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Pilgrimage to Sabarima (Dr.A.Sreekumar Menon)

Published on 30 November, 2014
Pilgrimage to Sabarima (Dr.A.Sreekumar Menon)
The temple at Sabarimala dedicated to Lord Ayyappan, also known as Manikandan nestles on the banks of holy Pampa river.It was here the tribal women did penance on Lord Rama and attained liberation from clutches of mundane life and attained enlightenment, when she touched Lord Srirama’s lotus feet during Trethayuga. Hence this place came to be known as Sabarimala. Mala in Malayalam language means mountain .It is surrounded by 18 hills, each hill is having a Presiding deity. It is covered with thick forests and wild life in the district of Pathanamthitta, in Kerala state. It is situated on the Western Ghats or Sahyadri group of mountains. The ethereal beauty and serenity of the place are to be experienced rather than described. When one passes through the forests and hills and banks of Pampa River, one literally becomes part of the nature or grand design of cosmos. It is an enthralling experience compared to our hectic life in modern monstrous cities. We feel time is at stands still. It is one of few very famous pilgrimage centers in India.  The place was known by two other names viz. Matanga mala and ulkapottu. The saint Matanga did penance there. Ulka means place and Pottu means dazzling light or efflugence, that is place of light of divinity . 

Lakhs of devotees visit temple every year during festive seasons .Every year number of pilgrims both from Kerala , other states and even from other countries, where Indians especially Keralities   live  far exceeds  figure in the  previous years. The   record number is 40 lakhs. In South India, this temple having second largest in terms of number of pilgrims visiting and   income, first being Shri Venkiteswara temple at Thirupathi in Andhra Pradesh. Temple contributes rupees 100 crores or more to state exchequer. There are many routines to Sabarimala. The two generally taken routes are 1. Via Pampa and another one via chalakayam leading to Sannidhanam or abode of Lord Ayyappan or also called Poongavanam, meaning forest with full of flowers. In the Erumeli route which is the generally prescribed, one has to trek hills 40 miles by foot. It is arduous journey.  One has to take this route to be benefitted fully. In the Chalakayam route, one can reach   banks of Pampa River by vehicular traffic and has to trek only 4 miles to reach the sanctum sanctorum .Normally one takes Erumeli route on the onward journey and returns via chalakayam route.

The main festival seasons are worship during Mandalamasam which is between 1st Vrichikam or Malayalam month or16th or 17th Nov and 12th Dhanu, Malayalam month or 21st Dec and Makaravilaku which falls on 14 th Jan.The temple is kept open for dharshan or public view and worship on those two occasions and on Vishnu day or 1st Malayalam year Chingam and 1st five days of every month. However Mandalapuja and Makaravilakku are two main festive seasons when most of the devotees visit the temple.  This year Mandalamaasum, astrologically auspices period called ‘Punyakaalam’ in Malayalam started on 16th of this month and last. On the 41 st day after the commencement of Mandalamaasum, that is on 26th of this month is the grand Mandalapooja to be performed in Sabarimala shrine. One cannot visit Sabarimala temple like visiting other temples, particularly, if one follows age old traditions.

Prior to visiting the temple, one has to take ‘vratham’ or observe certain austerities for 41 days. Vratham is a Sanskrit term meaning leading life following moral principles and leading a life of ‘Brhmacharya’ or celibacy or controlling passions and leading life controlled by human ideals .    Austerities mean that the pilgrim follows certain codes of conduct and lead pious life. He should keep both body and mind pure. .There is a ceremony which marks the day of beginning of austerities called ‘Malayidal or Mudra dharikkal’ as it is called in Malayalam language. It means wearing Rosary made of either Rudraksha or Thulasi beads. Rosary is a spiritual symbol. By wearing Rosary, the devotee takes vow to practice righteous way of living . In other words, it reminds or the devotee should be reminded to lead frugal and righteous life. On a particular day, the pilgrim goes to a  temple  in the neighborhood, along with the leader who is called   ‘Guruswamy’ .Guruswamy collects the  Rosary , after it is kept before the deity during  ritualistic worship and puts it on to Pilgrim’s neck. Guruswamy is the senior person , who would have  visited Sabarimala  many times and  would well versed with the place  and the religious rituals . The pilgrim who goes for the first time is called as ‘kanni Ayyappan ‘. He respects Guruswamy and follows his directions during the period of austerities and accompanies him to Sabarimala. He also respects his parents and elders.  He prostrates begore Guruswamy, parents and elders before he starts his journey.  The devotees are expected to develop this trait of being respectful towards elders and thus be humble as a part of their character.   Guruswamy is a trainer of the devotee in his spiritual development. Guruswamy should live up to, the ideals, which he is expected to pass on to his disciple.        Guruswamy is responsible to ensure safe journey of the pilgrim. He is believed to have received the blessings of Lord Ayyappan.  He follows strict discipline in his life .The devotee should lead a simple, unostentatious and pious life. He should speak truth. He should practice control of his body and mind and keep them pure. He wears mundu or dhoti and upper garment in black color, which is typical Kerala dress, except in color. Mundu is cotton clothe of 4 yards. He wraps up around his waist and the chest is covered with upper garment which again is a sheet of cotton .Only two pairs of dresses are used. He takes bath twice a day early morning and late evening. At the time of bath, he washes his clothes and put them for drying, while wearing the other pair. The idea is to practice simple life style and learn to be self-reliant rather than depending upon others to meet one’s personal needs..He does not use any toilet items, hair oil, face creams, hair dye  etc. He puts mark on their forehead with vermillion or sandal paste or p holy ash, as reminder of surrender to Almighty. He does not shave tface nor cut hair, once he takes Vratha. In other words he allows beard and hair to grow from the day he starts Vratham. The idea behind is not to be obsessed with physical appearance. In Hindu culture, growing beard and hair is indications of developing ‘vyragya’ or detachment to worldly comforts and pleasures. It is the practice followed by great saints from ancient times. However they are kept neat and clean. Once he starts vratha, he is addressed as ‘Swami’ means Lord and respected, irrespective of his caste, social or economic background. The pilgrims to Sabarimala are considered as Gods themselves or divinity is attributed to them. When there was restriction for temple entry for the so-called low castes, there was no such restriction in Sabarimala. That is the unique distinction and beauty of Sabarimala shrine.   There is no discrimination among the pilgrims, between rich and poor and between low and high castes. All are seen as equal. This happens in a society still stratified based on such criteria and untouchability is practiced, if not publically but in private. For instance member of a high cast will not admit a member of low caste to his house, let alone a high caste marrying a low caste .similarly rich people do not respect poor as they respect rich. As practice of untouchability is an offence in the eyes of Law, it is not practiced publically. In the case of Sabarimala pilgrims, we find difference. In this case, no such reservation is shown. Rich people mix with poor people, so also high caste people mix with low caste people. They share food together .Not only that pilgrims are also given respect, irrespective of their caste differences.

Even  most orthodox Hindus such as those belonging to  caste of Brahmins will not only admit people of low caste in their houses , when they are pilgrims to Sabarimala , but would also serve them with due respect .Such change in attitude is remarkable .Thus  faith in Lord Ayyappan promotes absolute social equality and communal harmony .It is doubtful whether there is any other religious or spiritual movements which bring out  such dramatic societal effect .Today  the venomous caste, class and creed feelings  influence every walk of life, personal, family ,social and political  to the extent that  they  cause communal tension and violence. Pilgrimage to Sabarimala as a force for promoting social equality should be highlighted to have its lasting effect. Now what happens is that those who stop  social discrimination  during the period of pilgrimage  revert to their old behavior of caste discrimination , once they complete their pilgrimage .No attempt is made to make  change in their habits permanent .It is to be driven home to the minds of people that they derive the intended benefit from the pilgrimage only if they continue to  behave with all people as equal, irrespective of distinctions of caste or creed  and continue practicing good  habits practiced during pilgrimage to Sabarimala .  Hindu religion generally prohibits non-vegetarian diet, based on the principle of non-violence. There are people who avoid eating meat during some periods, considered holy. This they are adopting for their personal convenience and based on wrong understanding. If they are truly God- fearing persons would either stick to vegetarianism or  stop  the habit of non-vegetarianism, once they are aware of moral values . Similarly, they should practice all the good habits, practiced during the period of pilgrimage, even after its completion. In other words they should change their life for the better .Refinement of character and conduct of men is expected from undertaking Sabarimala pilgrimage .The dress originally recommended is black. The reasons are many .By black dress one can distinguish oneself from others  easily .The pilgrims are expected to maintain cleanliness of the body  by not coming in contact with others who do not keep themselves clean . Others keep away from the pilgrims so as not to pollute them. In Hinduism, black color is considered holy .It   does not stand for darkness or sorrow. It stands for expansive nature of ultimate reality or supreme power, we call God. Black colored clothes keep pilgrim’s bodies warm compared to other colors, while they trek day and night exposed to cold weather. The wild animals cannot easily spot them out in the thick forest and thus it provides them with safety .Of late this stipulation is not followed strictly. We find people wearing dhotis of blue and saffron color. Saffron color which is also called as the color of fire/flame which symbolizes burning of our desires and their companions of evil tendencies is indicative of detachment from worldly comforts.  Mendicants wear such dress called ‘kaashaya vastra’ called in Sanskrit .such dress code announces that the person is not bound by worldly comforts and karmayogi  and it is a reminder to him also to lead that kind of life amidst pressures of materialistic life . It reminds the person to   guard against human weakness of being drawn to outside influences. .  Common man is preoccupied with his appearance and addicted to many other things of the outside world. For a Mendicant , the needs are limited .He  is fully engaged in whatever he does without the sense of doer- ship and   does it as discharging his duty , with no desire for the fruit of his actions . Altruism and service- mindedness are the   forces which drive him to action .He has nothing to gain personally. He thinks that some greater force is working through him and he is only an instrument or he is obedient servant, following the directions from Almighty.

Some people wear their usual dress and just put a small shawl of black color on their chest more as as an apology for the practice.   The pilgrims are expected to lead an ordinary life without  indulging in comforts and luxuries  and the dress code is one aspect .The purpose of the dress code  is to check  our  tendency  to show off  and make us frugal or thrifty in our habits and life style .It makes us true to ourselves or it makes us to be in our true nature or being .The discipline pilgrims follow during the period of austerities is expected to bring in moderation in all aspects of their lives, subsequent to undertaking pilgrimage . A pilgrim should never rest content unless he achieves this. Pilgrim who is content with external sources of joy that emanate from the trip to Sabarimala is like going to sea shore , and feeling content  when he obtains shells from the sea shore rather than getting pearls by diving in the sea. He is fully benefitted by going to the sea only when he gets pearls from the bottom of the sea.

The pilgrim practices good habits. He refrains from smoking, drinking, taking drugs, gabling etc. He practices brahmacharya or  celibacy or  not being under the influence of lust or abstaining from libidinal satisfaction  even with one’s spouse  It is an acid   test of self-control , controlling the most powerful passion and sublimating  it for  other higher  goals .He does not overeat  ,eats only one main  meal a day supplemented by light refreshments at other times . It is known scientifically that moderate food habits are prerequisites for physical health, agility and wellbeing. The ill- health which obesity causes and the ill effects of the excessive intake of food rich in oil, sugar and salt are well known to us. The pilgrims mind will not be preoccupied with day to day or mundane matters. He does not spend time in amusements and entertainments .He engages himself in pious activities like singing devotional songs, worship, servicing the needy etc.  He loves every one and never thinks ill of any one He does only good to all. He does not do wrong to anyone. He does not indulge in any unethical or immoral activities. He controls his temper. He keeps calm, cool and composed both in joys and sorrows, pleasures and pains, gains and losses, victory and defeat. He is kind, humble and compassionate. He is not haughty or egoistic. He checks his selfishness or the feelings of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ and the habit of enjoying himself at other’s cost . He   feels neither proud nor elated, when others treat him as swami or Lord and show reverence to him. . In short he leads a’ satvik’ or righteous life or life of values or human ideals  or  life  worthy of being  human .Practice of austerities help him to  develop control over his senses ,cravings and impulses which prompt him in choosing wrong ways in life . Control  or mastery over ourselves is a prerequisite for gaining divine blessings and  Godly experience  as per our ancient philosophical texts like Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas , Ithihasas  and so on .The Mahavakyas or great sayings  like Aham Brahmasmi  given in Brihadaranyakopanishad ,Thatwamasi  given in Chandokyopanishad  and Aham Athmabrahma given in Madyookyopanishad all  proclaim unequivocally  that divinity is present everywhere and in everything . In other words there is divinity in all of us. We are not aware of the God within us. We see only our physical body and our   mind to an extent. There is something beyond body and mind,   we know as the’ life force’, the nature of which eludes to common men like us.  It is the    manifestation of the very cosmic force like the reflections of sun   on different media, which is imperishable. We can realize this supreme realty, power and consciousness, only when we are not under the dictates of outside world and our mind  which is like the mind of a mad monkey , stung by a scorpion, fickle and ever fluctuating  and which runs after transient glitters of the world  is under our control.

Lord Ayyappan is considered as warrior God or God of velour. He fights against   enemies and other evil doers, defends righteousness and establishes virtuous conduct in the present age of Kaliyuga, when the people are vulnerable to commit immoral /unethical acts and indulge in violence.  Thus he is called by a special name ‘Kaliyuga varada’, meaning protector against evil influences of Kaliyuga .He  is also called as ‘villali veera’   meaning master archer or expert in the use of weapons. . He was through in martial arts , ancient way of defence  against aggressors .The weapons  available for defence in ancient period were  those like bow and arrow, spear, mace ,axe, chakras or wheels like Sudharshana chakra of Lord Vishnu and  Lord Krishna  and so on, which  are perhaps   more powerful than the present day weapons .The power of those weapons depended on the power of the people who handled them . They were infused with divine power .They were used for defending the righteous cause. The wars fought during epic period was for righteous cause, unlike we find today when the power of armament is used for cowing down weak nations and exploiting their resources by powerful nations. In other words   most often , the action is offensive and not defensive , although  it  is claimed as defensive act  or to protect a country’s interest  against its enemy .Another thing  to be noted  is that war is declared only when every form of diplomacy fails.. For example, Lord Krishna, as Ambassador prevailed upon Kouravas    for minimum say just a village out of what Pandavas were entitled to and tried his level best to avoid war. War was fought only when Kouravas refused to give to Pandavas   even an inch of land. We can even say that that the kurushetra war was fought not to capture the  kindgdom and reclaim Padava’s entitlement , it was fought to root out arrogance, and  atrocities committed by Kouravas on the people and to establish  a just rule. Similarly , Lord Srirama fought war  against Ravana not to invade Lanka, in other words not with imperialistic motive or motive for expansion of one’s territory ,but   to rescue  Sita and also to put an end to Ravana who was an personification  of  evil qualities and his misrule . Kidnapping  a women is the  rarest of the rare crime, even today .In other words  , the  motive was  not to   establish  supremacy over another country . Today we find war is waged to establish one’s dominance over the country against which war is waged, though it is done under the guise of liberating people from the autocratic or dictatorial rule. Another thing to be noted is that in ancient times some rules were followed even for waging the war. Fighting stops after the sunset .No unarmed persons and those defenseless people like women, children and disabled are harmed. Fighting starts when day breaks with due warning with the blowing of conch and stops when sun sets, to begin only next day. No trickery was also used and if used the act was condemned. We know  it affected  Lord Rama’s reputation  , when  he killed Vali , the monkey king of Kishkinda, by hiding from his sight and shooting him with an arrow, as reported in the epic Ramayana   .In modern day warfare ,no such moral rules are followed .The dictum  is everything is justified in war and peace . we who admire ourselves as  civilized , modern and claim to be progressive in our thinking should go back to thousands of years and  learn from our ancestors , who could have never imagined the availability of the  kind of modern gadgets we have like computers , laptops, rockets , atomic war heads and what not

Legend or Mythology

There is an interesting legend behind Lord Ayyappan. Lord Ayyappan is believed to be incarnation of Dharma Sastha, a Vedic God. Dharma Sastha is the son of Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu, who took the form of   an enchanting women called Mohini for   the following divine purpose. Both Gods and Demons were losing their immortality. To regain their immortality, they had to get  ‘Amrit’ or nectar. One who drinks nectar becomes immortal or ever living. Suras or Gods on one side and Asuras or Demons on the other held Anantha snake as rope tied around Mount Meru and churned the palaazi or ocean of milk . This is called as ‘Palaazi Madanam’ in Sanskrit. On churning, they got pot of Amrit or Amrit kalasam .  Of Demons Basmasura caught hold of pot of Amrit. Basmasura  had got the boon from his penance that no one could kill him and that he would turn into ashes and meet with his death, only if his forehead is touched. Gods being frantic hatched a plan .It was not possible to fetch pot of Amrit from Basmasura by  fighting  with him and defeating him . so alternatively Gods  made a plan to trap  or trick Basmasura  and get hold of Amrit . Vishnu, the supreme lord and the creator of the universe assumed the form of an enchanting lady called Mohini. Basmasura was enchanted by Mohini and wanted to dance with  her. . Mohini told him that she would be willing, if he could dance with him matching her steps exactly. He agreed. Both of them started dancing together . All on a sudden Mohini got into a pose, in which she touched her forehead with her palm. Basamsura not remembering that he would  be reduced to ashes ,if he touched his forehead , got into the pose himself touching his forehead with his palm . The moment he touched his forehead, he was reduced to ashes. Thus he was killed and Mohini took hold of the pot of nectar and distributed among the   heavenly beings . . It is said that Mahavishnu assumed the form of Mohini to score victory over Demons by beguiling them. When Mohini narrated the story to Lord Siva, Lord Siva wanted to see Mohini’s form. On seeing the charm, he fell in love   Siva became romatic and had union with her.  A son with combined strength of Siva and Vishnu was born. He was Dharmasasta .He was given birth particularly to fight against evils and establish dharma or order in the society  in Kaliyuga or the period of anarchy. There is another angle also to this story or birth of Dharmasastha .He was given birth to destroy Demons and protect the kingdom of heaven. Goddess Durga had killed Mahishasura, a demon who attained great strength, misused it to harass every one both in the earth and heaven  Sister of Mahishasura by name  Mahishi wanted to take revenge against Gods for killing her brother Mahishasura . She had got the boon from Brahma , the creator of universe that no one could take away her life , except the one  born  out  of Lord Siva and Lord Mahavishnu . In other words no one, born by normal biological process, meaning union of male and female can kill him. Such boon was sought thinking that such a birth of a child would be impossible and thus assuring absolute safety .But God’s power is much higher and incomprehensible.  So it is said that Dharma Sastha was born by the union of Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu, both being male, from the thigh of Mohini . It was not through normal biological process of conception, nurturance in the womb and delivery .Thus the birth of Dharmasastha had different divine purpose to fulfill.

There is a legend regarding the human form which Dharmasastha took as Ayyappan on earth in service of the King of Pandalam.  Pandya dynasty was ruling certain parts of south India. The descendants of Pandya dynasty lived scattered in places like valliyur, Tenkasi, Shenkkotai, Achankoil, Sivagiri and parts of Travancore .They belonged to Chempazhanattu kovil in Sivagiri. The King of Travancore belonging to Venaad kindom , had given the right to them to rule Pandalam, a place in Kerala in the present quilon or kollam District. There was a descendant of this dynasty by name King Rajashekharan who lived 800 years ago. It is said that he was a poor Brahmin and a staunch devotee of Lord Siva during his previous birth. He was very competent and just ruler.  King Rajashekharan had no sons to inherit his kingdom when time was approaching for succession .and to defend his kingdom after him and he was very much upset. He and his consort who was also devotee of Lord Siva prayed for a child. Lord Siva moved by the devotion of Rajashekharan, wanted to be of service to him. So he ordered his son Dharmasastha to go to earth incarnating as Ayyappan or Manikandan. Dharmasastha took the form of a small child and was seen as lying on the banks of river Pampa, screaming. He was wearing a golden bell in on his neck. He was shining with a divine hallow.

King Rajashekharan, while returning from forest from his hunting expedition, heard the shrill cries of a child. He went round the banks of Pampa River and was surprised to see a child of extraordinary charm. while he was in double mind whether to take him to his palace or not, a saint appeared and told him that the child belonged to kshatriya family or family of warriors whose traditional duty is to defend the country and its people, that he need not hesitate to take him to his palace, that he would protect him and his kindom,that he would reveal his divine power when he reaches 12 years old  and that he would name him as ‘Manikandan’ meaning one wearing a bell on the neck . Accordingly, the king took the child to  his place.  When he appraised his queen about the incident, she too was very happy for having a son to succeed him .They brought him up showering on him all affection and care. He completed his education and training in Sastras and martial arts under the tender tutelage of an expert Guru .His Guru was wonderstruck seeing the extraordinary brilliance displayed by Manikandan. After finishing his education, he wanted to give Guru Dashina or payment to be made to Guru for the instructions he received from him.  Only if the student pays it, his education becomes complete. He is morally obliged to pay whatever teacher asks. His teacher, knowing his divine powers told him that he already knew his divine nature and felt blessed to have a student like him. He had only one small request to make and that was that his only son who was born dumb should be given the ability to speak.  .Manikandan called the boy and placed his hand on his head. .  No sooner did he do this, than he started talking. In modern terminology, it is called ‘miracle cure’. Teacher‘s joy knew no bounds. Manikandan appealed to his teacher not to reveal that incident to anyone.  This shows that those who are really great seeks no publicity,  in fact they  shun publicity. Noble people  are not for name, fame , power , position, applause etc which are short lived .In the old wisdom it s said that what our right hand does , our left hand should not know about it .  .In other words  if our right hand is helping others, our left hand should not know about it . Ordinarily, we tom-tom even our small achievement s or the small help we extend .A really service-minded person serves the needy silently. Without expecting anything in return by the way of name, fame, return help etc .He sees that it is by divine grace that he got opportunity to help the needy. It is through helping others with no motive for any personal gain; one weakens one’s bondage to earthly life and is eligible for liberation. Buddhists believe that one can attain liberation while on this earth. Those who attained liberation as called ‘Mumukshus’. It is believed that they after their death come back to earth to serve the needy .The liberated souls enjoy eternal and absolute joy.

Manikandan returned to Palace. King, queen and his subjects were ready to enthrone  him. Mean while King’s Diwan who was evil minded and greedy   had an eye for the throne. He found Manikandan as an obstacle to fulfilling his desire and wanted to kill him. He tried by various ways including poisoning his food .But Manikandan survived those attempts. Although he suffered bodily injuries. It is said no physician could heal those injuries. Lord Siva had to appear as Physician in human form to heal his injuries. From this we should understand we may suffer, if we are destined to due to some past deeds , but  it’s severity could be less and it could be bearable ,if we  are blessed with God’s grace on account of deeds of virtues  and or  God may give us the mental strength to bear the sufferings . Joy and sufferings are like two sides of a coin. They alternate in our mundane life .Unmixed joy in material life is a utopian dream. So we should not ask God to give us a life free from sufferings, but to offer us strength and forbearance to withstand the thick and thins of life.

  The Diwan devised another plot   to get Manikandan  killed .  Meanwhile, the king and the queen had a son of their own.  .Dewan influenced the queen by evoking her sentiments towards her son. Diwan told the queen that she should not allow Mankandan to succeed the king and, that their son was the legitimate heir to the throne. He also added that even according to sacred texts of justice, there was no harm in adopting foul means to achieve rightful goals. He  told her further that  she should pretend as if she was suffering from  excruciating head ache and stomach pain  , that he  would see that the physician, he  would bring  to the court would prescribe Tigress milk to cure her illness, that only Manikandan  alone would  volunteer to go to the  forest and that he would be prey to wild animals. He added that the king would not consider him as eligible for the crown, if he fails to bring Tigress milk. The queen pretended and as instructed by Dewan cried out aloud complaining   unbearable headache and stomach pain. 

This episode shows  that  any time our evil instincts can come up and if aroused ,it may  have damaging effects . When we are in the bad company , the chances are  that we get spoiled , even if we are  perfect, unless our  character is deeply rooted in values . in such case we may reform  the persons with vices , when  they are in our company . Queen was all out to enthrone Manikandan till Diwan misguided her. But due to her inherent virtues , she relized her folly and welcomed the idea of Manikandan  being enthroned .

 The best physician whom the Diwan brought to the court as ordered by the king was hand in glove with the Diwan in his plot .He told what Diwan wanted him to tell that the queen was suffering from a serious disease and prescribed only Tigress milk as a remedy . Hearing this, the king and his subjects were shocked. as it  was not easy  to get tigress milk . King due to his blind attachment to his queen was ready to sacrifice anything. He offered half of his kingdom to the person who would bring Tigress milk. But no one came forward. There was no one there who thought he could risk his life. though the offer was lucrative. The queen was misguided by her minister. She was parochial in her attitude .She wanted her own son to be crowned, although they got Manikandan first. She was after fame, name and affluence.

This episode makes clear the following point. When our mind is clouded by selfish desires, we cannot be objective and may act in a wrong way We may develop prejudice and work against those whom we mistake to be our adversaries or competitors .We may not act according to ‘dharma’ or righteousness. We should caution against the working of selfishness in us .Even when a person does something wrong to us , we should not neither react to him violently, nor hate him nor brand him as our enemy and be revengeful . We should understand that most often it is due to the spur of the moment that a person loses his control or commits some misdeeds . Provocation without counter-provocation   turns harmless.

  The readiness on the part of the king to offer anything to save the life of treacherous queen means the following. Our slavish attachment and blind love for anything will upset our mental balance. We may lose in touch with the reality and may act in such a way being unaware of possible disastrous consequences of our actions. We may act on the spur of the moment without giving due thought .Our ‘Vivekajnana’ or discriminatory intellect may not work .The lesson we should learn is that we should not be too much attached to anything. Everything in the world including physical beauty passes off like smoke in the air leaving no trace behind.  There is nothing in this world that is not subjected to vagaries of time or permanent. Anything that is created or integrated should inevitably pass through sustenance, growth and nurturance and finally decay disintegration and disappearance. It is also an example of the human tendency to  unwise use of resources .Wealth symbolic of Goddess Lakshmi  as per Hindu wisdom should be put to proper  or constructive use .Moderation, austerity, frugality are the off repeated words used in handling money and other things of economic value .

  Hardly any one came forward though the offer was lucrative, as it involved high personal risk to life. Manikandan being duty bound came forward. King did not want to send him, as he would be enthroned shortly. Manikandan knowing fully well that the king would not permit him, instead of asking permission directly, tricked him. He asked whether the king would grant him whatever he asked. King out of love towards Manikandan promised that he would. Then Manikandan immediately asked him that he should allow him to go to the forest for Tigress milk

  Manikandan thus showed to the world the duty of children to their parents.  Even foster parents or parents who adopted him, by being a role model himself. .As King could not break his promise he nodded his head signaling permission, though he was caught in grief. This was how Dasaratha felt when he had to send his son Srirama to the forest to keep his word to his wife Kaikeyi, who also tricked him to grant her the boons given to her. Similarly  the emperor  Mahabali who ruled over  Kerala kept up his word  that he would grant  land to Vamana which he could measure  with his 3 strides of feet , though his Guru Sukracharya warned him  that  it would turn harmful to him , if acted as per his promises  , he did not heed to his words  and allowed Vamana to place his third foot on his forehead , by which he was pushed down to netherworld and lost his earthly kingdom . Here it shows that the great people honor their words, no matter what the consequences could be. They never go back in their words, even if it amounts to sacrifice of their lives.

The King then ordered to send with him a troop of soldiers. Manikandan told the King not to send the troop. He said that the Tigers would be scared and would run away seeing the army of men. Ultimately Manikandan was permitted to go alone. He carried food and other items packed in what is called  ‘Irumudi, a long bag having two compartments  tied  in the middle , on his head  Pilgrims  carry Irumudi  , packing the things for the worship of Ayyappan  in the front portion and  packing  the bearest minimum of things required   for preparing food on the way  in the back portion of the bag, on their head  , as Lord Ayyappan was carrying , when he went to forest. In the forest during two or three days of trekking ,nothing would be available  and one has to carry   by himself  .This also signals  frugality or minimizing one’s wants and depending on  oneself for one’s requirements or self-sufficiency which are good habits to be cultivated for a happy life .

People saw him off with prayers for his safe return with tigress milk. Lord Siva is said to have sent with Manikandan all the’ bhuthaganas’ or heavenly beings for his protection in his sojourn through the forest. On his way Manikandan came to know the atrocities being committed by Mahishi, Sister of Demon Mahisha or Mahishasura, who terrorized Gods and whom Durga, Goddess of Sakthi or energy had killed. In the heaven Mahishi was taking revenge against Gods for killing her brother Mahishasura. Mahishi had obtained a boon from Lord Brahma that no one other than the son born out of Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu could kill her. She felt that a son born out of Siva and Vishnu was impossible; as both were males .So she was sure of her immortality. But strange is the action of divine.  A son was born to Vishnu in the guise of Mohini and again from her thighs who were Manikandan.So one of the missions for which Lord Ayyappan was born was to exterminate Mahishi and other demons who terrorized Gods and distracted the penance of mendicants, fearing that they might acquire powers to destroy them.

 Manikandan went to heaven, kingdom of God and fought with Mahishi .He threw Mahishi down to earth. She fell on the banks of Azutha river in Sabarimala .Manikandan chased her and at the river bank, he overpowered her, climbed over her chest and started dancing violently .The impact of his dance was felt on earth and heaven. . Mahishi knew that her end was nearing and that the person dancing on her was no other than Lord Ayyappan, son of Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu, in the guise of Mohini. So before falling dead, she prostrated before Manikandan and died. It is said that Lord Siva and Mahavishnu watched the dance from a place which is now called as Kalahasti. Where there is a temple dedicated to Lord Siva, existing even today. No sooner did she fall on the ground, than a beautiful women rose up in her place. In fact Mahishi was   actually a women by name Leela, an adopted daughter of a saint by name Kavalan  .Due to her curse by her husband , he was born as the daughter of Karamban  in the family of Demons with the face of Mahishi or she buffalo. She was freed from curse when she died in the hands of Lord Ayyappan and regained her original form. This shows  when evil tendencies are wiped out , righteousness which is the very nature of beings  regains .This episode shows that  we may take birth in different forms in different lives depending upon our past deeds .If we do good deeds we  may take birth as righteous and peace loving people . If we do wrong, we may take birth as wicked persons and even in the form of creatures. Souls pass through different life forms some times as animals, some times as birds depending upon our prarabdakarma  or past deeds or samskaras  till  they merge with the universal soul and attain eternity . This is the theory of transmigration and law of Karma, which is a central theme in Hindu philosophy. The weight of evil deeds of the past can be made lighter by performing good deeds in the present life and the merits of the present life can be stored for the future. This theory encourages not grieve about the dead past and to improve the lot by current deeds of nobility. Thus it urges us to tread the path of virtues.

 Leela wanted Ayyappan to marry her .Ayyappan, being divine did not reject her request out right. At the same he wanted to stay as Brahmachari or one who practices celibacy. He found out a novel way. He promised her that he would wed her, at a time when there was no ‘kanni Ayyappan or devotee visiting first time Sabarimala. In other words he promised her that he would accept her as his consort, at a time when there is no one visiting Sabarimala say for the first time.  He also told that she would be seated next to him.  She is known as Malikapurathamma ,assumed to be manifestation  of ‘sakthi’or feminine power , which has manifested in other forms like Lakshmi, Saraswathi,Durga  and other 1000 forms depending upon the context  , seated next to him in Sabarimala temple . From time immemorial till today there was not a time when there were no first time pilgrims. On the contrary every year the number of first time pilgrims exceeded those in the previous years, with the result Lord Ayyappan stays as Brahmachari and Malikapurathamma as Brahmacharini. There is no other Gods in Hinduism like Ayyappan practicing ‘nithya brahmacharya or eternal celibacy or remaining as bachelor or single. It gives a strong message  that one’s ability to control the strongest of all the impulses is the index of absolute  control on self or on all other  human activities and  the sublimation of that strongest impulses or  directing it through other  creative channels can  bring about tremendous  amount of personal power and outflow of creative energy . The saints because of their power of life of celibacy can achieve anything they wish.  It has been recorded that the ancient sages could walk on the water, move on the air, leave their bodies temporally, materialize things from the air, read the past and future , cure the incurable diseases   and others which we call   as miracles.

 Lord Ayyappan has given a place to Malikapurathamma by his side. Pilgrims who go to Sabarimala also worship Malikapurathamma   , so also Kaduthaswamy and his Muslim warrior Vavarswamy who were his lieutenants serving in the army of kingdom of Pandalam of which Lord Ayyappan was commander-in-chief. . Here is an example of how novel are the ways of God .For a gentleman, it is not good manners to reject any request out right making the other person aggrieved. It is said that even if say ‘no’, it should be told sweetly or not hurting the feelings of others .Only a person who is not selfish can do that.  It is worthy to note that Lord Ayyappan took human form to serve King Rajasekharan   for protecting his kingdom, pleased by the devotion of the king to Lord Siva in his previous birth and continued in his present birth. This shows that God serves his devotees even in humblest ways .There is reference in the epics that Lord Krishna enjoyed eating banana peel when his devotee   engrossed in the joy of seeing him, gave the skin of the banana, throwing away the edible portion. so also it I said that Lord Krishna  enjoyed  eating  ‘Avil or’ pounded rice which  also contained pebbles  offered by his  boyhood bosom  friend called Sudhama or Kuchela  who was very poor and  made  him wealthiest of the wealthy, without Kuchela asking him any favour . This demonstrates that God knows better what we want and we need not tell him. What all happens to us are his plans. We may ask for some petty things, when God has plan to give us some great things. Our act is similar to our going to the sea shore and collecting some pebbles, when we can actually collect pearls .There is also a story that Lord Krishna carried the sandals of his devotee Meerabai on one occasion. This shows that God serves his devotees in ways unimaginable to us. All these examples show that we should be humble and prepared to do any work without the feeling whether it is noble or mean. We have heard that Gandhiji used to clean public latrines. We have heard that mother Theresa cleaned the wounds of leprosy patients and Amritanandamayee or popularly known as’ Amma’ who is living saint, called hugging saint of India is said to have hugged a leprosy patient  with whom we would like to  avoid contact and cleaned his open wounds and by her divine touch , the disease was cured. It is remarkable to see the unfathomable compassion shown by great souls towards the needy and the succor and help they provide, simply as a matter of their duty.   We have to learn moral lesions from such great souls. We should shun what is called ‘white collar –orientation’ and should soil our hands and be ready to do any kind of useful work. No distinction should be made between work as high or low in status. Every type of work is important. Even crows and dogs which we consider lowest creatures, for example, carry out scavenging work and keep the environment clean and hygienic. It is not what help we can offer that matters. It is the readiness to help that matters. Even smallest help if it benefits the other person, it is praise worthy. In Ramayana, there is a reference to the help offered by the smallest animal squirrel in building Ramasethu bridge across the ocean to Lanka, when Lord Rama was going in search of Sita. It rolled over the sand and moved the sand to the site of construction of the bridge.

The fact that Lord Ayyappan elevated the position of Vavar to divine level and accorded due place to him to be called ‘Vavar swami ‘speaks high of religious equality advocated . .The message conveyed is that we should not discriminate people based on their religious background. People who belong to different Religions adopt different approaches to the worship of God. But God is one and the same for all and all are   children of the same God, which means that all should live as brothers and sisters .No religion should be considered superior to other .Lack of respect to or prejudice towards other Religions divide people and community and leads to communal tension, violence, deaths of people and destruction of property .Religious harmony on the other hand contributes to individual and societal welfare. Religion should not be mixed with Politics or Public Administration Administration. , lest there will be dangerous consequences. The function of any Religion is to ensure the people to have moral /ethical restrains and become law abiding citizens and   give the individuals sense of hope in times of difficulties from the feeling that there is some supreme power to take care of us.

After returning from heaven, Manikandan continued his trekking in the forest. He had with him few people trained in martial art or training in weaponry .Among them were Vavar, a Muslim   and Kadutha, who were loyal to him and were his lieutenants. They had to fight with many tribals who stopped them and defeat them

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 Lord Siva, Manikandan’s father ordered Indra and other Gods to assume the form of tigers and tigresses. Manikandan came back to the palace riding on Indra as tiger followed by a herd of tigers, tigresses and tiger cubs.  People watching roaring   tigers rushing towards the palace were struck with panic and started running hither and thither. Manikandan got down from the tiger calmly and told that the tigress could be milked .People who assembled there were stuck with wonder. The King told him that the illness of the queen had been cured, the moment he left for forest. The mischief played by the Diwan came to light. Queen repented for her misdeed. The King told that Diwan should be punished for his treachery. Manikandan told that he should be left free. He added that whatever happened happened with the will of God and no one should be blamed. This is the attitude; we all should take, instead of blaming our fate or someone, if some misfortune befalls on us.

Probably, Manikandan being broad minded felt that Diwan acted due to ignorance ,hence he should be excused for his crime .This is an ethical principle. We should be large hearted enough to excuse the persons who tried even to injure us .Lord Christ told his disciples not to punish those who crucified him. He told ‘they know not what they are doing.’ Similarly Gandhi told while he was breathing his last that his assassins should be left free. This is the extent of human compassion great souls express. Instead of punishing the wrong doer, he should be made to realize his mistake and repent for it and thus reform him. Punishing the offender makes him hardened in his attitude and he may develop vengeance against the person whom he thinks is his adversary

Queen would not have dared   to plot against Manikandan, had she had any inkling that Manikandan was incarnation of God .Such things happen in our day to day life. We don’t notice the potentialities of other people, let alone encourage them to develop it either due to our callousness or jealousy, which is disease of the mind. We may not even discover our own potentialities, being bogged down to routine things .But both are necessary. Manikandan also did not entertain any ill- will towards the queen, though she plotted for his death Revengeful attitude is not desirable, even if we have suffered in the hands of other person .Manikandan still loved and was dutiful towards his foster mother. Queen would not commit evil action, had she not listened to her Diwan. The lesson here is that we should not lend our ears to evil doers and as far as possible; we should be away from their company. We should keep company of good people (Satang).

Everyone including, queen realized Manikandan was not an ordinary person, but God himself and felt, he was the ideal person to succeed king Rajashekharan. He was proposed to be the successor.     King ordered for all arrangements. But Manikandan politely refused to be crowned .Name, fame, power, position, influence and opulence which are attractions to ordinary mortals like us were no attraction to Manikandan  Those are not attraction to great people. He told he was sent to fulfill certain duties such as protecting the king Rajashekharan, by being commander-in-chief of his army, caring and helping his foster mother, the queen and to show to the word  human values by being personal example. He told the king that he had completed his mission for which he  took human form and his mission on earth had to return to Devaloka or heaven.

The lesson we should  learn  from this episode is that we should work honestly and should not  work for seeking name, fame, position,  wealth, influence and so on which  are like passing clouds .By doing one’s duty honestly, one can reach near God .we also find the deleterious consequences of wrong actions . We reap happiness from good or noble actions and sorrow from  unholy deeds .what we sow, so we reap .when we do meritorious actions , they go to the credit side of our account , when we do unethical actions, they go to the debit side of our account .In Christianity, Islam , Sikkim , Buddhism and other religions of the world , it is believed that there is  final day of judgment for everyone, when he departs this world, when he is either convicted or acquitted , depending upon  his deeds .The good deeds we do always come to our rescue when we face  hardships ..

All including queen realised that Manikandan was incarnation of God. The King prostrated before Manikandan and prayed that he should be available always to bless his devotees, which he readily agreed. He shot an arrow and asked the king to erect a shrine for him .The arrow stuck the place where the present temple exists. The King erected a temple there .It is said that Lord Parasurama, who was one of the 10 incarnations of Mahavishnu was sent for consecration ceremony. He made idol and installed.

Lord Ayyappan declared that he would bless his devotees , who come to him after  observing vratha or austerities for 41 days and climbing over 18 mountains and 18 holy steps carrying on their forehead Erumudi or bundle which he carried when he left for forest  for Tigress milk .

Bhagavan Ayyappan instructed   the steps to be followed in raising a shrine. He told that 18 steps to be constructed. These 18 steps represent many holy things described below. Pilgrims should climb over these 18 steps to reach sanctum sanctorum for having vision of Lord Ayyappan. When he was leaving for heaven his lieutenants Vavar and Kadutha wanted to stay with him. Manikandan told the king that they should also be installed in Sabarimala. They were elevated to the position of Gods and pilgrims worship them also, as they worship Lord Ayyappan and Devi Malikapurathamma They are called Vavar swami and Kaduthaswami. What an ennobling and spiritually elevating thought and what a magnificent symbol of inter-religious harmony and good will.  Separate shrines had been built for them just below the 18 steps. Lord Ayyappan also directed the king to give place to Malikapurathamma  ,  who stays near him as ‘maiden’ hoping to get married to Lord Ayyappan as per his promise ,   when there is no person  visiting Sabarimala for the first time ..

The significance of 18 holy steps

There are 18 steps built in the Sabarimala temple. Those steps are to be climbed to reach the sanctum sanctorum. Those steps were initially made of granite .They were worn out due to heavy use by the devotees and because of the practice of breaking coconuts on the steps by throwing them against the steps by the pilgrims while climbing the steps. Recently , Travancore Devaswam Board changed those steps and installed steps made of an alloy of five metals  or called  ‘panchaloham ‘ in Malayalam based on astrological prediction of divine will or what is called ‘Devaprasnam.’ Panchaloham is an alloy   of Gold, Silver, Iron, Copper and Tin. This alloy is considered as auspicious. The practice of forcibly throwing the coconuts was also stopped to avoid damage to the steps.

It is believed that the Number 18 is a sacred number. It signifies many things. First, it represents   the following: the first five steps represent five indriyas or sensory organs such as eye, ear, tongue, nose and skin. It is advocated that these sensory organs should be put to virtuous use. They should not be misused. For example, eyes should see only good things, ear should hear only good about others, Tongue should be used to speak gently and not rudely etc. In other words we should develop control over these sense organs, such that they are not misused .The climbing of these five steps by the pilgrims means that they have vowed that they would put these sense organs for constructive purposes .These sensory organs chase the objects of pleasure of outside world. The devotee is supposed to have developed the power to check this tendency of his sense organs .He is expected to set ceiling on his desires. He is expected to develop a moderate life style, not indulging too much in physical pleasure s. He is expected to eschew all his bad or unhealthy habits.

The next 8 steps represent negative or destructive emotions in man. Those are 1.  Kama or lust or uncontrolled passion or thrust for libidinousness, 2 krodha or losing temper easily or being aggressive, 3. Lobha or miserliness or covetousness , 4  Moha or excessive desires for possession of  physical comforts ,5 mada means pride or being  snobbish , 6.matsarya or quarrelsomeness , 7 aham  or ego or  self-centeredness  and  .asuya or jealousy . When a pilgrim climbs over these 8 steps, it means that he has freed himself from these evil tendencies.

The next 3 steps represent 1.Satwaguna   2. Rajoguna and 3. Thamoguna. ThOse are 3 mental states which determine the characteristic life style of persons .Man is essentially divine In nature but this divinity is hidden deep under irresistible thoughts, feelings and emotions, which arise at the surface and which controls one’s life .The first thought condition is Satwa or the pure and noble, second one is  Rajas meaning the   passionate and agitated   and the third   is Thamas means dull and inactive state . Combinations of these states in different proportions constitute the human personalities. Tamas is a state of mind in complete laziness, inertia, indolence, heedlessness, inactivity, slumber etc where the person has no purpose of action, softness of emotions and moral ethical considerations .His existence is partly like the existence of minerals which are inert and partly like the existence of wild animals which are governed by passions and instincts. Rajas is condition of mind when it is agitated and stormy, passionate and ambitious and constantly riddled with raw desires, emotions, activities, greed, self aggrandizement ,and so on He is obstinate, arrogant ,and totally egoistic . A  Rajasic person appears to be dynamic and is always engaged in some activities or other, but all with no higher purpose other than satiation of instincts, impulses and spiraling desires. Satwic person  has state of mind with balanced joy , is serene, calm , composed ,creative , poise, neither elated  in joy nor depressed in anguish and  all his actions are directed towards higher goals  or purposes other than  for biological existence .He is said to be in a state of man-man  or even man-god . He has perfect control over his body and mind. Has a strong discrimination or discerning  faculty or  ‘vivekajnana ‘’ and a strong  conscience    which directs his thought ,feelings and actions in regard to outside world   such that  his actions are appropriate to meet the challenges of the world and highly moral and ethical in character or supportive of human  Satvik, Raja sic and Thamasic  layers envelop   our  Self  which is divine in nature , just like the smoke covers the flames of fire . But these layers can be removed easily with a little efforts .God awareness comes in state of complete stopping of all thoughts, whether it is positive or negative, the origin of which is outside world. Positive thoughts that surface our minds can be controlled rather easily by turning the mind off. In other words we can stay above Satvik guna rather easily. But it is not easy to turn off negative thoughts, emotions, instincts, cravings, impulses from our minds .In fact one has transcend all the three mental propensities in order to experience power of God within us. Because God is formless, quality less, attribute less or Nirguna or Nivikalpa .In Upanishads the nature of God is described by word ‘nethi, nethi meaning’ not this’, ‘not this’. We cannot say what God is. We can only say that God is not what we see, what we hear, what we know with our limited intellect, although it is a fact that all these and every creations are his handy work. He is a master architect of this universe. We can move above the three states by silencing our mind by the practice of meditation, after practicing other steps advocated in Pathanjali’s yoga sutra like yama, niyama, prathyahara, nithidyasa, dharana and so on. As Swami Chinmayananda points out ‘religion help us to chasen our desires and thoughts and ultimately to end them as we rise from Tamas to satva. Divinity gradullay unfolds itself and when the last traces of satvik desires are also eliminated, man becomes God or Jeevanmuktha or ‘Bodhisatva ‘ as called in Buddhism and ‘Nirvana ‘ in Jainism or Moksha or liberation in Hinduism. It is an absolute state of ‘Atman becoming one with Brahman’ as per the mahavakya ‘ Thatwamasi –That  tough art ‘

The next two steps represent 1. Vidhya or knowledge and 2 avidhya or ignorance. what we call vidya or knowledge   including two types namely  Stula buddhi or gross intellect   which comes in operation in understanding the worldly affairs or matter and Suksma buddhi or subtle intellect  which seeks knowledge of spirit or our inner being   both are the creations of our limited intellect. So also the opposite of knowledge or  ignorance  and its manifestations like superstition , and ‘Maya as Sankaracharya calls it ,which makes us feel that outside objects are real and permanent, though it is not so  , are all creations of our limited human intellect . These help us to take us in the path to some extent; just crutches help the person who just recovered from fracture of his legs to walk   for a while. Once the person starts walking on his own, crunches have no use, although the person may still try to cling to it because of his strong habits. Normally we are all slaves to our habits. If we think the same way and act in the someway, those become our habits of thought and action. We develop rigidity of thought and action .we stick to the old habits and practices, irrespective whether they are functional or not in the changed context. . We tend to be blind to new ways of doing or new opportunities. It is mind set we develop and to what extend we are flexible in our attitudes. Sticking to injurious personal habits and holding on prejudices are all the result of such mental mechanisms. We have to overcome and stay above our ordinary intellect .Shankaracharya told that God exists in the Ananthamaya kasha or the realm of ecstasy, level above other the other three mundane levels which he calls Annamaya kosha, Manomayakosha and Vignanamaya kosha. At that level God is sublime experience having electrifying positive effect. Even a split second awareness or glimpse of God has tremendous effect on us.

It is believed that those who detach oneself from wordy pleasures can see Lord Ayyappan in real sense .what is recommended is avoidance of excessive indulgence in materialistic life and following spiritual values .It is expected that the pilgrims who practiced austerities as mentioned above and climbed the 18 steps reverentially have forsaken all the human vices and have become men of virtues. When they have become men of virtues, they are able to realize divine power or to receive the grace of God Ayyappan. So every pilgrim should look into himself and see whether he has improved his character and conduct and life in general, as an out come of pilgrimage to Sabarimala .He has to see whether he has become a better person in the sense he left certain bad habits he had before and have cultivated some new virtues in his daily life .If he finds a progressive change in him, then he can be sure that he has derived the benefit intended from Sabarimala pilgrimage.

The second interpretation is that Ayyappan was a master of 18 weapons .Before merging with the idol, it is believed he surrendered   his 18 weapons one at each step of Pathinettampadi or 18 steps . The 18 weapons symbolize 18 forces which protect the people from their enemies. The enemies are mostly the forces directed by us towards destructive goals. For instance anger is a force which when directed against a person turns harmful. When the same is directed to solve a problem, it leads to persistence and sustained effort till the goal is reached .similarly love is positive energy and hate is negative energy. Love which is a form of energy is directed towards a person or object in benevolence leads to attraction. When it is directed against a person or with malevolent motive, it turns into hatred .It is like the same instrument which can be used for helpful or harmful purposes. Knife can be surgical knife which is used to save human life or it could be the one used by Bluchers to kill animals .Knife is the same, but it’s uses are different .So the word weapon here has to be understood in such broader context of meaning than we normally understand .

The third view is that 18 steps stand for 18 mountains which surround Sabarimal a.On each of the 18 steps; the deity corresponding to that mountain is installed. So the pilgrim receives the blessings of these 18 presiding deities of the mountains. During padipuja, these deities are propitiated .In the Hindu ancient text, it is recurring theme that that the divinity is present in all the creations of the universe including mountains, rivers, trees, animals and of course in the highest form of creations we can man .The above symbolism also shows how intractably linked we are with the mother nature and urges us to be eco -friendly in the exploitation of natural resources. Any resources should neither be misused nor used excessively or to the point of its extinction. The so called most intricate ecological balance is to be ensured .It is the nature which includes mountains, rivers and forests  that give us serenity and peace of mind .

Third interpretation relates to is significance in Hindu philosophy. The significance of the number 18 can be traced to the Vedic age which goes back to 10,000 years. The first Veda protected by Lord Brahma himself had 18 chapters. Later sage Vedavyasa divided the Veda and created 4 Vedas namely 1 Rig-Veda, 2Yajur-veda, 3.Sama-veda and 4 Atharva-veda. .Each Veda has 18 chapters. Vedavyasa also wrote 18 Puranas and 18 Upapuranas. There are 18 chapters in Mahabharata and 18 chapters in Bhagavad Gita. Kurushetra war lasted 18 days. The wholly steps represent 4 Vedas, 6 vedangas or Upavedas, 6 Dharshanas or schools of Philosophy and 2 Epics.  The steps  also represents 14 worlds from Pathalam to Sathyalokam and 4 other worlds like Anthariksha , Akasa ,Angdhakara or Hell and Jyothirmaya or Enlightened  totaling 18 .

There is strong conviction that pilgrims overcome the following vices . by be crossing 18 holy steps. Those are  avidhya or ignorance  and superstition , asmita or unpleasantness, raga or attachment , Dwesha or harming ,abinivesha or ardent , loba or covetousness  or acquisitiveness ,moha or desire, mada   or false pride , matsarya or rivalry, all sapta vasanas like seven grievances created for others like nayattu or hunting and killing innocent  animals  for food ,commercial purposes  and as sport ., choothu or ridicule or trapping other man by trick , gambling, stri seva or libidinal activites , madyapana or use of intoxicating substances , vakpourusha or  being rude or harassing persons  or using harsh words , dandapourusha  or intimidation or assaulting persons and arthadushana or  improper or unethical ways of using money including being extravagant in spending habits .

We should shun the evil qualities we have in us and practice virtues in its place those which are advocated by Lord Ayyappan and that should be the aim or purpose of undertaking pilgrimage to Sabarimala.

When pilgrims do difficult trekking, they call aloud ‘Swamiye, Saranamayyappa ‘meaning Lord  you are our refuge and re-energize themselves to maneuver  trekking uphill.  While trekking, they think about nothing except Lord Ayyappan and experience divine inspiration. Those moments are difficult to explain, they are to be experienced. The message that comes out of this is that when we face a difficult situation, we should face it with optimism and faith in Almighty and with a sense of challenge rather than giving up the attempts or showing defeatist’s attitude. Positive attitude or the feeling that we can that we are capable is to be cultivated. There should also be sustained or enduring efforts not being discouraged by failures.  From failures, the lesson to be learned is not to repeat it. Failures should drive us to find out some new course of action by proper reasoning. If we do any work with complete involvement and not getting our mind distracted by apprehension whether we would succeed or not, we are bound to succeed. We should also not expect which we get as gain without our efforts like the money we get through lottery. Money or assets well earned gives us unique pleasure.

A casket containing bejeweled golden ornaments is carried on head by people from Pandalam palace, where they are kept to Sabarimala on the day prior to Makaravilakku which falls this year on 27 of Dec. A Garuda or Golden Eagle supposed to be the vehicle of Mahavishnu follows the procession carrying ornaments all the way up to the temple. When the procession reaches the temple, the bird circles round the sky three times   and disappears. I t is said that it shows the way in the thick forest to the temple when there was nothing to go by in ancient days. It is also believed that the bird is actually a Brahmin taken that form. In the Ramayana epic , we come across  eagle ‘Jadayu ‘ who was bossom a friend  of Lord Rama’s father Dasharada  , who fought with Ravana  to rescue SitaDevi , when Ravana , after Kidnapping her from Panchvadi  taking her to Lanka in his Puspak viman or Flowerly Plane appropriated  from Lord Indra , the Ruler of Heaven .

 The ornaments are worn on the Idol of Ayyappan and evening worship is performed as per Tantric rites.   Apart from worship three times daily as per Vedic rites, the significant ritual performed in the temple is called ‘Neyyabishekam  meaning bathing the Idol with the ghee obtained from cow’s milk brought by devotees filled in coconuts , after removing water from inside . The ghee removed from the Idol is given as ‘Prasad’ meaning holy substance having divine power. This Prasad is believed to be remedy for all ills. Other Prasads given to the devotees are Appam or pancake round in size and Aravana payasam or porridge made out of rice, jaggery, ghee etc.

Right in front of sanctum sanctorum , the Mahavakya from Chandokyopanishad “ Tat Tvam Asi” meaning  “That Thou Art” –which means ‘jeevathma or self or life force and Paramatma or  cosmic power are  the same, has been inscribed.   It proclaims that divinity existing within us and in the universe is one and the same.

To conclude, the true spirit of pilgrimage to Sabarimala is to help  devotees to  be pure in body and mind and enable them to realize or experience the God within them , thereby enabling  them to lead lasting happy  lives.

                        Swamiye Saranamayyappa

(Dr.A.Sreekumar Menon)

(santhasree2000@yahoo.com)
Pilgrimage to Sabarima (Dr.A.Sreekumar Menon)Pilgrimage to Sabarima (Dr.A.Sreekumar Menon)
Dr Madhusudan 2022-11-02 07:11:50
Beautiful narration, enriched,got clarity of many things. Iam going to share this in KNSS groups. One clarity:why the discrimination of ladies of certain age group not allowed to enter. Earlier times due to travel restrictions and keeping hygiene may be the reason but now a days it can be allowed, isn't. What is your opinion Dr.
മലയാളത്തില്‍ ടൈപ്പ് ചെയ്യാന്‍ ഇവിടെ ക്ലിക്ക് ചെയ്യുക