swallow a little of it believing it to be medicinal.
One of the significant ritual actions that distinguishes Ayyavazhi male worshipper from others is 'wearing headgear' during worship. Ayya Vaikundar seems to have enjoined his male followers to tie on headgear when they came to worship God, considering it as a crown. Accordingly, the male followers tied on headgear during worship. This is to reveal that every person is a king and every one is to rule the Earth. This philosophy is told symbolically by the practice of wearing the headgear. It was a counteraction to the practice of tying a cloth around the waist, which symbolizes bondage.
It became a ritual action to be performed before entering the Pathi to worship. Male devotees usually removed their upper garment and tied the headgear before entering the Pathi. To this day this practice is followed.
The Nizhal Thangals and Pathis have, in their sanctuary, a mirror to reflect the images worshippers. 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. The mirror's placement symbolizes 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 form of worship.
The Ayyavazhi mode of worship was new in that milieu. It distinguished itself from 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.
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. Extracts from ancient Hindu scriptures are found in it, translated simply, so that common people could understand.
A few beliefs of Ayyavazhi are different from Hinduism.
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), who was tortured because he had promised to Thirumal that he would not harm any Pantaram.
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 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 Vishnu incarnates. However Vishnu was the first to form in this Universe within the three according to Akilam.
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.
Amongst the Ayyavazhi, congregational worship is practiced, while in Hinduism the Priest chants the mantras and performs rituals, and the devotees watch. But in Ayyavazhi the Panivediyalar chants the mantras and the others repeat it.
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.
Unlike the traditional Hindu way of marriage, Ayyavazhi does not have many ritual practices. But it also differs 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 chant the mantras, and praise the couple following the priest, while in Hinduism this was done only by the Priest.
The body is buried in a position that faces the geographic north in a Padmasana position. No boxes such as coffins are used. The body is placed inside and covered by sand or Namam (sacred soil). This practice is done with the 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.
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 to worship centers during the period of Menses, like other Hindus.
The practice of circumambulation is quite commonly seen in Ayyavazhi as 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 is considered as sacred in Ayyavazhi as in its father religion, Hinduism. All the Panividaiyalars (those who perform Panividai) in Pathis and Nizhal Thangals dress 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.
Ayyavazhi like the Advaita tradition within Hinduism accepts the Ultimate Oneness, which is akin to the concept of Brahman. It says that the universe formed from the Ekam. 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.
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 union with Him.
Ayyavazhi disciples believe in the law of karma and that practicing good karma will grant them Moksha. The practice of good karma leads the devotee to God.
The Ayyavazhi 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.
This principle (known in Sanskrit as Sankirtana Yajna) is an essential sacrifice especially for this age. It is believed that chanting the name of the Lord is an auspicious way to worship.
In Hinduism it is believed that the spirit of God is present within the heart of every human. The Ayyavazhi too believe that God is present within humans.
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.[clarification needed]
Although the Ayyvazhi prefer local language rather than Sanskrit, devotees name their children in Sanskrit (e.g. Vaikunar, Krishna, Narayan.)