Note: Long post ahead. If you dont have time, please look at the pics and read the last line :)
Finally I made it!! I visited the temple of Lord Ayyappa. It was an experience worth mentioning. I feel so different. I feel so good!
Sabarimala Sri Dharmasastha Temple is the most famous and prominent among all the Sastha Temples. The pilgrimage begins in the month of November and ends in January.Mandala pooja (November16,2009) and Makaravilakku(Jan.14th) are the two main events of the pilgrim season. The temple stays closed during the rest of the year except for the first five days of every Malayalam month and during Vishu (April).
Certain customs are to be strictly observed if one has to undertake a pilgrimage to Sabarimala. The devotees are expected to observe austerities for 41 days prior to the pilgrimage. This begins with wearing of a special Mala( A garland made of Rudraksha or Tulasi beads). In general from then they are to refrain from meat, fish, alcohol, tobacco, sex, using foul words, refrain from hair cut and shaving. They should visit the local temples regularly and only wear plain black, blue or saffron colored traditional clothing.
Sabarimala is one of the most visited piligrim centres in the world with an estimated 45 - 50 million devotees coming every year. The world's second largest annual pilgrimage (after Hajj in Mecca) is reported to be to Sabarimala.However no female between the age of 10-50 are allowed to visit this temple. Among many other reasons the fact that core story attributed to Lord Ayyappa prohibits the entry of the women in the menstrual age group.
Erumeli (a small town in Kottayam district, Kerala) is a place, which is revered by both Hindus and Muslims. That’s because the place is famous for its Sastha Temple andVavar Mosque Vavar is believed to be a close friend of Sri Ayyappa. The vavar swamy mosque is situated right opposite the entrance of the Kochambalam (little temple, Erumeli) where there is an idol of Sri Ayyappa. The pilgrims, after paying obeisance at the Kochambalam, come out dancing, dance into the Vavar swamy mosque, shouting out their traditional chants and with the accompaniment of a musical band with drums and nadaswaram. Then they come out and dance their way through the streets of Erumeli to the Big temple (Valiyambalam).
Okies, that's some info about Sabarimala. Now about my trip!! I started my journey on 10th. I went to a temple to fill my irumudi. lrumudi is the only travelling kit which a pilgrim carries on his head during the pilgrimage. Only those who observe fasting for 41 days are allowed to carry it. Without the Irumudi one is not allowed to step onto the holy 18 steps at the Sannidhanam. This bag is in two compartments - the Munmudi (the front part) and the Pinmudi (the back part) & the opening at centre. The front portion is reserved for keeping all the puja articles and offerings to the deity. The rear part is meant to hold the pilgrims' personal requirements for the journey. No pilgrim, except the Royal Family of Pandalam, is permitted to ascend the `Pathinettam Padi' without carrying an irumudi on the head.
I started my journey from Palakkad, my home town, at around 3 in the evening. Somehow I felt that time was moving very fast!! Usually when ever i travel in bus from palakkad to cochin which is about 150 km, i feel tired! This time though the journey of about 360 km felt like anything but tiring!! I reached Holy Pampa at 12 midnight. Took a dip in Pampa river and I felt all fresh!! Lord Ayyappa (Sri Dharmasastha) appeared to the Pandalam Raja as a child on the banks of the Pamba River. The Pamba River has been venerated as Dakshina Ganga (The Southern Ganges), and devotees of Lord Ayyappa believe that immersing oneself in the Pamba is equivalent to bathing in the Holy Ganges River. Bathing in the river, believed to absolve one's sins, is a requirement before commencing the trek through the forest to the Ayyappan Temple atop Sabarimala.
I started the trek at 12.30. It was cold, but I felt good. The trek was tough indeed. I had to stop at 5 places to catch my breathe before I reached sannidhanam. The devaswam board has done a good job! there are atleast 5 cardiac centres and 8 oxygen clinics on the way to sannidhanam. For youngsters [especially IT guys] I would advice you to start doing cardiac exercises for minimum 40 mins a day, atleast 30 dyas prior to visiting the temple. Treking with irumudikette is not that easy :)
I reached sannidhanam at around 3 in the morning. 6 km uphill from pampa. The darshan starts at 4 in the morning. So i waited in queue till 4. At 4, the temple opened with Ayyappa Suprabhatham sung by K.J.Yesudas. The queue moved fast. By the time I reached in front of the 18 holy steps, I was so excited!!
Sabarimala temple complex mainly comprises of the Holy Eighteen Steps (PONNU PATHINETTAMPADI) in the front side for ascending to the upper thirumuttom, the main temple of SREE DHARMA SASTHA, shrines of KANNIMEL GANAPTHY and NAGARAJA. The pilgrims with IRU MUDI KETTU alone are permitted to ascend the Holy Eighteen Steps. The sacred 18 steps (Ponnu Pathinettampadi) are covered with `Panchaloham'(a preparation of special metals and mortar). The inner meaning of these 18 steps is as follows:-
The first five steps represents the Five Senses(Panchendriyas) ie visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and tactile. These signify theortal' nature of one's body. The next eight steps represents the eight Ashtaragas viz Kama, Krodha, Lobha, Moha, Madha, Maltsarya, Asooya, Dhumb(Love, Anger, Avarice, Lust, Pride, Unhealthy Competition, Jealousy and Boast fulness). The next three steps represents the three Gunas (nature-born qualities), Satv, (perspicuity, discernment) , Rajas (activity, enjoyment) and Thamas (inactivity, stupor). The last two steps represents Vidya (Knowledge) and Avidya (Ignorance).
It is believed that, those who detaches themselves from all these worldly pleasure, can see the Lord Ayyappa in real sense. It is considered that after climbing up these eighteen steps reverently, one symbolically detaches oneself from all the worldly ties that bind one physically and mentally to the world . It is only then that a person will be in a receptive condition to be one in consonance with the concept of 'The Ultimate Creator'.
I touched all 18 steps and I felt like never before! The steps led me to the main temple. I had a good dharshan of 5-10 seconds. The feel that you get cannot be explained. No words could represent the peace and calmness i felt at that moment. Its an experiance I would always cherish. Then I had dharshans of Malikappurathamma and Nagaraja.
I started downhill at around 10 in the morning. The way downhill was more dangerous than the way uphill!! Walking through that path without slipppers made me think that this is how we wash our sins!! :) I reached back Pampa by 11.30. Had lunch from there. The went to Nilakkal where my bus was parked. I started my journey back at 2.30 in the afternoon. On my way back I visited Chakkulathukavu Shri Bhagavati temple, ambalappuzha SriKrishna temple and Guruvayoor temple. Watched kathakali at guruvayoor!! It was long journey and I reached back at 7 in the morning.
I took a dip in the Holy river of Pampa, touched 18 Holy steps, had a glimpse of Ponnambalavasi, I feel pure now!