I set off on my pilgrimage on Thursday, May 8th with the intention of re visiting some of the famous temples near Trichy and Madurai and then proceed to Coimbatore, enroute to Guruvayoor in Kerala. I wanted to see as many of the famous temples in Kerala as possible , before the final destination of Sabarimala. Since I found no suitable traveling companion for this trip, I was to travel alone although excellent arrangements had been made at all the hotels and a network of local contacts had been arranged by my brother’s office.
I left on Thursday afternoon with the intention of reaching Trichy by late evening. However, hardly had the car left the driveway of my house, when I got a message from Bala asking me to see Her first before proceeding on the pilgrimage.
I directed the driver to proceed to Nemili, overlooking his reluctance to do so, as this detour was going to cost us 3 hours of valuable time.
Quickly, I dialed the phone number at the Peetam and informed the family of my impending visit.
This would be the last time I would see Sri Ezhilmani and his family before I departed back to London. I had booked my ticket to leave immediately after this pilgrimage was completed.
Sri Bala Peetam was completely deserted that afternoon and I was able to get the blessings of Sri Ezhilmani, his wife and son and speak to them for a while without interruptions.
I informed Sri Ezhilmani about my planned visit to Sabarimala and told him that I was not quite sure if I could make this trip as there seemed to be many obstacles to overcome. In particular, I had not paid attention to the vrathams or requirements that are essential before one undertakes this pilgrimage. Sri Ezhilmani gave me a surprising bit of news that Bala did not allow him to wear the traditional “malai” or “irumudi”, when he undertook this pilgrimage many years ago. In fact, neither had he observed any of the rules and regulations before embarking on the trip . Finally, he said to me “ It is not the custom at Bala Peetam to visit Sabarimala. However, you WILL be able to go there and get a successful darshan because when you visit any temple, you are just seeing Bala in the form of the deity installed there”.
I told him that I was planning to climb Sabarimala on May 15th. Sri Ezhilmani and his wife remarked in unision “ It is Uttirai nakshatram on that day. Did you know that Uttirai is the birth star of Ayappan and it is very auspicious to get a darshan of the Lord on this day? Also, did you know that both our birth stars are also Uttirai?”
It was slowly dawning on me that Bala was making me understand all too clearly there was indeed no difference betaeen Her and Ayyappan, or indeed any other deity. All deities reside within this amazing child- Goddess.
Sri Ezhilmani’s parting words to me were “ Bala is with you 100 percent. Believe in that.”
I reached Trichy late that night without any mishap and my pilgrimage commenced early the next morning with a visit to the famous Sri Rangam temple.
I sat in front of the shrine to Maha Lakshmi, waiting for it to open, reading the Ashta Lakshmi prayers written by Sri Ezhilmani. After a superb darshan of the Lord and his consort at Sri Rangam, I had time to revisit the Akhilandeshwari Temple at Tiruvaanaikaval. This temple is famous since it honors the element of water. Lord Shiva is represented by a Lingam that is continuously sprinkled by water from a subterranean source. However, the principal deity revered here is Parvathi, as Akhilandeshwari , adorned with the powerful Sri Chakras as her ear ornaments.
I was able to pay my respects at yet another favorite temple nearby, in Uraiyur. Vekkali Amman is an imposing form of Kali whose powerful presence can be felt by everyone visiting this sacred place. Seated in an open space, with sky as Her roof , this deity is worshipped for obtaining strength and valour in defeating or overcoming obstacles.
It seemed to me that every temple I was visiting on this last trip was being made to feel more special through Bala’s divine grace.
Our final destination for that day was Madurai and enroute, I took in two more temples. Of course, the magnificent Pillayar at Pillayaarpatti was my first stop and I was fortunate to have, once more, a superb darshan of the mighty elephant headed God wearing his golden armour!
The local contact person who met me at Pillayarpatti, insisted I accompany him to another famous temple for Bhairavar ( Lord Shiva) at Vairavanpatti, near Pillayarpatti. Since this was a temple I had not visited before, I immediately agreed.
The temple for Bairavar, an incarnation of Lord Shiva , at Vairavanpatti, is indeed one of the most beautiful ones I have visited so far. Exquisite sculptures adorn this ancient temple , and a marvelous depiction of Meenakshi Kalyanam has been sculpted from a single stone. Ceiling frescoes , murals and stunning architecture , all using stone in an ingenious manner , reveal the rich heritage of the past rulers. The idol of Bhairavar in a standing posture is truly unforgettable.
Reaching Madurai in the late evening, I was just able to have a quick darshan of Goddess Meenakshi before the temple closed after the late night prayers. The Goddess appeared regal, standing amidst the glowing oil lamps. I prayed fervently that I should never waver from my faith in Bala!
The following day, Saturday May 10th, I set off to visit Lord Muruga at his famous hill top abode on Palani Hills. It was my second visit to Palani and I cherished every minute of the short time I spent seated in front of this powerful Lord. After a few moments of quiet contemplation at the shrine of the famous Siddhar Bhogar, we descended these sacred hills and visited another temple for Lord Skanda at Tiruvaninankudi, near Palani. This temple is equally famous, and never overlooked by pilgrims.
In the afternoon, we were speeding on the highway from Palani towards Coimbatore, the gateway to Kerala. On the way, I made a stop to visit the famous Masani Amman temple near Pollachi.
I had heard a lot about the deity at this temple, especially renowned to address grievances of her devotees. People who have lost their money, property and valuables through unjust means appeal to Masani Amman. Men and women who are harassed by enemies appeal to this Goddess to give strength to vanquish their foes. In fact, this temple serves as a court of Justice, where devotees record their grievances on a piece of paper. These papers are placed by the priest on the trident carried by the Goddess and the belief is that problems will be relieved within a few months.
The main idol in the sanctum is an extremely imposing seventeen feet image of a reclining Goddess. In her four hands, Masani Amman carries a serpent, a skull, a small drum and a trident.
When I walked inside the temple, an abhishekam was about to be performed and I sat down in front of this powerful Goddess , praying to Bala and offering my gratitude to her for affording me this great darshan.
From Pollachi, the drive to Coimbatore is very scenic with the countryside appearing lush and green, nestled at the foothills of the Western Ghats. There is a famous temple to Pillayar on the outskirts of Coimbatore. The Eachanari Pillayar temple dates back thousands of years. The story goes that a massive idol of Pillayar was being brought in a chariot to be installed at the famous Shaivaite temple at Perur, near Coimbatore. However, one of the wheels of the chariot boke at Eachanari and the idol that was placed on the ground proved impossible to move later on . So, the Pillayar remained at Eachanari and the temple was built around him. After a sincere prayer to this mighty Lord to help me on my spiritual path, I proceeded to the hotel in Coimbatore for a short rest.
I was able to visit two more temples that Saturday evening. The first was the ancient and beautiful temple for Lord Shiva as Patteeswarar at Perur , and the second was Skanda’s abode at Marudhamalai.
It is said that Lord Shiva was worshipped at Perur by Patti, the daughter of the Celestial cow, Kamadhenu. Hence , the name Patteeswarar. Lord Shiva’s consort at Perur is Goddess Maragathaambikai.
The temple at Perur is a vast one abounding in exquisite sculptures and architectural splendour. The Dance Hall or Kanagasabhai Mandapam houses an ornate shrine to Lord Nataraja. The four pillars of this Mandapam have a slight tilt, as if they are leaning deferentially towards the Lord. The pillars are supposed to signify the four Vedas.
Another interesting temple I visited that evening was the famous Marudhamalai temple for Lord Muruga. Although not part of his Aru Padai Veedu, Marudhamalai is nevertheless , considered to be a very sacred spot and the hillsides abound in shrubs and bushes that possess medicinal properties. A visit to Marudhamalai is believed to remove both physical and mental afflictions. The main sanctum housing the Lord is a small, yet beautiful one and Lord Skanda appears radiant alongside his consorts.
The next day, Sunday May 11th, started off with an early morning visit to see Bannari Amman. Located close to Sathyamangalam, almost 60 odd Kilometres away from Coimbatore , this temple is situated in the midst of the dense forests bordering the neighbouring state of Karnataka. Bannari Amman is an aspect of Durga or Shakthi and has remained a powerful icon worshipped through the centuries by travelers and pilgrims praying for a safe journey.
Closer to Coimbatore I visited two temples for Lord Vishnu. The first was at “Then Tirupathi”. This is a recently built temple modeled on the lines of its famous counterpart at Tirumala in Andhra Pradesh. The temple for Lord Venkatachalapathi has been built by a wealthy industrialist in Coimbatore who was a devout worshipper of he Lord at Tirupathi. The story goes that the Lord appeared in the dream of this wealthy businessman and ordered him to build a temple replicating his abode in Tirupathi. And so, it came to be called Then Tirupathi. The Srivari temple is located on top of a hill and set amidst sylvan surroundings providing a peaceful resting place for the Lord.
The next temple on my schedule was the Ranganathar Temple at Karamadai. This is one of the oldest temples in Coimbatore and the main deity, Ranganathar is worshipped in the main sanctum in the form of a Lingam. There is an interesting story as to how this temple came into existence. Apparently, Garudan, the sacred mount of Lord Vishnu desired to have a darshan of the Lord in his wedding attire, along with his consort, Mahalakshmi. Garudan’s wish was honoured at this location and the Lord consented to stay on here to bless the local people. However, over the years, the stone statue got buried underground and a dense forest of “Kara” trees arose around it.
Many centuries later, a cowherd noticed that his cow often disappeared to a particular area in the dense undergrowth in order to shed her milk . One day, the cowherd attempted to cut the thorny bushes surrounding this place when, to his amazement, blood started to gush forth. A stone idol resembling a Lingam was discovered and consecrated as Lord Ranganathar.
Leaving Coimbatore in the early afternoon,on Sunday, we proceeded to cross the border into Kerala on our way to Guruvayoor.
Guruvayoor is, needless to say, the most famous temple in Kerala and considered by pilgrims to be the “Booloka Vaikuntam” or “ Heaven on Earth”
The enchanting idol of a young Lord Krishna at Guruvayoor is extremely sacred and is thousands of years old. This idol was supposed to have been worshipped by Lord Vishnu himself and later passed through the hands of Brahma, Sutapa, Kasyapa, Vasudeva, Krishna and Uddava.
The temple at Guruvayur is supposed to have been built by the divine architect Viswakarma and the idol has been consecrated at this holy spot by both Brahaspathi( the Guru of the Devas), as well as Vayu ( Lord of the wind). Hence, the name Guruvayur.
Although I have visited this famous temple a couple of times in the past few years, I wanted to come here again , especially for the early morning darshan, the famous Nirmalya Darshan.( when the flowers and adornments of the previous night are removed).
We were met at Guruvayur by a helpful, local contact who had made arrangements for an evening darshan on Sunday. However, when I walked to the temple entrance, there was an enormous crowd of people waiting in a long queue. Although I was able to skip this long line of devotees and join up with a shorter queue inside the temple, I was jostled and pushed by the crowd. There was nothing to do except to be carried along in the wave of the people towards the main sanctum. Here, we were allowed just a second to catch a glimpse of the Lord.
Since a visit to Guruyaur isn’t complete without obtaining the blessings of Lord Shiva and Parvathi at Mammiyur, this temple was our next stop.
At Thriprayar, there is an ancient temple dedicated to Shri Rama. We were able to visit this temple in the late evening and marvel at the splendid wooden carvings and architecture .
The next morning I was up by 2 a.m. hoping to catch a glimpse of Sri Krishna at Guruvayur as soon as the temple doors opened in the early hours of the morning.
As I walked to the canopied entrance to the temple, the crowd appeared more dense than on the previous evening. I stood in the long line for over half- hour listening to the chants of Melpathoor’s wonderful composition, Narayaneeyam.
I couldn’t have asked for a better place to be! However, just as the time neared towards the opening of the main temple doors, the Heavens opened and it started to pour with rain! Although, I got completely drenched in the downpour, I felt truly blessed to be present in front of Guruvayurappan.
Once again, I was fortunate to receive a darshan of the Lord, particularly, at this auspicious, early morning time .
Returning to the hotel, I was able to take a short rest before departing to the Kadampuzha Bhagavathy temple.
Situated in the midst of a forest, the main deity at Kadampuzha is regarded as a manifestation of Durga or Parvathi. This temple dates back to the era of Aadi Shankaracharya and it is widely believed that he founded this shrine.
I joined a long line of devotees who were each carrying a bag of coconuts. Some had two or three coconuts in their bags, while others seemed to be carrying a huge load. Upon enquiry, I was informed that each coconut represented a member of the devotees’ family or friends. When the devotee reached the inner sanctum, he or she would read out the name of the person corresponding to the coconut being handed over to the priest, along with his/ her respective birth star. The coconut would be broken in front of the deity. If the coconut split into two equal halves and proved to be a fresh one, then the verdict is that the person would soon be relieved of whatever problem ailed him and had nothing to worry.
On the other hand, if the broken coconut proves to be a rotten one, all is not lost. A fresh one is broken in front of the sanctum and the blessings of the Goddess are fervently sought!
The Durga at Kadampuzha is believed to have immense curative powers as testified by the huge crowds that congregate in the temple every day.
We were soon bound for Cochin. On the way is another interesting and very powerful Bhagavathi temple at Kogungallur. The legend goes that the Chera King, Chenguttuvan built a temple here for Kannagi, who is also regarded as a manifestation of Durga.
Yet another legend indicates that the Kali at Kodungallur was created by Lord Shiva in order to kill the demon Daaruka. In any case, this is considered to be the very first Badrakali temple in Kerala.
The imposing, six feet image in the inner sanctum is carved from a Jack Fruit tree. A mask is placed over the tree to make it resemble the female deity. There was no crowd when I visited this temple and I sat for a long time in front of this Kali, feeling waves of energy and bliss emanating from her.
The next day was a busy one as I was scheduled to visit many more famous temples.
The day started with a darshan of Lord Shiva at a triad of temples to the south of Cochin. These are the Mahadeva temples situated at Vaikom, Ettumanoor and Kaduthuruthy. A visit to all these three temples in one day is considered extremely auspicious.
The legend goes that a demon called Kharan ( slayed by Lord Rama at Triprayar), worshipped Lord Shiva at Chidambaram and obtained three Shiva Lingams. Kharan carried these precious Shiva Lingams back to Kerala, transporting two of them in his two hands and the third, in his mouth.
At Vaikom, Khara rested one of the Lingams on the ground and discovered that he could not budge it later. Hence, the famous temple for Mahadevar was established at Vaikom. The remaining Shiva Lingams were installed at two nearby places, Ettumanoor and Kaduthuruthy.
At Vaikom, Kharan entrusted the Shiva Lingam to the care of a saint, Vyagrapadhar. The town came to be called Vyagrapuri and later, Vaikom. It is believed that Lord Shiva gave Darshan to Vyagrapadhar under a tree situated on the temple premises . As one of the oldest and most famous temples in Kerala, the Vaikom temple boasts an elliptical shaped sanctum, whose roof is covered with copper plates. The sanctum dates back to the 11th century and the wooden panels and murals are from the 15th century.
An enormous, 317 feet flagstaff graces the entrance to this temple.
The offering of food is regarded as a form of worship at Vaikom and Lord Shiva is regarded here as the Lord of Food or “AnnadhaanaPrabhu”.
At Kaduthuruthy, another beautiful temple, Lord Shiva is enshrined inside the main sanctum and there are also sub shrines for Lord Shiva both as “Vaikathappan”, as well as “Ettumaoorappan”. It is said that if one cannot make a visit to all three Shiva temples on the same day, just a visit to Kaduthuruthy should suffice!
The Shiva temple at Ettumanoor ( the last in the triad), has a circular sanctum covered with a conical copper plated roof, somewhat similar in style to the Vaikom temple.
There are beautiful wood carvings in the exterior of the circular sanctum depicting legends from Ramayana and Bhagavatha Puranam.
It is believed that Khara established a shrine for Lord Krishna at this temple in the North West corner.
The MahaGanapathy temple at Malliyoor is yet another extremely ancient temple dating back to at least 10th or 11 th century. Widely referred to as “Vaishnava Ganapathy”, the image of Ganapathy in the main sanctum cradles a baby Krishna on his lap.
A visit to two more famous temples rounded off the day. These were the famous Chottanikkara Bhagawathi temple and Tripunithura Poornathrayeesa temple.
Although, I had visited the powerful Chottanikkara Devi on two previous occasions, I was quite keen to receive Her blessings again. It is here, in Chottanikkara, a powerful Shakthi Peetam, that Goddess RajaRajeshwari is worshipped in her three forms as Saraswathi in the morning, Lakshmi at noon, and as Durga in the evening.
There is an idol of Maha Vishnu on the same pedestal as the Goddess and hence she is worshipped as “AmmE Narayana”, “ Lakshmi Naryana” or “ Badre Narayana”.
The Bhagavathi at this temple is regarded as a very powerful icon who can cure mental and physical ailments of her devotees.
At Tripunithura, Lord Vishna is depicted as sitting under the shade of the five royal hoods of the divine serpent Ananthan, whose folded body serves as the Almighty Lord’s throne. Lord Vishnu is known as “ Santhaana Gopala Murthy” ( Saviour of infants).
The legend goes that this idol was presented to Arjuna by Lord Vishnu when the former sought the help of the Supreme Lord to help bring back to life the ten children of a devout Brahmin. This story is also an illustration of how Arjuna’s ego was quelled by the Lord, as Arjuna, in his arrogance promises the Brahmin that he possesses the power to perform the miracle himself.
It is believed that Arjuna, the ten revived children and the idol came back to earth at this spot. The inner sanctum at Tripunithura resembles a chariot.
The day preceding my trek up the holy hills of Sabarimala , I visited a few more temples enroute to my destination for that night, at Tiruvalla.
The first temple I visited on May 14th was Chakkulathukavu Sree Bhagavathy Temple. This is perhaps one of the few temples in Kerala which grants access to all devotees irrespective of caste or creed. The story goes that the supreme Goddess Parvathi is enshrined hre as Devi who slew the two Asuras ( demons), Sumbha and Nishumba. The famous verses of “Devi Mahatmyam” narrate the story of how the Goddess acceded to the sincere prayers of the Devas and Sages by battling the demons and vanquishing them. The temple is certainly built in an idyllic spot with two sacred rivers, the Pampa and Manimala flowing on either side.
Our next stop that morning was at Ambalapuzha. The Sree Krishna temple at Ambalapuzha is an extremely famous one and so too is the temple prasadam, “Pal Payasam” ( Milk sweet with rice).
Dating back to 800 A.D., it is said that the idol of Lord Krishna at Ambalapuzha is likened to that of Parthasarathy. ( the divine charioteer for Arjuna). Sri Krishna holds a whip in his right hand and the sacred conch in the left hand as he gives darshan and blessings to his devotees with an enchanting smile.
The story goes that a famous devotee of Lord Krishna, Sri Vilvamangalam Swamy, was cruising on a boat in the backwaters, along with the Maharajah of Travancore, when, all of a sudden, he heard the most melodious flute music. Following the direction of this divine music, Sri Vilwamangalam saw a bright light beyond the tall coconut palm trees.
Believing that he had heard none other than his favorite deity’s music, the King decided to build a temple for Sri Krishna at this spot.
There is no doubt that even today, the divine presence of Sri Krishna is manifest at this lovely temple!
Our next stop was the interesting temple for snakes at Mannarsala. The Nagaraja temple here is closely associated with Lord Parasurama ( an incarnation of Vishnu) and the creation of the state of Kerala.
The sory goes that Parasurama beseeched the Supreme Lord for forgiveness after having battled and killed many Kshatriyas. He was told that the only remedial measure for him to attain salvation was if he gave away a lot of land as donation to poor Brahmins. So, Parasurama took out his battling axe and flung it far into the sea. The waters of the ocean retreated beyond the point marked out by the axe and the drained land was called Kerala. Parasurama proceeded to give away this huge parcel of land.
However, this land proved uninhabitable and had to be desalinated if vegetation could thrive and food could grow on it. So, Parasurama commenced an austere fast and prayed to the Lord of the Snakes . Finally, the Lord of the Serpents appeared in front of Parasurama and agreed to help make the land more prospereous. Nagaraja ordered his army of serpents to emit the poison in their fangs and de salinate the entire area.
Slowly, over time, the land regained by Parasurama , grew more lush and fertile and the people living here became more prosperous.
As a token of gratitude, Parasurama built a temple at Mannarsala to honour all the snakes. Many secret rites and rituals were adhered to while setting up the temple here. The installed deity is supposed to represent the union of Lord Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. Over 30,000 images of serpents and yakshis are found in the dense grove of Mandara trees that abound in this area.
It is widely believed that serpent worship alleviates fertility problems, physical and mental problems. However, the chief priest here is a woman. It is said that the High Priestess , called a Valia Amma, is the eldest female member of the family who has been taking care of this temple through several, successive generations.
The customs and rites of worship follow the strict rules established by Parasurama and there are many austerities that have to be upheld by the priestess.
I saw the room where the current priestess carries out her special poojas to the serpent king.
There is another story about the origin of snake worship at Mannarsala.
Thousands of years ago, a childless couple, Vasudeva and Sri Devi, carried out extensive rituals to appease the Snake Gods in order to have progeny. As an answer to their prayer, the Lord of Serpents was born as their eldest child in the physical form of a five-hooded serpent child. Later, Sri Devi went on to give birth to a human son as well.
It is this family that has continued the worship of Serpents at Mannarsala in the manner prescribed by the eldest ancestor, the Snake- son.
Following the visit to the highly intriguing and unique temple for snakes, we visited Haripad, famous for the shrine of Lord Subrahmanya. Worshipped by Parasurama, the imposing, four- armed idol of Lord Muruga in the sanctum is supposed to have been discovered in the nearby river.
We rounded off the morning temple tour by obtaining a darshan of Lord Vishnu as Sree Vallabha at the temple in Tiruvalla. This is one of the 108 Divya Desams for Lord Vishnu and there is an imposing, six feet idol in the main sanctum. Dating back to the pre Christian era, a remarkable feature here is a fifty feet granite pillar carved out of a single stone with an immense sculpture of Garuda at the top of it.
On the afternoon of May 14th, we were able to visit a few more important temples in the vicinity of Tiruvalla, our destination for that night. These were the last few holy places I visited before the pilgrimage to Sabarimala and my return back to London.
The Chengannur Mahadevar temple is one of the oldest and very famous temples in Kerala. Lord Shiva faces east , while his consort Parvathi faces west . However, Chengannur is more renowned as a Shakthi Peetam. It was here that the reproductive organ of Parvathi fell, after she immolated herself in the fire following Daksha’s sacrifice. It was Vishnu’s discus that shattered Sati’s body into numerous pieces and wherever the body parts fell, a Shakthi Peetam arose.
At Chengannur, it is widely believed that the Goddess goes through menstruation and a festival has been connected with this menstruation ceremony.
The sanctum here is circular, as in most Kerala temples and has a conical, copper plated roof.
The Sasthamkulangara Nrisimha temple is located close to Chengannur and houses some of the most exquisite wood carvings depicting scenes from Gajendra Moksham, Dasavatharam, AnanthaSayanam , as well as beautiful images of Siva, Parvathi, Seeta, Hanuman and Nrisimhar.
This temple is thousands of years old and is packed with delightful art treasures.
Aranmula Parthasarathy temple was our next stop. “Aranmula”, literally means in Malayalam, “ a raft of 6 bamboo poles”. The story goes that Arjuna installed this idol of Krishna as a “charioteer”, by transporting it down the river, on a home made raft , using bamboo poles. The legend is that during the epic battle of Kurukshetra, in the Mahabharatam, it was Krishna’s discus that finally brought about the demise of the valiant Bhishma, on the ninth day of the battle.
So, here at Aranmula, the lord carries the “Chakra” on his arm.
The Pancha Pandava brothers, won the Kurukshetra battle with Krishna’s help. After the war was over, the five brothers traveled through Kerala , and it is believed that each brother consecrated a temple in honor of Lord Vishnu. A visit to all five temples on the same day is considered auspicious. However, I was able to visit just four of these five sacred spots on my tour.
While the idol at Aranmula was brought in by Arjuna, the Thiruchittatu Maha Vishnu temple was consecrated by the eldest of the Pancha Pandavas, Dharmaputhirar, and the Puliyoor Mahavishnu temple was sanctified by Bhima. At Tiruvanvandur, the idol of Maha Vishnu is an imposing seven feet tall and is believed to have been established here by Nakulan.
(The fifth temple that I did not get a chance to visit is the one established by Sahadevan, Trikodithanam, Mahavishnu temple).
My temple tour on that penultimate day preceding Sabarimala pilgrimage concluded with a visit to the Thrikkaviyur Mahadevar temple, near Tiruvalla. This temple dates back to the 10th century and features exquisite and detailed wood carvings in the sanctum. Although the main deity here is Lord Shiva, the shrine for the monkey-God, Hanuman, at this temple is considered very powerful.
I departed for Sabarimala from the hotel at Tiruvalla around 4 a.m. on the morning of May 15th, 2008. I was informed that the car journey from Tiruvalla up to the sacred Pampa river would take about three hours and a local contact person would be meeting me there. Arrangements had been made for a priest to give me the “mala” and sacred “irumudi”.
I prayed sincerely to Bala to help me complete this pilgrimage without any obstacles.
During the long car journey, I listened to some melodious songs extolling the glory of Lord Ayyappan, composed by Sri Ezhilmani.
We arrived rather early, around 7 a.m., at the base of the holy hills and after a short wait, the priest showed up. I sat in front of the Pillayar temple and accepted the “mala” and “irumudi”.
We bagan the trek up the hills around 8.30 a.m. It was already beginning to get hot and I tried not to be concerned about the long walk up the hills!
My thoughts were focused on Lord Ayyappa and I willed myself to get sufficient strength to make it up the hill. There was a swarm of people climbing that day and a constant chorus of shouts “ Swamiyeeeee, Charanam Ayyappa”, reverberated in the mountainside.
Our little group set up a continuous chant “ Kallum Mullum kaalikku metthai”, literally translated from Tamil as “ sharp stones and thorns are soft mattress for our feet”; and this chant was interspersed with the refrain “ Swami Charanam Ayyappa”.
Although, I have undertaken several treks before, the climb up the Sabarimala hills is physically demanding. I was walking barefeet, on a steep path made of stones and pebbles that were getting slowly toasted under the merciless glare of the Sun.
The Irumudi I was carrying on my head kept slipping off as I tried to balance it with one hand while clinging on to the handrails up the steep path.
Finally, I removed the irumudi and gave it to the car driver, who was walking behind me. He transported this sacred bundle the rest of the way and returned it to me just as I climbed up the eighteen steps.
It took our group about two and a half hours to climb up to the summit of Sabarimala and enter the abode of Lord Ayyappan.
All along the way, I walked alone, just a bit ahead of my party, reciting Lord Ayyappa’s holy name continuously in my mind. There were a few times when I did feel exhausted, not so much because of the climb, but due to the heat and humidity. The sari I wore was sticky with perspiration and clung to my legs like a wet bag of sand.
Finally, we were there, right in front of the sanctum. The small idol of the Lord seemed to be infused with a special glow.
I was tired and exhausted, yet, the sight of this Lord seated in solitary splendour , filled me with a fresh energy. The coconuts from the Irumudi were handed over to the priest and the ghee inside them were poured over the idol. The holy ablutions were being performed and I watched as if in trance, the anointment of the Lord with ghee, coconut water, milk , honey and holy ash.
I couldn’t help but remember a similar darshan less than a week ago at the Ayyappa temple in Chennai.
It seemed that the Lord had heard my prayers and showered his blessings on me both before as well as after this holy pilgrimage.
To the deafening shout of “ Swamiyeeeee, Charanam Ayyappa”, the alankara deepam and arathi was performed in front of this mighty Lord who teaches us the value of self discipline and self- realisation.
I left Shabarimala a few hours later , bound for Madurai and caught a flight back to Chennai later that very evening.
I had accomplished what I thought was impossible! The pilgrimage to Shabarimala had been fraught with problems; yet, I had completed it and enjoyed a superb darshan of the Lord, thanks to the grace of Bala.
I thought of the message from Sai Baba that was delivered to me by my friend in the U.S. “Tell Uma she can reach me through unwavering faith in her Ishta Devatha”.
My only prayer is that I should remain completely devoted to this Child Goddess and never lose sight of Her during my life time.