The History of Ayyavazhi traces the religious history of Ayyavazhi, a belief-system originated in the mid-19th century in Southern India. Ayyavazhi came to be noticed by the large number of people gathering to worship Ayya Vaikundar in the middle of the 19th century. The majority of the followers of Ayyavazhi were from marginalised and poor sections of society.
Right from the beginning of its development Ayyavazhi was seen in competition by the Christian missionaries on their mission. This is evident by the reports on Ayyavazhi presented by the Christian missionaries. Although the majority of the followers of Ayyavazhi were from the Chanar caste (a social group), people of other castes also crowded around Vaikundar. It was not usual at the time for people of different castes to intermingle.
By the middle of the 19th century, Ayyavazhi had come to be a recognisable religion, in South Travancore and South Tirunelveli. The growth of the religion increased significantly from the 1940s through the decades. Almost a century after Akilam was written down, it was released in printed form for the first time in 1933. The first printed form of Arul Nool came in 1927. While some others view that it released first in 1918. And then onwards Ayyavazhi is spread on the base of the teachings of Akilam rather than by oral tradition, which was active until then. Ayyavazhi's fast growth in its first century of existence was noted by Christian missionary reports of the mid-19th century. As per the reports from the headquarters, from the period of Indian Independence Ayyavazhi spreads quickly and furthermore from the 1990s.
When Ayya was alive he instructed the five Seedars with the rules and regulations. They were asked to preach them to the people. After he attained vaikundam, the disciples went to different parts of the country, preaching them to the people.
The participants of Thuvayal Thavasu who were called Thuvayal Pandarams were the primary missionaries of Ayyavazhi who went to different parts of the country carrying the Gospels of Vaikundar. Also their descendents too do so.
According to some oral traditions Vaikundar called the son of Thirumalammal affectionately as Payyan (little boy). No one but Payyan was allowed to perform the panivedai to Ayya whenever the Citar were away. He was allowed to offer the Nithiya Pal to Ayya during the Tavam. And after the period of Ayya, Payyan started administrating the Swamithoppe Pathi, in spite of the disputes with Vellaicchamiyar who claimed for the administration in the court, but the judgement was in favour of Payyan. Other Pathis came under the administration of the native followers of Ayya of that places. After the time of Payyan the descendants of him started the administration. The eldest of them was called Pattathu Ayya.
Pattathu Ayyas so far were,
Though the eldest of the Payyans now is Anantha kutty Nadar, due to unknown reasons he refused to accept the rank. So the next elder most, Bala Prajapathi Adikalar is considered as the present Pattathu Ayya.
The Nizhal Thangals are the worship centers of Ayyavazhi built by devout followers of Ayya. Some of them are believed to be built when Ayya was alive. Many of the Nizhal Thangals were not under the rules of Ayyavazhi scriptures. Hundreds of Thangals arose in different parts of the country. Some were run by single individuals and some other by Ayyavazhi organisations and independent trusts. But all were bonded under Swamithoppe only religiously by not officially. This rate of rise of Thangals even increased after the 1970s.
The growth of Ayyavazhi after the independence of India is significant especially in the northern districts of Tamil Nadu. Nizhal Thangals rose in hundreds throughout the state. Around the 1940s, the Lotus with Namam was announced as the Symbol of Ayyavazhi. Many Ayyavazhi based social welfare movements raised in the late 20th century. Alternative to the commonly accepted Palaramachandran version, many other versions of Akilam were released during the late 20th century including some controversial versions. 27 years after the release of Palaramachandran Version, the most controversial Sentratisai Ventraperumal version of Akilam was released in 1966, while Vaikundar Thirukkudumbam Version was released in 1989.
Bala Prajapathi Adikalar, the present Pattathu Ayya of Swamithoppe Pathi had a significant role in the later day developments of Ayyavazhi. He has been awarded communal harmony award in the year 2003. From 1975 the Masi Procession (The Vaikunda Avatara Orvalam) was held and today it was one among the largest religious processions in Tamil Nadu. People from almost all the districts of Tamil Nadu and from some parts of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra participate in this procession. A few years later the Thiruvananthapuram procession and the Thiruchendur Procession were also held. From 1994 onwards The Vaikunda Avataram was declared as a holiday for the district of Kanyakumari. From the year 2006 Ayya Vaikunda Avataram was declared as a Holiday for the districts of Tirunelveli and Tuticorin.
Also Ayyavazhi and its leaders played an important role in resolving the religious tensions during the Mondaicaud dispute. In 1993 a democratic body, Anbukkodimakkal Thirucchabai was formed by the headquarters to organise Ayyavazhi and its followers. Currently, Bala Prajapathi Adikalar, one of descendant of Payyan dynasty is considered as the leader of Ayyavazhi, though some organisations oppose his lead. He has laid foundations for a large number of Nizhal Thangals throughout South India.
Many conferences have been organized across the country. The first conference was held at Marthandam for three days on a date that is unknown. Later, conducted at Valliyoor, Chennai, Arumuganeri, Nagercoil, Thiruvananthapuram and almost at all the taluk headquarters of Kanyakumari District. The Payyans as well as experts deliver lectures on the tenets of Ayyavazhi at the conferences. Thiru Edu-Vasippu is also conducted.