Sabarimala: A Soul's Uphill Journey!
(Note: This is a very long blog unlike my other blogs as it is required and deserving. Please read fully when you have time! and see the pics at the bottom)
“You can't plan it, it has to happen on its own...when He wants to see you, actually!" had said a relative sometime back while talking about Lord Of Sabarimala- Swami Ayyappan.
This, India's Most Visited Popular shrine where Hindus, Christians and Muslims pray without any discrimination, had eluded me from so many years.
And 'It' happened. Last weekend.With some office colleagues.
How was it, they ask me...
For such a simple question , I, known as a man of words in my circle, find no words to answer...
If I just say,' It was a divine , wonderful, mind blowing experience', I could even be describing a latest 3D Blockbuster movie thus in a review.
Yet, being a blogger, I will record the events of the trip only, leaving the 'experience' part to the readers 'own understanding.
I had worn Thulasi mala as per custom at RA puram Ayyappan temple on 15th and perfomed daily pooja for about 10 days in advance.
We a team of 17 staffers from my Office incl Director, AGMs, Project Managers and others took Irumudi on 17th Friday evening in Chennai's Mahalingapuram Ayyappan Temple.
We had snacks in the nearby hall -Hot poori-masala and Upma and left by the pre-arranged AC minibus shortly.
We sang some Bhajans in the bus and took rest. At Morning 5.30, we reached Madurai- TTDC- Hotel Tamilnadu where we got down and occupied two rooms for freshening up in bathroom and change of dress.
We walked a couple of kilometres to reach the famous Madurai Meenakshi sundareshwar temple.
We bought special Rs.100/-. ticket and saw the Deeparadhana of the beautifully decorated Amma from front row and then waited in front of Sundraeshwarar temple for darshan of Lord Shiva.
After the two satisfying darshans here, we stayed for a sumptuous Idli-Dosa- Poori Breakfast in a local restaurant and left for Sabarimala by 9.30 am.
We took the Madurai-Theni-Cumbum-Kumily route by our bus; the green flat fields of TN soon turned into mild hills and then to start of Ghats in Kumily the border town in kerala.
We enjoyed watching Thiruvilaiyadal and Deivam- two Tamil devotional films on DVD in the bus during the long 10 hr journey.
We had Kerala style vegetarian lunch in a restaurant in Kumily (with boiled rice) and were frankly, a bit unsatisfied with the taste.
Then it started raining the rest of the way intermittently all the way to Pampa. Through the closed windows of AC van I was thinking of how’s and whys of the climb in the open when we reached there.
It was at around evening 6 pm, we arrived at the banks of holy River Pampa. We got down and immediately felt rain on our cheeks. Some welcome from the Lord!
We took the irumudi packets on our head and started walking towards the bank of the river as the rain slowly increased its tempo, chanting Swamiye Ayyappa… ayyappao swamiye .
We kept our small handbag containing change of clothes and essentials that we needed to carry to the Temple above, for stay overnight.
As we started to the River pampa with gushing clean waters from Monsoon, rains suddenly opened up all the way and pelted the shores in full cry.
Wow, it was a sight to behold, but we had not come there to enjoy the scenery from a shelter. We ran to the river and took half a dip, full dip whatever we could in the falling rain, in the chilled waters of the river. We came back wet gasping and soaked and yet took our Irumudi on the heads carefully in a plastic cover so as to protect the contents from getting wet!
No such luck for rest of our bodies as we ran towards the beginning of the steps towards the first stop above, Kannimoola Ganapathi temple!
‘This requires some heroism’ I thought, not knowing what was in store for us.
Balancing the Irumudi carefully we went up; sometimes tying it to the head with a mundu helps, but only temporarily as the same starts sliding with our climbing motion.
After breaking a coconut in this temple, we started the first steep climb.
The rains were in no hurry to stop and we were now fully soaked . Beaten but not out, I climbed slowly with the rest of the team and mingled with the surge of other devotees similarly climbing,
The steps grew sharper and steeper and in another 15 wet minutes, I was gasping and legs were shaking with the effort. My colleagues said,' you,may take Doli if it is required ! Dont hesitate!' etc
It was somewhere then that I started enquiring the Doli-wallahs for a ride in the chair on their shoulders.
There was no use haggling as they did not have anything to lose. In any case the rains falling heavily, I took the Doli for a part of the way up to Sabari peetam for 1500/-. I still felt I could walk the rest of the flatter but longer distance of 1 to 1.5 km to the temple from there.
It is an amazing experience to be carried by 4 wet gasping but determined men who weave their way through the crowds on the wet slippery ramps to the destination above. These are real life Supermen, poor, illiterate and unsung!
In a matter of 15 minutes I was there on the large welcome area lobby of Sabari peetam, .It was still raining slowly, as I arrived and got down there. I paid off the Doli-wallahs and paid for their tea too.
There are some refreshments stalls selling everything from Biscuits, coffee tea and fruit juices there. Ironically this is where Sri Rama gave Mukti to Sabari and we had lemon soda and ate fresh Pineapple pieces in that memory!
As we left this place now with me walking with the rest of the team, the rains came back with double speed and started pelting again
Chanting Swamiye ayyappa nama , this is when we realise how heavy it is to carry our body to the final destination of life ultimately. It is for this only that Swami Sathya Sai also hails us to let go of Deha bhavam and develop Atmic shakti. As we continued nonchalantly in the heavy rains, to test our perseverance, the lights which lit up the path went off, plunging the whole mountain in eerie darkness.
In pitch dark cold wet night, legs shaking with effort, only half way up, I stood amazed at the severe test we needed to pass now. Using torch lights towards the feet we gingerly stepped upwards chanting different versions of Swami Ayyappa.
“ Bhagawane , bhagavathye, swamiye, eeshwarane, eeshwaraiye like this we chanted diverting our minds in the wet dark night as we climbed slowly above,
It is just a matter of putting the mind over the matter and surrendering totally to Lord Ayyappan himself as the sole saviour for us at the moment.( Someone mentioned it is only sheer will power, and I would like to add,’ it is more of His will-power than our own’!)
What else will us- wet, tired devotees with irumudi on the heads require?
We cry to the Swami, “ Deha balam thaa, Pada balam thaa ( Give me strength to legs and body ). Some pray earnestly in Tamil “ Aetri vidappa, Thooki vidappa”(Lift us up, carry us up),
In all this nothing short of a real life adventure in which we have to come out winners! With earnest chanting on Swami Ayyappan, we reach the well-lit Sannidhanam (Generators at work there!, power cut in rest of the way) nestled amid the imposing blue hills shrouded in darkness.
It was about 8.45 pm when we reach the long lines moving to the 18 stepped entrance of the Temple. It had taken me around 2.5 hours to reach here from the Pampa river bed, some hundreds of feet below. Many of my colleagues got scattered by this time and I was with only my friend Mr Sundaram and Guru swami
Oh, WOW, this Lord is great, I feel and join the long Q and pass through the covered enclosure and lo!, I am in front of the holy golden 18 steps symbolising 18 different sadhanas we need to undertake to reach our final destination in life. (For more details, Read here)
It is a great relief and with my eyes watering I climb up the revered holy 18 steps of the temple in jostling crowds all with Irumudi on the heads.( You are not allowed to enter through steps without irumudi sack, you can enter the same through a side entrance without it too!).These golden cladded steps are steep too at some 70 deg inclination (?) and our knees scrape the next step above as we climb up.
We now visit the great Bhagawan himself passing through the walk up bridge and I see him for a brief 10 seconds and felt thrilled and exhilarated at the Divine sight marking the successful culmination of our long trial.
All of us tired and wet, relax now in MN Nambiar guest house and in the same darkness and candles lighted we have Dosa and Rava kichdi to our belly’s content and sleep on the mats on the floor, sound asleep. Yes, sound of the snores!
We wake up at 2.45 am for the next day morning darshan before departure. Our Guru swami and other organisers were busy in separating the contents of all Irumudi like Ghee for abhishekam, pooja materials to take it inside.
I had the great privilege of performing arathi to 18 steps at 4 a.m. (as I am called kanni swami= First timer) and distribute vibhuti prasadam to my team.
One more marvellous miracle was only waiting to happen!.
Our relative, my wife’s nephew Mr Ganesh knew someone who maintains the VIP entrance here , the path that takes one very close to the Swami! And I had his number. He was his utmost helpful self and allowed all 15 of us in batches of 5 through this special entrance. We arrived at the first grill before the “garbha gruham” and were thrilled , how fortunate we were at such proximity while the others waited at a distance.
At 5 a.m. we witnessed the unlocking Golden doors of the sparkling temple by the Main Tantri (Priest) and ‘This was the Moment of truth!’
The God’s sparkling yellow gilded idol as left in previous evening when doors were closed re-appeared in full glow to our amazed eyes for a full 2 minute period, the atmosphere is electrifying as everyone cries full throat” Swaaaamiyee ayyappaaa”.
There is some magnetic and charismatic power in this Divine boy’s moorthy cladded in Gold, that flows from here to outside, I am sure of it now, which pulls lakhs of devotees every year. We can feel it now but I won’t be able to describe the joy and thrill of this spellbinding encounter!
After this charged experience, I move on to other activities which include rolling a coconut around ‘Maligapurathamma’ temple next to Main temple ( a custom for Kanni swami like me again)
As the story goes, after Mahishi was killed, a beautiful lady appeared from the body of Mahishi. She requested Ayyappa to marry her and accept her as his soul mate. But due to his mission and the state as a Yogi, Ayyappa refused it. But due to the incessant beseech of the girl, the Lord gave her the word that he will definitely marry her at that time when there will be no Kanni Ayyappas in his abode at Sabarimala.
So I am one of the ‘Kannis’ who spoil her chances this year too, and Ayyappa remains a Brahmachari seated in Yogic Chin mudra atop these wonderful blue Neeli malai.
I had purchased the customary aravana payasam and appam as prasadam
All done, we leave the temple, praying at Holy steps for another chance and start the climb down or the descent from the hills to Pampa.
This time I had made up my mind to make up for the distance I had not climbed on the way up and choose to go walking down all the way. No Doli this time!
The morning today 7.15 am was dry with no rains but the path is slippery after last night’s huge deluge that has left the surface wet and sandy. The stones are sharp and hurt too, Unmindfully I walk down thinking of Ayyappa’s benign Golden idol.
Holding on to the handrails that separate the ways up and down, I very slowly and carefully step down , took many breaks in between to catch my breath and savour some more pineapple pieces and lemon soda to refresh and re-energise myself.
I bought a toy wooden stick arrow and plunged it in a wooden board at Sabari peetam this time, it’s like signing my attendance as kanni swami!( Saram kuthi, it is called)
If anything, coming down the steps and ramp is even harder than climbing up and many use Doli more for coming down only.. It was me doing just the opposite!
So it was karmic load that I compensated, I think and I reach the Pampa river banks by 9.15 am, a full 2 hours from the top.
We had some Parathas and tea in the restaurant ( I found to my dismay that Idlis and vadas are hard and not good there, may be generally on Kerala route?) and left by our Bus at 10 am.
It was another 20 hours journey via Cumbum-Dindigul-Trichy-Chennai when mostly I tried to sleep and rest.
I applied some Volini spray on my aching legs and thighs. Luckily, no injuries on my soles or heels. It is certainly his karunai( compassion) and I thank Swami Ayyappan from my heart for this first in a lifetime experience that I will always cherish.
I reached home at 4.30 am and my wife smilingly welcomed me with an Arathi at doorstep as this is customary.
Some Pics below:< click to enlarge>
|Self at Chennai -Irumudi function|
|My Office colleagues- group pic|
|Self at Madurai Meenakshi Temple|
|Lovely scenes in Kerala enroute|
|Forests near Sabarimala|
|Pampa River bathing ghats|
|Ascending the hill steps|
|accommodation-Guest house where we stayed|
|beautiful hillsides in sabarimala|