Ayyappa devotees bring global dimension to Mandala Pooja

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Dr Smitha Nair

Dr Smitha Nair

Auckland, December 1, 2021

Daily Bhajans exalt piety in praise of Lord Ayyappa

                                                                                        Jayalakshmi Raveendran and team from Kannur (Cannanore), Kerala

Auckland Malayali Hindu Samajam (AMHS) is currently engaged in Ayyappa Bhajans during the Sri Sabarimala Mandala Pooja season.

The Bhajans are conducted every day from 630 pm to 7 pm through Zoom by various groups, singers, and participants from different countries.

Mandala Pooja is one of the main annual pilgrimage seasons in Sabarimala, which commences on the first day of the Malayalam month of Vrichikam (November 16, 2021) and ends on eleventh day of Malayalam month Dhanu (December 26, 2021).

Mandala Pooja Devotees

A devotee intending to attend the Mandala Pooja in Sabarimala embarks on fasting (Vritham) all these 41 days, wears a beaded mala (string of beads) usually made of Tulsi (Holy Basil) as a prelude to the actual pilgrimage and thus highlights his renunciation of material temptations. As a rule, the devotee receives mala from Guruswami (one who has been to Sabarimala repeatedly, at least eighteen times), at a ritual, ordinarily conducted in a Temple or in the precincts of any Holy place. Thus, surrendering one’s thoughts, words, and deeds to the Deity, the devotee maintains total allegiance to Lord Ayyappa with whom he identifies himself completely. Refraining from hurting anyone physically or verbally and identifying other Ayyappa devotees with the Lord himself, the devotee, on completion of 41 days, with the help of Guruswamy, performs Irumudi Pooja and starts the journey to Sabarimala (Sabari Yatra).

 

The Bajan Team from Kerala

 Significance of the 18 steps in Sabarimala

A part of the ritual for Lord Ayyappa devotees who visit the Sabarimala temple is to climb 18 steps to the Sanctum Sanctorum. These steps are equally significant and sacrosanct like the Sanctum Sanctorum itself. Devotees undertaking the 41-day penance which includes abstinence from all worldly pleasures and carry “Irudi Kettu” (cloth bundle containing traditional offerings) on their head alone can climb these Divine Steps.

The Divine Steps (Pathinettam Padi) to the Temple, originally made of granite, was later covered with Panchaloha, (a term used for traditional five-metal-combination of  Gold, Silver, Copper, Zinc and Iron) alloys of sacred significance used for making a Hindu Temple, Idol, and Jewellery) to prevent it from deterioration. Devotees break coconut as an offering to the steps before ascending or descending the steps.

 
Ayyapan, the Lord of Sabarimala in Kerala 

 Number Eighteen has a great significance in Hindu scriptures and the significance can be traced back to the Vedic age. There are 18 Mukya (major) Puranas, 18 Upa (minor) Puranas and 18 Dharma Shastras. The four Vedas and The Bhagavad Gita has 18 chapters.

In Chapter Two of Bhagavat Gita, Lord Krishna describes the ideal man in 18 verses and lists 18 traits that constitute the man with a steady wisdom. The great war of Mahabharat was fought with 18 divisions of army and lasted 18 days.

The Steps in Mythology

There are many mythological stories associated with the Holy Pathinettam Padi (Divine 18 Steps). Some believe that the eighteen steps signify 18 Puranas, others believe that they represent 18 mountains (Ponnambalamedu, Gowdenmala, Nagamala, Sundaramala, Chittambalamala, Khalgimala, Mathangamala, Myladummala, Sreepadamala, Devarmala, Nilakkalmala, Thalapparamala, Neelimala, Karimala, Puthuserrymala, Kalakettimala, Inchipparamala and Sabarimala) in the Sabarimala region.

As per Yoga, in a human body, the Sushma Nadi or Sushumna Nadi Marga has six chakras and each has three steps. After passing these 18 steps, the Kundalini Shakti is believed to merge with the Brahman. Thus, those who believe that the significance of the 18 steps is based on Yoga suggest that the Aazhi (huge bonfire) on the base of the 18 steps is the Kundalini energy in a human being and this then passes through the 18 steps and merges with the Brahman – Lord Ayyappa.


Sindhu and Niranjana from Thiruvananthapuram

Lord Ayyappa is sitting in a Yoga posture in the Temple and thus, many scholars suggest that the significance of the 18 steps is based on Yoga.

There are two mostly popular explanations to this 18 divine steps. One symbolism suggests that the first three steps depict Bhoomi, Agni, Vayoo and Akash, Steps 6 to 9 symbolise Karmendriya, Steps 10 to 15 stand for Jnanendriya, Step 16 for the mind, Step 17 for intelligence and step 18 for Jeevathma Bhava.

Another interpretation that resonates with the modern world suggests that the first five steps signify senses or Indriyas (eyes, nose, ears, tongue and skin), next eight steps (Step 6-13)  illustrate the vices or ragas: Tatwa, Kama (lust), Krodha (anger), Moha (delusion), Lobha (greed), Madha (arrogance), Matsarya (jealousy), and Ahamkara (ego). The next three steps (Steps 14-16) signify the Gunas: Satwa (wisdom), Rajas (activity) and Thamas (stupor). The Seventeenth step denotes knowledge (Vidhya) and the Eighteenth step denotes ignorance (Avidhya), thus stating that using our senses to focus for good of everyone around us moves us closer to The Almighty.

 

Adeel from India

The Samajam Routine

Singing songs in praise of Lord Ayyappa and chanting His name 108 times are a part of daily routine for all Ayyappa devotes throughout the 41 days. As mentioned, to keep up with this tradition, Auckland Malayali Hindu Samajam conducts Ayyappa Bhajans virtually in Zoom, for all Ayyappa devotees these auspicious days. With the grace of the Lord Ayyappa, we received overwhelming responses from singers of all ages not only from Auckland but from Kerala, Mumbai, Nagpur, Oman, Abu Dhabi, and London.

Shiju Rajappan from Hamilton, New Zealand

 

Our Special thanks to Vai Ravindran, President, Auckland Tamil Association, Amma New Zealand and Sai Sansthan Auckland for joining us in this initiative. We sincerely thank all the singers and the participants who joined the zoom session at 6.30 pm every day to be a part of this devotional evening bhajan session.

To express our gratitude to our members and everyone who supported us in this journey, with all our devotion, AMHS Executive Committee team will be participating to lead a bhajan session one of these days. We welcome all Ayyappa devotees (members and non-members) to join us every day between 6.30 pm and 7 pm via zoom (Meeting ID: 82854184924; Passcode: 435680) for blissful Ayyappa bhajans and chanting.

Dr Smitha Nair is a Member of the Executive Committee of the Auckland Malayali Hindu Samajam.

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