Ayyappa pooja assumes greater importance during the Mandala period and Ayyappa Bhkthas conduct Maharavillakku in a most religious way. The devotees observe fast during this period and follow lots of customs before taking up the route to Sabarimala. The annual pilgrim season to Sabarimala begins with the Mandalakala season, which commences usually in the months of November-December followed by the Makaravilakku season during December-January. The temple at Sabarimala can be accessed via many traditional routes. Pamba is the main halting point on the way to Sabarimala. As per tradition a dip in the sacred river Pamba cleanses the pilgrims off sins and after that they proceed to the sannidhanam or the sanctorium of Lord Ayyappa. A truly riveting spiritual experience in the lap of pristine nature, Sabarimala has become a major destination of the faithful in India.
Mandala Puja is an important ritual observed at the Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple in Kerala. It is observed from the 1st day of the ‘Vrishchikam’ month till the 11th or 12th day of the ‘Dhanu’ masam in the traditional Malayalam calendar. The day of Mandala Puja marks the end of the 41 days long austerity that is observed by the followers or devotees of Lord Ayyappa. The fast begins 41 before the observance of Mandala Puja, that is, the first day of the Malayalam month of ‘Vrishchikam’. Mandala Puja along with ‘Makar Vilakku’ are the two major events held at the Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple that draws devotees from all over Kerala and neighbouring states. During this time the temple remains open on most of the days for the devotees. As a tradition, devotees visiting the Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple during the Mandala Puja also visit the ‘Guruvayur Temple’. During this time special ‘Abhishekam’ ceremony is organized in the ‘Guruvayur Temple’.
Pathinettapadi (18 divine steps) to the sanctum sanctorium is divine in all aspects. Every Ayyappa devotee, before he sees the Sanctum Sanctorium, has to lay his footsteps over eighteen sacred steps. Initially the 18 steps were made of granite. It was later covered with Panchaloha (a special composition of gold, silver, copper, iron and tin), in the year 1985 to prevent it from deterioration. Pilgrims initiate their ascent up the Pathinettam Padi by placing their right foot on the first step. As per the tradition, only those who undertake the penance for 41 days and those who carry the irumudi on their heads are allowed to use the steps.
Apart from devotion, one has to have tremendous will power, determination and self-control over the pleasantries, comforts and pleasures of life. Even the onward journey to the place of sanctity is not simple. Devotee’s extreme faith in Lord Ayyappa is called for in the entire scheme of things. The sight of Makar Jyothi that appears in the sky at Sabarimala on the 14th of January every year is a mystery in itself till this very day. Truly, a holy place like Sabarimala should be beyond controversies, political voices and social media cynics.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)