Standfirst: Piety, abstinence and community service will be among the daily routine for millions of Malayalis as the ‘Mandala Kalam’ begins today (November 17, 2021) at 6.30 pm, marking the inaugural of the annual Poojas and festival for Lord Aiyappa (or Lord Aiyappan).
For the first time in New Zealand, the Auckland Malayali Hindu Samajam is marking the season with 41 days of observation with the participation of the member of the Samajam in Auckland and people from outside, notably from the State of Kerala. Mandala Kalam brings nostalgia to the Editor of Indian Newslink and many others from Bahrain, where the rituals are conducted with fervour and religious spirit.
Covid restrictions around social gatherings has deterred many communities from coming together and celebrating many cultural events. Auckland Malayali Hindu Samajam (AMHS) has been soldiering on during these tough time through their frequent Zoom sessions in an attempt to keep the traditions alive.
For Keralites, ‘Mandala Kalam’ marks one of the most devotionally involved time and AMHS is organising another Zoom session with Bhajans and Saranam Vilikal for all 41 days starting the on November 16, 2021.
Lord Aiyappa brings together millions of devotees from all religions
Sabarimala Sree Dharma Sastha Temple
“Swamiye Sharanam Ayappa!”: the hills of Sabarimala chant this mantra day and night.
“The only hope is Ayyappa,’ the words that reverberate in the minds of millions of Ayyappa Devotees as they make their treacherous trek up the hills to be in the presence of their Lord Ayyappa. Words are too weak to express the divine experience of the pilgrimage to Sabarimala Sree Dharma Sastha Temple. Once a dangerous trek, staying away from wild animals and enduring the sheer force of Nature, this pilgrimage is now accessible to most people after it achieved the prominence it has today.
Sabarimala Temple, situated in the Pathanamthitta district, Kerala, India, is one of the largest annual pilgrimage sites in the world attracting about 50 million devotees every year.
They are of all castes, creeds, religions, and races and are warmly welcomed, serving as a prime example of secularism and religious tolerance even before it became the modern norm.
This Hill Shrine is situated inside a luxuriant forest at an altitude of 468 metres above the sea level amidst eighteen hills known as Ayyappa Poongavanam with thick forest, vegetation, valleys, and streams and a part of the famous Periyar Tiger Reserve.
Sunil Kuttumukku from Kerala will lead the Bhajan Group tonight (November 16, 2021)
About Lord Aiyappa
The place gets the name from the eminent woman Saint Sabari from Ramayana period.
Lord Ayyappa, popularly worshipped as Swami Ayyappan and Dharma Shasta, who according to the belief was born with the union of Lord Shiva and Mohini (a feminine incarnation of Lord Vishnu) is the Presiding Deity.
Unlike other pilgrimage destinations, the Sabarimala temple is open only during certain periods in a year, Mandala Kalam being the most important.
The First day of Vrichikam marks the start of Mandala Kalam and ends on the eleventh day of Dhanu month as per Malayalam Calendar. According to the Gregorian version, this year (2021), the Mandala Kalam corresponds to November 16 to December 26, 2021.
The period lasts for 41 days and the significance is as follows:
The significance of 41 days
Tat Tvam Asi – “That Thou Art,’ (That You Are) one of the Mahavakyas, is what welcomes you when you reach Sannidhanam (the Sanctum Sanctorum) and is the goal of all Ayyappa Devotees. To be one with the Lord after you climb the 18 Holy Steps (Pathinettam Padi), to be in his presence, to be him, to be purity. The place where the Lord is Ayyappa, and the devotee is Ayyappa! This is a reminder that God resides in all of us.
The devotee experiences the essence of the four Mahavakyas from the Upanishads:
Prajnanam Brahma: Brahman (The Supreme Being) is Intelligence
Ayam Atma Brahma: Atma (self) is similar to Brahman, the Supreme Being
Tat Tvam Asi: That (Supreme Essence) are you!
Aham Brahmasmi: I am Brahma, the Supreme Being
A devotee aspiring for this divine experience must be pure both mentally and physically.
This is a journey where purity has to be achieved in order to be one with the Lord.
Jayan Chemputhara will lead Udukkukotti Pattu on Nov 16, 2021
As a prelude to the actual pilgrimage, the aspirant wears a beaded mala usually made from Rudraksham around his neck and black clothes from that moment forward, he surrenders his thoughts, words, and deeds to Lord Ayyappa and becomes a Swami (Lord) himself.
A pilgrim who is on his maiden visit to Sabarimala is called a Kanni Ayyapan. The Devotee, now a Swami (Saint), is expected to distance himself from all social activities and immerse himself in prayers, poojas, bhajans, visits to the temples, and listening to spiritual lectures.
Strictly celibate, he only consumes vegetarian food and is forbidden from being intoxicated.
Baths during pre-dawn hours, meditation and singing songs about Lord Ayyappa are religiously carried on during these 41 days.
Cutting hair, shaving, wearing footwear or bright clothes are also avoided. Modesty in all actions is practised. Do as Lord Ayyappa would, think as Lord Ayyappa would and live as Lord Ayyappa would.
The image that we all have in our hearts of a Swami is only complete with Irumudi Kettu (two-knot bag). Irumudi Kettu is a Holy travel kit that contains our offering to the Lord Ayyappa and can only be carried by those who observed the 41-day Vritham (fast) and thus allowed to climb the Pathinettaam Padi (Eighteen steps).
Irumudi Kettu, a homage to Lord Ayyappan’s trip to the forest for tigress’ milk as the name suggests, has two (Iru) pockets, Munmudi (Mun-front) and Pinmudi (Pin-Rear). The devotees’ offerings are in the Munmudi and personal belongings in Pinmudi.
It is the Guruswami (head/group lead) who prepares the Irumudikettu and places it on the head of the devotee. Irumudi binds the worshipper with the worshipped. It is such a strong tie that the devotee and the devoted are no longer two different entities but a single whole, Tat Tvam Asi.
The Eighteen Steps
The first five steps of the sacred 18 steps symbolise the five human senses (Panchendriyas) i.e., visual (vision), auditory (hearing), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste) and tactile (touch). These signify the ‘mortal’ nature of one’s body. The next eight steps symbolise 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 stand for three Gunas or Trigunas (nature-born qualities) i.e., Satva, (perspicuity, discernment), Rajas (activity, enjoyment) and Thamas (inactivity, stupor). The last two steps represent Vidya (Knowledge) and Avidya (Ignorance). It is assumed 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.
Even though in a faraway land, Lord Ayyappa and Sabarimala still fill our hearts each Mandala Kalam. Our minds and homes overflow with devotion as many devotees engage in Ayyappa worship during these 41 days.
AMHS has been conducting Ayyappa Vilakku in Papakura Ganesh temple for the past several years, but Covid and associated restrictions prevented from marking it physically this year.
But the Samajam is organising Ayyappa Bhajan online on zoom for all 41 days for the first time. Ayyappa devotees and AMHS are blessed to have Parameswaran (Chandru), Chief Priest at the Ganesh temple in Papakura to lead this event.
The Bhajan Group led by Sunil Kuttumukku and Udukkukotti Pattu led by Jayan Chemputhara will be the main attractions on the first day.
Daily 30-minutes zoom session will have Ayyappa Bhajans, Sharanam Villikal, concluding with Harivarasam. This is an opportunity for many of us to relive the days that we spent back home and for the new generation to experience a snippet of Ayyappa worship in India.
This Zoom session is open to all Ayyappa devotees to participate.
For Zoom link and other details please check our Facebook(https://www.facebook.com/Aucklandmalayalihindu) and Website (https://amhs.org.nz/) from 6.30 pm.
Those keen on participating as a lead singer of Bhajans any of these days can contact Girish Nair 022-1635313.
Amal Raveendran is a Member of the Auckland Malayali Hindu Samajam