King Dhanu and his lineage
The Rakshasa King Dhanu had two children Ramban and Karamban. According to the advice of their Guru Sukrachari, Ramban and Karamban did penance to beget a male child. Ramban did penance standing in the middle of fire, while Karamban did penance standing in water. Concerned where his position as the Lord of all Devas will be threatened due to the penance of the brothers, Lord Indira took the form of a crocodile and killed Karamban. On hearing the news of his brother's untimely death, Ramban was dejected and jumped into a lighted pyre. Lord Agni (the fire god) took pity on Ramban and appeared before Ramban and expressed his desire to grant a boon.
Mahishasura is born
Ramban asked that he be granted a son, who will be the ruler of the three worlds - the heaven, earth and hell. Lord Agni granted his wish saying that the first lady that Ramban has a physical relationship with will beget him that son. On the way from the forest to his palace, Ramban saw a she buffalo and had a physical relationship with the she-buffalo. The she-buffalo got pregnant. Once a he-buffalo saw the she-buffalo and started chasing it. Seeing this Ramban, tried to stop the he-buffalo, but in the bargain got killed. The she-buffalo sought the protection of the Yakshas, who drove the he-buffalo away. On seeing her husband dead, the she buffalo jumped into the burning pyre of her husband Ramban. Out of the burning pyre came a male child with a buffalo face and was called Mahishasura (Mahisha - buffalo, asura - Rakshasa).
Karamban's daughter wants revenge
Mahishasura captured and ruled the three worlds and tortured the Devas. Unable to bear the torture, the Devas prayed to Parvati (consort of Lord Shiva). Parvati took the form of Chandi and killed Mahishasura in a battle. Hence, Parvathi is also known as Mahisasuramardhini (the slayer of Mahishasura). Mahishasura's father Ramban was born as Rakta Bhija in his next birth and was killed by Goddess Kali. Karamban's daughter Karambigai, on hearing the news of her brother Mahishasura's demise sought the advice of her Guru Shukrachari. According to his advice, Karambigai went to the forests in the Vindhya hill ranges and did penance to please Lord Brahma. Being pleased with Karambigai's devotion, Lord Brahma blessed Karambigai with a boon. Karambigai asked for the boon of Immortality, which was denied by Lord Brahma saying that every creature that is born must die someday. To this Karambigai, sought the boon of being killed only by a son born to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu and that at will buffalo's should emerge from every hair on her body. Lord Brahma granted Karambigai's wish. Karambigai was then called Mahishi (she-buffalo). Karambigai captured and ruled the three worlds and tortured the Devas.
Who is Mahishi and why was she born a rakshasi?
Once when Dattatreya (The trinity in the form of a Guru) was in deep contemplation his wife Leela approached him in lust and was cursed that she will be born as a Rakshasi (feminine gender of Rakshasa). Dattatreya's wife was born as Mahishi.
King Rajashekara and History of Pandalam
Around 980 AD, the ministers of the then Pandya kingdom (presently Madurai in Tamil Nadu, India) colluded together and brought about the fall of the Pandya kingdom. The royals then went into hiding and spread out all over Rameshwaram and other parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. One of the family members of the erstwhile Pandya kingdom bought property in and around Pandalam and adjoining regions and thus the Pandya kings came to rule Pandalam. By 1194 all the royals of the Pandya kingdom re-united at Pandalam under the leadership of King Rajashekara Pandian (King Palignan of Nepal reborn as King Rajashekara Pandian). King Rajashekara Pandian was an ardent devotee of Shiva and had no children.
Manikandan is found by King Rajashekara
Unable to bear the torture of Karambigai (Mahishi), the Devas sought refuge in Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva converted himself into a sage and Hariharaputra into a child and reached the banks of River Pampa. While Rajashekara Pandian was on a hunting expedition, he came near the banks of River Pampa. He heard the wail of a small child and reached the banks of Pampa. He saw a sage standing beside a child on the banks of the river. The sage instructed the king to take the child and bring him up as his own son. Since, the child had golden chain with a bell, the child was named Manikantan (Mani - Bell, Kantan - around the neck). Rajashekara Pandian was overjoyed and brought the child to his palace.
Birth of Prince Raja Raja
In the meanwhile, the queen gave birth to a boy child named Raja Raja. Manikantan was learning all the shastras from the Raja Guru of Pandalam. The Raja Guru of Pandalam had a male child who was dumb. Manikantan gave speech to the Guru's child in the form of offering to the Guru (Guru Dakshina).
Manikandan defeats Udayanan and Vavar
A man by the name Udayanan, was a constant threat to the Kingdom of Pandalam. Manikandan led the Pandalam army along with Periserry Pillai as the commander and defeated Udayanan. An arab named Vavar was living in the forests adjoining the kingdom of Pandalam as a Dacoit. Unable to bear the trouble posed by the dacoit, the citizens of the kingdom approached the King of Pandalam to seek help. Manikandan went to the forest and defeated Vavar. Vavar sought forgiveness and refuge. Manikandan forgave Vavar and both of them became good friends.
The Dewan attempts to get Manikandan killed
The Dewan had plans of usurping power since King Rajashekara pandian did not have a heir apparent till the arrival of Manikandan. Apprehensive, that the kingdom will now be handed over to the eldest male child (Manikandan), the dewan tried many ways to kill Manikandan. After all his attempts proved futile, he then poisoned the mind of the Queen. The Queen acted as if she had an incurable headache. The Royal Doctor (Vaidya) was called upon. The doctor as instructed by the Dewan informed the king that the milk of a tigress is required to cure this illness. Manikanta promised to get the milk and went into the forest.
Manikandan slays Mahishi
Lord Indira and the other devas met Manikanta in the forest and requested him to slay Mahishi. Manikanta engaged in a fight with Mahishi and slayed the rakshasi and helped her out of the curse of Dattatreya. The place where Mahishi got her salvation from the curse is today a pond called Bhasmakulam (the pond of ashes) behind the Sabari Malai temple.
Lord Indira took the form of a tiger and the other Devas became tigers and tigeresses and Manikanta started his journey back to the Kingdom of Pandalam.
Manikandan blesses Sabari
Enroute on a hill a lady named Sabari was doing penance to alleviate her curse of being an old lady. Sabari met Manikanta and offered fruits and woshipped Manikanta on the tiger by cicum-ambulating him 18 times. Manikanta granted enlightenment to Sabari and said that he will come back to this hill for penance and will have a temple with eighteen steps built for him and hence forth this hill will be called as Sabari Malai (the hill of Sabari, otherwise called the Neeli Malai) in her honour.
Manikandan reaches Pandalam
On reaching the Kingdom of Pandalam, the Dewan, the Queen, and the doctor realised who Manikantan was and sought his forgiveness. Manikantan told the King Rajashekara Pandian that having accomplished his mission on earth, it is time for him to leave to the forests. Manikantan asked the king to construct a temple in Neeli Malai (the original name of Sabari Malai).
Manikandan retires to the forest for penance
King Rajashekara Pandian under guidance from Vishwakarma (the architect for Lord Indira) got a temple constructed in Sabari Malai. With a view of persuading Manikanta to return to their abode at Tejovati, Hariharaputra's consort Pushkala is doing penance in Sabarimala as Malikaipuram. Dattatreya's wife overjoyed with having been alleviated from the curse is doing penance in Sabarimalai as Manjambikai. Manikanta is doing penance in Sabarimalai and is known as Dharma Saasta (the one who establishes Dharma - the path of righteousness) or Ayyappan.