Ayyavazhi is a Tamil monistic religion that originated in South India in the mid-19th century. The 'zhi' (??) in the word, 'Ayyavazhi', is a retroflex, ri.
Ayyavazhi functions autonomously. But since it was not recognised as a separate religion it was officially considered as an offshoot of Hinduism. Though it has not received official recognition, it has evolved into a distinctive religious phenomenon, making its presence felt in India's southern districts of Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli and Tuticorin. As one of the fastest growing religions of southern India, its rapid growth had been noted in the Christian missionary reports of the mid-19th century.
Ayyavazhi focuses on Ayya Vaikundar; according to Akilattirattu Ammanai, the holy book of the religion, he was the Manu avatar of Trimurthi. The ideas and philosophy of the religion is based on the teachings of Ayya Vaikundar and the religious texts Akilattirattu Ammanai and Arul Nool.
The religious phenomenon of Ayyavazhi made its presence felt primarily by a movement of people across the country, and their confluence around Ayya Vaikundar. A large number of people criss-crossing the country and their convergence around Vaikundar at Poovandanthoppe created an excitement in the country. The majority of those that participated in this religious phenomenon of Ayyavazhi were from marginalised and poor sections of society. It was a great challenge right from the beginning stage of the development of Ayyavazhi, for the Christian missionaries to their proselytising mission. It was evident from the reports of them. Though the vast majority of the people to gather around him was from Chanar cast (a social group), there are evidence that people of different castes crowded round. There seems to have been an intermingling between the people of different castes that gathered around him.
By the middle of Nineteenth century, Ayyavazhi had come to be a recognisable religious phenomenon, making its presence felt in South Travancore and South Tirunelveli. The growth of the phenomenon had increased significantly from the forties through the decades. After the time that Ayya was bodily present the religion was spread on the basis of the teachings of Vaikundar and the religious books Akilattirattu Ammanai and Arul Nool. The five Citars and their descendants visited several parts of the country and carried the mission as per the instructions of Vaikundar. Mean while the Payyan dynasty started administration of Swamithoppe pathi. While other Pathis came under the administration of the native followers of Ayya of that places. On the other hand hundreds of Nizhal Thangals arose across the country year by year. And Bala Prajapathi Adikalar was one of descendant of Payyan dynasty is a notable figure in the present day history of Ayyavazhi. He laid foundations for a large number of Nizhal Thangals across Tamil Nadu and in some parts of Kerala and Maharastra.
Adherents of Ayyavazhi believe in both reincarnation and the Dharma Yukam but condemn the caste system . They also reject the use of murti in worship, but Ayya Vaikundar recognized the human need for an image to focus on and introduced a non-anthropomorphic symbol
This practice is similar to that of other Hindu sects that use non-anthropomorphic symbols. Shaivism, for example, uses the linga as the symbol of God, while Vaishnavism uses the saligrama. Similarly, in Ayyavazhi, the Elunetru, which is placed in the Palliyarai, is considered a seat of God rather than God himself. The same is true of the Elunetru's alternative name, Asanam, which means "seat."
Ayyavazhi beliefs are closely related to those of Smartism and Advaita Vedanta. Hence, Ayyavazhi's followers believe that Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva are different aspects of the same God. While some claim that the beliefs of Akilattirattu are related to Dvaita and Vishishtadvaita, Ayyavazhi endorses the concept of Ultimate Oneness.
Followers of Ayyavazhi differ from other Hindus in that they recognize a Satan-like figure, Kroni, who is the primordial manifestation of evil and who manifests in various forms, (for example, Ravana and Duryodhana) in different ages or yugas. God, as Vishnu, becomes incarnate in his avatars, including Rama, Krishna and eventually Ayya Vaikundar, to destroy the foremost evil.
Kroni, the spirit of Kali Yuga, is said to be omnipresent in this age and this is one of the reasons why the followers of Ayyavazhi, like other Hindus, believe that the current yuga, Kali Yuga, is so decadent.
Charity is Ayyavazhi's main mission. One can see Anna Dharmam (offerings of food) in Ayyavazhi centers of worship at least once a month.
The theology of Ayyavazhi differs from other monistic religions. It speaks of Ekam, the ultimate Oneness from which all that which exists formed. It also speaks of a oneness that exists behind all differences. It speaks of Sivam and Sakthi and Three lesser God-heads, Sivan, Vethan and Thirumal. It also speaks of several lesser Gods. But in Kali Yukam, due to the cruel nature of the boons offered to Kaliyan, Thirumal cannot destroy the sixth fragment of Kroni directly so all God-heads were unified into the Ekam, and Ekam Incarnated in the world as Trinity (Ekam, Narayana and Human) to overcome the boons and to destroy Kali. Akilattirattu Ammanai also speaks of Dharma Yukam in which Vaikundar rules like a king. Since all were unified in Vaikundar, in Kali Yukam Vaikundar was the Supreme Power and he was the only worshipable God. So in this regard Ayyavazhi is also viewed as a monotheistic religion.