The Traditional Story )
About ten generations ago there lived a Vellala youth by name AYYAPPAN know as AYYAN. We do not know anything about his parents except that his uncle was one Perisseri Pillai of Erumeli, Kottayam dist, Kerala. Ayyan became the army chief of the Pandalam royal family.
Ayyan, who belonged to the Vellalar Kulam, was instrumental in the defeat of Udayanan, who attacked the Sabarimala and tried to demolish the ancient Sastha temple in the thick forest of present Pathnamthitta dist.
The Royal family of King Pandian had migrated from Tamilnadu about 800 years back. Pandian King reconstructed the destroyed Sastha temple at Sabarimala with the help of Ayyan, Vavar, a Muslim youth from Kanjirappally, Kadutha, a Nair youth from Muzhukeer, Chenganoor, Alapuzha dist.
During a clash Ayyappan was killed. Perissery Pillai, uncle of Ayyan constructed the
KOCHAMPALAM - old small Sastha temple - at Erumeli, opposite the VAVAR PALLY (MOSQUE), constructed by Muslims in memory of Vavar swamy.
After the demise of Ayyappan people thought that he was the avathar of Lord Sastha and began to worship him. Later Ayyappan and Sastha became synonymous. Some say that Ayyappan was the son of a Brahmin but Nalankal Krishna Pillai in his book "Mahashekthrangalkkumunpil" states that Brahmins never had the name AYYAPPAN or AYYAN.
In the age old "Elavarsevampattu" it was clearly mentioned that Ayyan belonged to "Vellalar kulam". Near Sree Ayyappa talkies of Erumeli, Kottayam, Kerala there is a vellala house called Puthenveedu. In the same compound there still is one 300 year old, thatched, depleted, mud house, the house of Perissery Pillai, Ayyappan's uncle and the Vellal Chieftain of Erumeli. There even today one can see the ancient sword used by Ayyappan to kill the monstrous ERUMA- mahisham. The place where the "eruma" was killed became Erumakolly and later Erumeli.
Sabarimala pilgrims - "Ayyappans"- conduct the Erumeli PETTAITHULLAL during December-January months every year , here at Erumeli in memory of the killing of mahisham by Ayyan. "Ayyan / Ayyappan" Pillai is very common name among vellalas of Kottayam, Alapuzha, Pathanamthitta, Idukki and Ernakulam districts of Kerala. A number of Ayyappan koils are constructed by Vellalas migrated from Tamilnadu to Kerala e.g. Erumeli, Kanam etc. Lakhs and lakhs of Tamilian Ayyappan devotees called the "Ayyappans" - come to Sabarimala every year to worship Tamil origin "VELLALAR KULA JHATHAN AYYAN AYYAPPAN".
'Swamyin Vritha Palane Saranam Ayyappa !'
The life of the man can be improved and re-energized by performing Tapas or austerity. Tapas may be performed in body, speech and mind as per 'Gita'. When man applies himself to these three components, he changes for the better.
Given below are the austerities and regulations that has to be strictly followed for taking pilgrimage to Shri Sabarimala:
The vritham has to be undertaken after getting permission from parents. Then one has to get the permission of the the Guru. After this the date is fixed to commence the vritham. The previous day before the said date one has to offer prayers to ones family deity and make a holy knot with yellow cloth with 1.25 currency units within and present it to the family deity, thereby taking Her/His permission to commence the vritham.
Previous day before starting the vritham, the devotee willcleanly shave, clip his nails, trim his hair and make himself physically clean. The holy mala / garland (tulsi / uthradsham) should be cleaned and smeared with sandal paste and placed before the portrait of Lord Ayyappa. The devotee should also buy a new pair of coloured (black, blue, saffron) dhoti and towel/shawl.
On the day of starting the vritham the devotee shall raise early, bath and offer prayers to family deity, Navagrahas and perform pooja to the holy mala. Then he shall go to temple with his Guru. The mala has to be received from the Guru in midst of chanting of Saranam. After wearing the mala the devotee becomes Lord Ayyappa himself and starts the demands of pious life.
The devotee shall withdraw from all social activities and spend his time by taking part in praying, poojas, bajans, visiting temples, cleaning temples, feeding the poor, helping the poor/sick and attending religious discourses.
He shall take only satvic foods and refrain 100% from taking meat, intoxicating drinks / drugs, chewing betel leaves and from smoking.
He shall bathe twice, if possible thrice, daily and perform pooja by at least chanting 108 Ayyappan Saranam. He shall continuously chant Saranam Ayyappa in mind, both at work and at home.
He shall not hurt anybody verbally or physically.
He shall treat all co-devotees as Lord Ayyappan himself and serve them in all the ways.
He shall not feel proud of the respect and privileges he gets when he is wearing the holy mala. When others prostrate themselves on his feet he shall not feel proud but dedicate the same to Lord Ayyappan and say aloud 'Lord Save everybody for their faith in you'.
He shall not cause inconvenience to his family members on account on observing the vritham.
As he starts his vritham every year, he shall think that he is doing the same for first time and follow all the rules of the vritham strictly.
He shall strictly follow brahmacharya (continence), refrain from sex, thinking of sex, develop passion against all women including his wife, and treat all women with motherly feeling.
He shall not apply oil to his hair and shall not take bath with oil smeared over his body.
He shall not attend any social function like birthdays, engagement, and wedding, etc. and shall feast in anyone's home who have not undertaken the vritham.
He shall avoid being in the proximity of dead body and shall not eat anything till he bathes if he accidentally sees one.
He shall always carry a tulsi leaf with him to prevent him from evil feeling and from Thitu.
He shall not sleep on bed but on floor, he shall not use pillow but wooden block, he shall not use footwear but walk with bear feet.
He shall totally surrender himself to Lord Ayyappa.
One should remember that the grace and power of Sabarimala increases and reflects back by observing the above rules strictly
The Guru Tradition
'Guruvin Guruve Saranam Ayyappa !'
Gurur Brahmaa Gurur Vishnuhu Gurur Devo Maheshvaraha |
Guru Saakshaat Para Brahma Tasmai Shree Gurave Namaha ||
Whoever is the Guru he is Lord Shiva !
Whoever is Lord Shiva he is Guru !
It is said that chanting the name of the Guru is equivalent to chanting the name of Lord Shiva, Guru's abode is Kashi Shetram and water used to wash Guru's feet is Ganga.
The role of the Guru is significant in the Ayyappa cult. The Guruswamy is usually an elderly person who has undertaken pilgrimage to Sabarimala not less than seven consecutive years in the traditional long route and had darshan of Makara Jothi. The devotees treat the Guruswamy as Ayyappan himself. It is important that pilgrims gain knowledge from the Guru on all the aspect of the Pilgrimage. One should serve the Guru physically, mentally and verbally.
The pilgrims should give the due respect and reverence the Guru deserves. All instructions of the Guru should be carried out without fail. The Guru will enlighten the Shisyas the austerities to be followed. He will teach them the slokas and way to perform pooja and bhajans. He shall prepare them for the pilgrimage mentally and physically. He will lead the pilgrims safely and comfortably to Sabarimala.
The Sacred Irumudi
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'Irumudi Priyanne Saranam Ayyappa !'
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 while the rear part is meant to hold the pilgrims personal requirements for the journey.
Front portion contains Mudra bags, consisting of 2 - 3 in numbers - one for the GheeCoconut and the other two for the remaining offerings. Items for Vazhipadu (offering) at the Sannidhanam that is kept in the front compartment of the Irumudi are as under:
Coconut filled with ghee for Abhishekam (bathing the idol of the Lord)+
Coconut (vidalai thengai) 2 to 4 nos. *
Beetel leaves, Beetel Nut, coins for offering
Jaggery (achuvellam), Cashew, Raisins, Dry ginger, Poha (thin & thick variety), Cardamoms, Dates, Honey, Avil ( beaten rice), Kadhi Chakkar #
Dried turmeric tubers, Turmeric powder, Blouse piece, Kumkum, Vibhooti, Sandal paste, Sambarani, Camphor, Agarbathi (Incense stick), Rosewater, Lemon, Rice and Dal for offering.
+ Coconut for ghee Abhishekam : Well before the Kettunira time, select a medium size coconut. Clean and polish the outer shell using a polishing paper. With a pointed instrument, open one eye of the coconut and empty the coconut water. Close it with a cork of correct size. The coconut is now in readiness for the Kettunira.
* Coconut (Vidalai Thengai) one each to be broken at Erumeli, Sharam Kutti and two for Padinettampadi (the sacred 18 steps - once while climbing up for Shasta Darshan with the Irumudi and 2nd while returning after the worship
# Part of the jaggery, cashew, raisin, cardamom, honey and dates can be used to make Panchamrutam for the Neivedya; part of the jaggery, dry ginger and cardamom can be used for preparing 'Panagam' as Neivedya
Items for use of the pilgrim from the day of commencement of the journey after Kettunira till the return is kept in the back compartment or the Pin Mudi, which are as under :
Some snacks which one may require now and then during the trip and other raw materials for food items to be prepared during the journey. And pulses and rice needed for cooking can be included in Pinmudi
'Sabari Yathiraiye Saranam Ayyappa !'
After filling the holy coconut with ghee and packing the essentials for offering Lord Ayyappa in the Irumudi (called ketunira), the Guru places the sacred Irumudi on head of the pilgrims chanting Saranam. The pilgrims leave the place without looking at anyone and bidding goodbye to family or friends. Walking barefoot the pilgrims proceed to realise the Self and attain Lord Ayyappa.
There are three routes to Sabarimala - (a) The Erumeli route (b) The Vandiperiyar route (c) The Chalakayam route. The Erumeli route, used by Ayyappan himself during his forest expedition to kill Mahishi is described here.
2. Perur Thodu
5. Azhutha River
9. Kariyilam Thodu
11. Periya Annai Vattam
12. Seriya Annai Vattam
13. Pampa Nadi
The important places the pilgrims crosses between Erumeli and Sannidhanam are:
It is about 65 km from Kottayam. There are shrines for Lord Dharmasastha and Varar Swamy (the Muslim lieutenant of Lord Ayyappa).The first timers to Sabarimala, called Kanniswamy, perform pettatullal. Pettatullal is painting the face with colours
and dancing with wooden weapons to make one look odd. The essence of this practice is to give up ones ego and surrender to Lord Ayyappa. They go round the
Ayyappan Temple and Varar Shrine and later bathe in the river. Then the temple is visited again to seek authorization from Lord Ayyappa to tread the sacred hill Sabari. Later the pilgrims leave Erumeli under the guidance of their Guru for Sannidhanam.
Perur Thodu :
It is a river about 4 km from Erumeli. Lord Ayyappa rested here during his expedition. It is from here the rise begins. Giving alms here is important. By giving alms, one is disposing of all dharma and seeking asylum in Ayyappa. The forest beyond Perur Thodu is poongavanam (Ayyappan's garden).
About 10 km from Perur Thodu is Kalaketti. The legend says that Lord Shiva, Ayyappa's father, came on his ox and tied it here and witnessed Lord Ayyappa killing Mahishi. There is a shrine where the pilgrims light camphor and break coconuts.
Azhutha river, a tributary of Pampa, is about 2 km from Kalaketti. On the far side of the river is the steep Azhutha hill, famous for its arduous track. In the ascent of 2 km of steep climb there is hardly anyone who does not shed tears. At the summit of Azhutha is Kallidumkunnu. The pilgrims drop the pebble taken by them from
Azhutha river here. This is done as the mortal remains of Mahishi was cast off here and filled with stones.
The next important place is the Inchipparakota where there is Kotayil Sastha shrine. Pilgrims offer prayers here and break coconuts. From here the pilgrims descent the slippery path carefully. The descent ends at Karimala thodu (canal) with Azhutha hill on one side and Karimala hill on the other. Pilgrims rest here for a while.
Karimala is the abode of elephants which visits the Karimala canal to drink water. Pilgrims light the aazhi (campfire) to protect themselves from wild animals and cold weather. Karimala hill consists of seven levels and is climbed in stages. As the ascent of 5 km is difficult the pilgrims continuously chant saranams. On top
of Karimala the terrain is flat suitable for the pilgrims to rest. It is interesting to see the Nazhikkinar - a well within a well with fresh spring like water. There deities of Karimalanthan, Kochukaduthaswami and Karimala Bhagawathi. From here after the exhausting descent, Pampa river is about 5 kms.
Pampa is the most important and holy spot on the way to Sannidhanam. It is here Lord Ayyappa was found by King Rajasekara. The Pampa river is as holy as the Ganges. The Pampa water purifies one from curse and evil.
Pampa Feast :
Pampa Annadhanam (feast) and Pampa Vilakku are important rituals followed at the Pampa bank. Pilgrim groups prepare feast with the provisions taken from the Irumudi of the pilgrims. Thousands of pilgrims are fed at Pampa. When a group of pilgrims are ready to fed the fellow pilgrims they display a large papad outside their cottage. It is usually the kanniswamy who are fed first, as they are considered to be Lord Ayyappan himself. After the feast the Guru is honoured by pilgrims prostrating him and offering him the Gurudakshina.
Kanni Ayyappas move from kitchen to kitchen collecting the ashes which are considered to be very sacred. It is done with the belief that Lord Ayyappa would have had the feast in one of the cottages in the disguise of a pilgrim. The ash is taken home as prasad.
Pampa Vilakku :
On sunset pilgrim believe that Lord Ayyappan will be present at the banks of Pampa and the cottages are decorated with lights and candles. Small floats are decorated with lights called Pampa Vilakku are let in the Pampa river.
The next morning after a dip in the cold Pampa river and performing pitru tarpanam (offering to ones departed soul) the pilgrims start their ascent towards the hill Neelimala after worshipping at the temple of Lord Ganapathi, Lord Rama (avathar of
Balaji) and Lord Hanuman. On the foot of the Neeli hill is the representative of the King of Pandalam. The pilgrims offer their respects to the representative. After seeking the permission of the representative to visit the shrine of Lord Ayyappa they proceed with their journey. From here the Sannidhanam is about 6 km. The neeli
hill is as difficult as the Azhutha and Karimala. The top of Neeli hill is called Appachi medu. Here there are two abysses - Appachi kuzhi and Ippachi kuzhi. Kanniswamy throw rice balls here to calm down the evil spirits present around the place. From this point the ground is almost even. Some distance from here is the Sabari peetam.
Sabari Peetam :
This was the Kota where Shri Sabari, in Sri Rama's era, performed Tapas. Pilgrims worship here breaking coconuts, firing crackers and lighting camphor.
Half way between Sabari Peetam and Sannidhanam is Saramkuthi. Kanniswamy leave the wooden arrow they picked from Erumeli here.
The holy Patinettampadi (18 steps) is 15 minute walk from Saramkuthi. The Golden steps is such a magnificent sight. Pilgrims chant saranams loudly. After breaking the coconut they climb the 18 steps to have the darshan of Lord Ayyappa