Lord Ayyappa – Part 3

Venu Payyanur

The pilgrimage to Sabarimala is a symbol of love, equality, and devotion. The outstanding feature of the pilgrimage is that it is not at all sectarian. Anyone notwithstanding the caste, creed or religion he belongs to, can unhesitatingly join the pilgrimage, subject to the observance of the prescribed austerities. As a devotee of Ayyappa there exists no discrimination between the rich and the poor or the high-born and the low-born. This unique aspect of the pilgrimage conveys to the people the message that all men are created equal. Once a devotee wears the garland round the neck and black attire round the waist as the preliminary ritual of the pilgrimage, he identifies himself with the Lord. He is addressed as ‘Swami’ or ‘Ayyappa’ and on his turn he addresses others in same terms. He sees everyone including himself as the image of ‘Ayyappa Swami’, thus upholding the Vedic dictums of ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ and’ Tattwamasi’.

Why does one wear black colour clothes and mala’s etc during the Vrata period? – The colour black signifies no colour. This is also the real state of the world as at night we do not see any colour. Only in light we see the colour and colour also gives us the feeling of differences. (For example White man, black man, etc). Therefore the colour black signifies that there is no difference between you and me, the rich and the poor, the high born and the low born and as well as “GOD” and man, as everything is god and god is everything. By not shaving, cutting your nails, not combing, etc, you are strengthening your “tapasya”. This also means that you are not interested in anything else in the world except seeing “GOD”; you are not interested in getting attracted by others or in physical pleasures as your pursuit is purely spiritual.

Significance of the posture of Ayyappa and the “Yogapattam” (something that is tied to the God’s legs and back) – As you can see, the posture of Lord Ayyappa is significantly different from any other gods that you would see. In this case the lord is neither sitting fully nor standing. This is called “Yoga Padasanam”. As per scriptures, the left thigh is for the wife to sit and right thigh for the children. Since lord Ayyappa is a confirmed “brahmachari, he give no place for a wife or children and by tieing it with the yogapattam, he declares that there will never be any place for a wife or children.

The sacred 18 steps (Ponnu Pathinettampadi). The inner meaning of   these 18 steps is as follows: – The first five steps represent the Five Senses (Panchendriyas) i.e. visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and tactile. These signify the mortal nature of one’s body.  The next eight steps represents 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 represents the three Gunas (nature-born qualities), Satv, (perspicuity, discernment), Rajas (activity, enjoyment) and Thamas (inactivity, stupor). The last two steps represent Vidya (Knowledge) and Avidya (Ignorance).

It is believed that, those who detach themselves from all these worldly pleasure can see the Lord Ayyappa in real sense. It is considered 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’. There are many other opinions also about the inner meaning of the   holy steps.

Tattwamasi i.e. ‘You are that’ – when you reach the “Sannidhanam” the first thing you see is the word written in Malayalam and Sanskrit at the sanctum sanctorum. What does this mean? You reach the temple complex in search of “GOD” and there you read this, means that you are “GOD” yourself and no need to go anywhere in search of him, because the GOD resides with in you and always.

Irumudi – Before starting the pilgrimage to Sabari Hills, each devotee prepares an Irumudi (A bag with two separate compartments and with two knots) for the long and strenuous journey through jungles.  The front compartment contains the ghee-filled coconut and the other one includes food and personal belongings.  The devotee walks by foot all the 8 miles from the shore of the Pampa River to Swami Sannidhanam (the open hall in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum), crosses the 18 steps and pours the ghee over the idol of the Lord.

The walk by foot through the jungle symbolizes that the path to spirituality requires greater efforts.  The coconut represents the human body, the outer shell of the coconut symbolizes ego, and the ghee is the Atman (human soul).  Coconuts have three eyes: two eyes represent the intellect and the third eye is the spiritual eye.  The idol represents Brahman.  The rear compartment of the Irumudi symbolizes ‘Praarabdha Karma’ (accumulated worldly possessions).  The devotee exhausts all the worldly possessions during the journey and reaches the Sannidhanam with the ghee filled coconut.  The devotee is reminded that worldly possessions hinder the progress of liberation. The devotee opens the spiritual eye of the coconut, breaks the coconut and pours the ghee (Atman) on to the idol (Brahman).  At this time, the devotee has detached the ego and worldly possessions.  He or she has developed an attitude of total surrender to the Lord (infinite love for the Lord).  The devotee begs Him to grant the total Unity of Atman with the Brahman.  This liberation of Atman from Ego and Wordily Possessions is the Message of Vedanta in Symbolic Language. This Symbolism is flawless and complete. 

Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa

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