38-hour Sabarimala Trip
Dr. R. Narayanaswami
February 14, 2013
Sarasa & I discussed the possibility of undertaking a pilgrimage to Sabarimala and offering worship to Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala in one of our discussions. That was couple of years ago. Mr. V. S. Mahadevan, COO at CSM Software, and an Ayyappa devotee who has made many trips to Sabarimala, gave strong encouragement and made many useful hints during these two years and prepared us for the journey. During the next couple of visits to India, timings did not suit such pilgrimage. It was in January 2013 that we finally set ourselves to make the trip in February and started observing a 30+ day Vratha (strict observance of Satvic and Spiritual living). Ambi, husband of my younger sister Saroja, agreed to serve as Guru Swami (one who has previously made many trips to Sabrimala and thus can guide first-time goers). Sarasas elder sister, Meena, wanted to make the trip and joined us. Thus the four of us made plans for the trip. Meena, Sarasa and myself had the wearing of the Tulsi Mala function in front of Ayyappa shrine at Chakkamkulangara temple on Monday, the day before the start of our trip to Sabarimala.
It was 3 am on Tuesday, February 12, 2013. The alarm from my cell phone sang its melodious tone.
Alarm went off because the alarm was set to go off at that time since we had to get up that early to finish our morning bath, Nitya Pujas etc. by 5 am when we had requested Krishna Vadhyar to come to our house to commence the Ayyappa Puja and Kettunirackal functions, in preparations for our journey to Sabarimala.
Krishna Vadhyar conducted the Puja, Ambi wore the Tulsi Mala and the Kettunirackal was completed by 7:30 am. We went to the Chakkamkulangara temple to offer prayers, returned home at 7:45 am, had breakfast, loaded our Kettu and our bags, and left our home at 8:30 am on our journey to Sabarimala. First stop was at the Purnathrayeesa Temple, Tripunithura. After a good darshan at Purnathrayeesa Temple, left at 8:45 am and arrived at Udayanapuram Subramanian temple at 9:30 am, had a good darshan inside, left at 9:40 am, arrived at 9:45 am at Vaikom Temple, good darshan of Vaikattthappan, left Vaikom Temple at 10:05 am, arrived at Kaduthuruthy Temple at 10:40 am, entered the temple thru the West entrance by climbing the 38-steps to get to the temple, went around, worshipped the Vaikatthappan shrine on the northern side temple inside the premises, then went thru the east side entrance to the main deity, the Kaduthuruthy Sivan, after worship went around and worshipped at the southern side temple of Ettummannurappan and exited out of the temple at about 10:55 am, arrived at Ettummanur temple at 11:10 am, Ettummannur Temple was celebrating the first day of the 10-day Utsavom festival (Feb 12 to Feb 21), went inside the temple and had a good darshan of the Ettummannur Sivan, went around the temple, worshipped at the Krishna temple and came out of the temple complex by 11:25 am. We thus completed the first part of temple darshans prior to our travel to see Sabarimala Ayyappan. This also completed one of our long-cherished wishes of completing the darshans, in the same day, of the triple Siva deities, the Siva at Vaikom, Kaduthuruthi and Ettummannur. Two or three times previously, we missed one of the three temple darshans (not the same one) due to our reaching the temple later than the temple closing time. Even during this visit, as we were getting out of the temple at about 11:25 am, the admission to devotees was closed temporarily for the Neivedya Puja, likely closure for about 30 minutes or so. If we were late in any of our prior activities of the day starting from 3 am till our arrival at 11:10 am, by about 10 to 15 minutes or so, we would not have been able to have the darshan at Ettummannur thus missing out on the visit of all three Siva deities on the same day, showing, once again, that if ones samkalpam of wanting to have darshan of the three deities on the same day is firm, Existence (or Gods or deities as we call them) will grant the wish at the appropriate time.
From Ettummannru to Erumeli via Pala, arrived at Erumeli about 1:10 pm, completed lunch in a hotel by 1:40 pm and arrived at Pampa at about 2:25 pm. Immediately arranged the dolly for Meena, got down about 40 steps or so (that is where the dolly was kept, so the lady for whom walking and climbing up or down the steps is difficult and hence a dolly has been arranged still had to come down the 40 steps to get into the dolly), we ensured however that the dolly carriers dropped her directly near the car on the return, they left soon thereafter. The three of us Ambi, Sarasa & myself – we walked around the area, the Pampa river looked more like an enclosed big tank, no flow at all, water appeared not very clean, so instead of the traditional bath, we decided to sprinkle water on ourselves, left the Pampa river (or tank) area at about 3:00 pm, walked to the Pampa Ganapathy Temple complex with shrines for Ganapathy, Parvathy, Sree Rama and Anjaneya. One has to climb about 122 steps to get to the temple complex – all the temples were closed, so decided to go straight to the start of the walk to Sannidhanam at 3:10 pm.
The walkway is paved with stones and concrete, guard rails are installed to facilitate walkers with support. Early on, the walk was fairly easy as the upward slope was not very steep but fairly soon, the gradients were increasing, we paused after walking for about 15 mts., then walk again and pause, etc. The slopes at Karimala, Appachimedu and Saramkuthu were very steep and required more frequent breaks. After Saramkuthu, the walkway was fairly level and brisk walking without too much breaks was possible. By 5:25 pm, we arrived at the Sannidhanam. Our walk from Pampa to Sannidhanam thus took 2 hours and 15 minutes. We are told that timings of 1 hour 30 minutes for brisk walkers, two to two and half hours for many pilgrims with few others taking three or four hours or longer as usual timings among Sabarimala pilgrims; we felt good that, senior citizens that we are, we completed the walk in 2 hours 15 minutes, sort of the norm time amongst pilgrims.
Five minutes after our arrival, exactly at 5:30 pm, the loudspeaker at the Sannidhanam played the Ganesha mantra chant followed by the Sreekovil Nada Thurannu (the doors to the temple sanctum sanctorum is open) after closure after the 2-month Manadala kala daily puja culminating in Makara Vilakku with the customary closure on Makaram 5 (Jan 18, 2013).
By this time, devotees have started arriving and assembling themselves in queues. By the time we had freshened ourselves and are able to stand in the queue by 6 pm, the line was over 300 to 400 ft long (with 4 deep in each row). We climbed the Pathinettam Padi (the 18 steps leading to Lord Ayyappas sanctorum, it was 6:15 pm, then joined another queue to have darshan of Lord Ayyappa. By the time we got darshan, it was 7:15 pm. Meena, the eldest member of our team, went to the Administrative Officer and obtained a special pass for the four of us to offer our worship from just outside the sanctum sanctorum, the closest point from where devotees can worship. We were all happy at the thought of standing next to Lord Ayyappa in Sabarimala – a powerful feeling, and an overall thrill and satisfaction, indeed.
Stayed overnight, had to wake up three or four times due to cramps in my thighs, Sarasa also got up once due to cramps, otherwise slept quite well and no other problem even after the long day and the long walk of the day. Got up next day at 4 am, after morning bath, Nitya Puja and all that, broke open the Mudra coconuts and poured the ghee that we had filled the previous day into a Thooku Pathram, took the ghee to Lord Ayyappa at 6:30 am for Ghee Abhishekam and returned by 7:00 am. Visited the shrine of Malikapurathamma, deposited the rice and other offerings of camphor, turmeric powder, vibhuti etc. at the designated places. Free breakfast (and lunch) was provided on that day at the ‘Annadhanam hall’ by Mr. Vinayak Ram, a prominent caterer in the Tripunithura- Ernakulam-Kochi area. Mr. Vinayak Ram had also arranged for Ayyappa Puja and ‘bhajans’ by the Chakkamkulangara, Tripunithura group, (Rajesh and Mahesh, sons of my younger brother Mr. R. Venkitachalam living in Chakkamkulangara, are leading bhajan singers with this group). We had our ‘free’ breakfast at this hall, watched the Ayyappa Puja being conducted there and also listened to the bhajans for some time (Rajesh didn’t come but Mahesh was there), then walked around the temple premises for some more time before deciding to return.
Meena used the dolley for return as well. We started our return at 10:10 am. We walked down in one stretch upto Saramkuthu in 30 minutes, took a 10-minute break, started our walk again at 10:50 pm. The walk-down at the three steep slope areas of Saramkuthu, Appachimedu and Karimala had to be negotiated carefully and Sarasa reached Pampa base at 11:25 am, Ambi and I followed at 11:30 am. Thus, Sarasa took 1 hr 15 minutes (including the one 10 minute break) to come down, whereas Ambi and I took 1 hr 20 minutes, also with one break of 10 minutes, on the return. We are told that this return timing of 1 hr 20 minutes is good time for our return from Sannidhanam to Pampa.
Worshipped at the Sree Rama, Anjaneya, Goddess Parvathy and Lord Ganapathi shrines at Pampa and by 12: 30 pm, we were all on our car on our return home. Had our lunch at the Indian Coffee House at Ponkunnam at 2: 15 pm and reached our home by 4:45 pm.
Thus ended the nearly 38-hour trip to Sabarimala and back getting up at 3 am on Tuesday Feb 12, 2013 and getting back home by 4:45 pm on Wednesday Feb 13, 2013.
Great satisfaction at being able to worship Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala!
Having made pilgrimages to Mount Kailash and Manasarovar with the 3-day, 47 km walk (Parikrama) in altitudes of 15,500 ft to 18,650 ft in 2002 and the pilgrimages to Chardham (Gangotri, Yamunothri, Kedarnath and Badarinath), altitudes of 10,000 to 12,000 ft. in 2006, this trip to Sabarimala in 2013, altitudes of 4,000 ft., ranks right up there in terms of the overall preparation and samkalpa involved. The former two pilgrimages required much larger duration (16 day for Kailash-Manasarovar and 14 days for Chardham). In terms of the overall thrill and satisfaction, all pilgrimages leave you with awe and wonder at the power of the deities that we worship. We all, the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the mighty and the frail, bow down to That One Ekam Sat, Viprah Bahuda Vadanthi