Lord Ayyappa, God of Sabarimala
Lord Ayyappa, God of Sabarimala, is one of the prominent gods of Hinduism and He is adorned and celebrated as son of Lord Shiva and also of female incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Manikandan, Pulivahanan, Dharmasastha, Sabarinathan, Kanthavasan, Kaliyugavarathan and Hariharan are some of the other names of this God. His prime temple is situated on Sahya hills of folded mountains of Western Ghats, Kerala in India at about 3000 ft above mean sea level. Every year lacs and lacs of His devotees come here from both domestic and foreign countries. Particularly in December and January huge mass of devotees from various parts of the country come to Sabarimala to get blessings of the Lord.
The legend of Lord Ayyappa
Once the demon Mahishasuran, son of Ramban, undertook a deep penance towards Lord Brhama. After many years of penance, Lord Brahma appeared before the demon and blessed him with a boon. The demon asked the Lord to give him a boon by which no one in the world would be able to kill him, and Brahma gave the boon and disappeared. At once getting the power the demon started to give great trouble to every one in the world. Seeing his atrocities Devas requested Goddess Chandika Devi to get solution for the troubles created by Mahishasuran. Chandika Devi set out on her mission and killed Mahishasuran. On hearing the end of the demon Mahishasuran, Mahishi, the daughter of Karamba, brother of Ramban undertook deep penance to take revenge on Devas. Once again Lord Brahma appeared before Mahishi and blessed to confer the boon. Mahishi asked Him to bless with a boon by which nobody would be able to kill her except the son born out of Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. Lord Brahma offered the boon and Mahishi went to Devalokam to take revenge on them.
Meanwhile Devas were cursed by the sage Duruvasar for some reasons and they needed the nectar to come out of the sage's curse. Lord Vishnu gave them an idea of getting Amrutham from Palazhi to have solution. But, unfortunately the nectar was snatched by the demons. To get back the nectar from the demons, Lord Vishnu took the form of Mohini and got back the nectar from them. Lord Shiva wanted to see the mohini form of Vishnu and when He saw the Mohini form, He was succumbed of Her beauty. Out of their union, the new divine baby was born called Dharmasastha. Then Lord Dharmasastha began to grow on Kailash.
Let us now see how Lord Ayyappa came to take birth in our earth. The king Rajasekara was one of the descendants of Pandya dynasty who was then ruling the province of Pandalam lying in present Kerala in India. The king ruled his province prosperously as all of the people were happily living then. But, the king as well as queen were worried much as they had no children. The king Rajasekara and his wife had great bhakthi on Lord Shiva and both of them prayed Him for blessing them with a child. For answering the prayer of the king Rajasekaran, Lord Shiva asked His son Dharmasastha to take avathar of Lord Ayyappa. One day the king went for hunting in the forests adjoining river Pamba. When the hunting was over, the king was enjoying natural sceneries. Suddenly he heared a crying of a child from nearby area. He went on searching for the child with his soldiers. Finally he happened to see a beautiful male child with a golden chain and bell around His neck. On seeing this the king hesitated to take out the crying children. At that time a sage appeared before him and advised to grow it in his palace and the sage named after the child Manikandan as 'Mani' refers bell and 'kandan' refers neck. The arrival of Manikandan to Pandalam made every one happy there. Manikandan proved His divinity and brilliance when He was grown up. Meanwhile the queen gave birth to another male child. Then the queen lost her affection on Manikandan and she began to take care of only her own son. But, the king loved both of his sons. Diwan of kingdom misguided the queen to kill Manikandan as He was only person to get the crown next to the king. The queen and diwan planned to kill Manikandan in many ways. But, nothing happened to Manikandan because of His divine power. Finally the diwan gave an idea to the queen to pretend as she was suffering from severe head ache and to ask for a cup of tigress milk to cure it.
When the king Rajasekara came to learn all these things, he never liked to let Manikandan go to dense forests as He was only twelve years at that time. Manikandan requested his father to give an opportunity of finding solution for the head ache of the queen. At last the king arranged some soldiers to accompany with Manikandan to perform the task. Manikandan refused the support of soldiers. On his way to the forests, Manikandan came to know about the atrocities of Mahishi in Devaloka and went there to fight against her. In the conflict Lord Manikandan threw and killed her in earth on the banks of river Alutha. After completing the important task of killing Mahishi, Lord Shiva appeared before Lord Ayyappa and asked him to return to the palace. Many male and female devas in the disguise of tigers and tigresses moved to the place and Manikandan took a seat on a male tiger.
In the meantime a sage appeared before the king and told him about avatar of Manikandan. Knowing all these things king surprised and when Manikandan returned safe, the king fell at his feet to forgive him whatever happened without his knowledge. Asked the lord to permit him to build a temple to worship him. Manikandan aimed an arrow and that fell on the place Sabari. The king began to erect temple there for the Lord with eighteen holy steps. The king observed 41 days of austerities before getting the glimpse of God. Since then lacs and lacs of devotees from various parts of the world began to come here to get the blessings of Lord Ayyappa.
Things to follow before undertaking Sabarimala Pilgrimage
Only the gents, boys, girls under the age of 9 years and ladies who have crossed the age of mensural problems will be allowed to enter the temple of Sabarinathan . Every devotee should strictly follow 41 days of austerities after wearing beads made of thulasi or rudraksha on the first day of Tamil month Karthiga or the first day of Malayalam month Virutchiga. Usually many number of devotees join as a group and each group will be guided by an experienced devotee called Guruswamy. All the devotees should avoid non-vegetarian food items, liquors, smoking, shaving, hair cutting and most importantly sex. Every devotee should speak politely and behave gently with others when he observes austerities.They need to take bath in both evening and morning times. In some places of country a group of devotees join together and chant the lord by playing local musical instruments. 'Om Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa', this is the main mantra of Lord which is chanted by every devotee on those days when they observe austerities. Only saffron colored dress should be worn by the devotees. It's true that these austerities help man to be free from bad habits and keep good mind and body health.
Before starting pilgrimage every devotee should prepare a kit called Irumudi in his home. It's a traveling kit contains two cloth bags. One of them is used to put inside a coconut filled with ghee and other things rquired for performing Abhishekam of Lord Ayyappa. For filling ghee a coconut is taken and outer shell is polished well and water inside of it is removed by opening its eye and after completely drying the liquid ghee is carefully and humbly filled inside coconut and then sealed using cork and red-wax. The other bag of Irumudi is used to carry personal things required by the devotee.
Mandala Pooja and Mahara Pooja
Mandala Pooja celebrations at Lord Ayyappa temple starts from the first day Malayalam month called Virutchigam (November-December) and it'll continue up to the 11 th day of Dhanu of Malayalam month (December-January) of every year. Mahara Pooja will be held after Mandala Pooja. And most of the pilgrims prefer to go to sabarimala during Mahara Pooja to get darshan of Mahara Jothi at the climax of Mahara Pooja Celebrations. It is believed by His faithful devotees that God Ayyappa appear in the form of divine light on the top of hill called Kanthamalai, which stands just opposite to shrine of the lord, on January 14 th evening of every year. The day when Jothi (divine light) appears is the first day of month Maharam in Kerala and so it gets that name.
Erumeli Petta Thullal
Important stages of pilgrimage to Sabarimala
Erumeli Petta Thullal, Taking bath in the holy river Pamba, climbing up Neelimalai, Getting darshan of lord climbing up 18 holy steps, Ghee Abishekam (Bathing the idol of God in ghee) are very important stages of pilgrimage to Sabarimala.
Erumeli Petta Thullal
On their way to Sabarimala all of the devotees get together at Erumeli where they perform the special part of the pilgrimage called 'Petta Thullal'. In this a small bundle of vegetables is tied in the middle of a stick which will be held by two persons on both ends. All the devotees are usually dancing with toy weapons and chanting the lord applying color powders on their body and they will be accompanied by the traditional music of the region. And they all move towards Vavar Mosque situated in the town to pay homage to Vavar Swamy. Vavar Swamy is one who had been a robber and later became the friend of Lord as he was attracted by the divine power of God Ayyappan. After taking bath in nearby river, all of them will move to river Pamba which lies at about 60 km from there. In fact Erumely is a wonderful place which unites the people belonged to both Islam and Hinduism.
The holy river Pamba
Slope on Neelimalai
Bathing in holy river Pamba and Climbing up the steepest Neelimalai
After performing petta thullal at Erumeli, all of the devotees will reach the river called Pamba. Every one take bath here as it's considered the most sacred one. After finishing bath in river Pamba, the devotees need to climb up the steepest hill of Neelimalai which lies on the bank of river Pamba. After 3 km long climbing of Neelimalai, all of them will reach the prime temple of Lord Ayyappa.
18 Holy steps
These are god veiled eighteen holy steps situated in front of sannithanam where we can get glimpse of God. Only the devotees carrying irumudies will be allowed to climb up 18 holy steps. It is said that every step has its own speciality and after climbing up it all of the devotees will get glmpse of Lord and chant loudly 'Om Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa'. After getting peaceful dharshan of God, they will also worship other Gods such as Karuppaswamy, Kannimoola Ganapathy and Maaligapuram in various shrines in and around the temple campus.
The next day the coconut containing ghee will be broken and ghee will be removed and gently heated until it gets semi soild form. All the devotees will collect ghee from their group and again go to the prime shrine to bath Him with the ghee. Priests will give a portion of ghee to the devotees after performing Ghee Abishekam of the Lord. The devotees used to throw one part of the coconut after removing ghee in to Aghni kundam (A square in which coconuts will be fired) which reveals that our soul like ghee is offered to the lord and body like remaining coconut is given to nature. The other part of ghee filled coconut will be used to prepare delicious Ayyappa prasad made of rice flour, sugar, ghee, coconut slices, dates and raisins. After performing this important task ( Bathing of God in ghee) of pilgrimage, all the devotees will return their home.