Pathinettam Padi (18 Holy Steps) and the Significance of the 18 Steps
by Mantra & shlokas on Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 6:54pm
Before one views the Sanctum Sanctorum, one has to climb over eighteen sacred steps. These steps are now covered with `Panchaloham' (a special composition of gold, silver, copper, iron and tin. Pilgrims initiate their ascent up the Pathinettam Padi by placing their right foot on the first step. The symbolism of these 18 steps is as follows:-
The first five steps symbolise the five human senses (Panchendriyas) i.e. visual (vision), auditory (hearing), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste) and tactile (touch). These signify the `mortal' nature of one's body.
The next eight steps symbolise the eight Ashtaragas viz, Kama, Krodha, Lobha, Moha, Madha, Maltsarya, Asooya, Dhumb (Love, Anger, Avarice, Lust, Pride, Unhealthy Competition, Jealousy and Boastfulness).
The next three steps stand for three Gunas or Thrigunas (nature-born qualities) i.e. Satva, ( perspicuity, discernment) , Rajas (activity, enjoyment) and Thamas (inactivity, stupor).
The last two steps represent Vidya (Knowledge) and Avidya (Ignorance).
It is assumed 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.
The details given above represent the most prevalently accepted version of the significance of the Holy Pathinettam Padi. Other versions are:-
- Ayyappa was a master of 18 weapons and the steps signify these.
- Ayyappa before merging into the idol at the Sanctum Sanctorum, surrendered his 18 weapons, one at each step of Pathinettam Padi.
- The steps represent the 18 hills existing in and around the region of Sabarimala
THE 18 STEPS TO MOKSHA: There are many theories about the significance of 18 steps in the pilgrimage to Sabarimala. It is believed that the steps represent 18 mountains surrounding the temple. On each step, the deity of the corresponding mountain has been installed. So when the devotee climbs the 18 steps to reach the sanctum sanctorum, he attains the punya of visiting all 18 hill gods.During the padipuja, deities of these 18 mountinas are propitiated.
The 18 mountains are: Ponnambalamedu, Gowdenmala, Nagamala, Sundaramala, Chittambalamala, Khalgimala, Mathangamala, Myladummala, Sreepadamala, Devarmala, Nilakkalmala, Thalapparamala, Neelimala, Karimala, Puthuserrymala, Kalakettimala, Inchipparamala and Sabarimala.The 18 steps are also considered as five indriyaas _ eye, ear, nose, tongue and skin; eight rajas, kama, krodha, lobha, moha, mada, matasraya, aham and asooya; three gunas: satva guna, raja guna and tamo guna; and vidya and avidya.
SIGNIFICANCE OF 18 IN HINDUISM: Eighteen is considered as the code number to break into the soul of the Nature. The significance of 18 can be traced back to the Vedic age.The first Veda, believed to be protected by Lord Brahma himself, had 18 chapters. Later, Veda Vyasa divided it to create the four vedas: Rigveda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharava Veda. Each of these vedas had 18 chapters.Veda Vyasa also wrote 18 puranas and 18 upa-puranas. The Bhagavad Gita has 18 chapters and the Kurukshetra war lasted 18 days.