Akhila Bharatha Ayyappa Seva Sangham (73)

12/01/2012 History of Lord Ayyappa

A voluntary organisation rendering yeoman service to Sabarimala pilgrims, Akhila Bharatha Ayyappa Seva Sangham was established more than half a century ago. Originated in a very modest way with the initiative of a few earnest devotees out of their deep concern for the welfare of pilgrims taking to this arduous pilgrimage, it has expanded today as one of the foremost voluntary service organisations in the country, extending its service to thousands of pilgrims.

In those days when it was formed, Sabarimala pilgrimage was mostly confined to the people of Travancore area in South Kerala. The pilgrimage through the mountain fastness and dense forests infested with wild animals was difficult and risky. Finding suitable places for rest with amenities such as supply of water, food etc., often posed a major problem. Sanitary conditions were poor. There were little medical facilities for pilgrims who were sick or victims of accidents.

The idea of setting up an organisation to serve the pilgrims was dawned during the pilgrimage season in 1944 in the mind of Dr.P.A. Velayudhan Pillai, a staunch Ayyappa devotee and the chief of the Government Opthalmic Hospital and later the Professor of the Medical College, Thiruvananthapuram, who was leading a small group of devotees. When they were taking rest at Pampa, the plight of the devotees who were searching for their missing kith and kin; the indifference of the authorities in providing medical facilities to the sick or meeting the sanitary needs of the pilgrims, touched them deeply. They discussed these problems and there emerged like a divine inspiration the idea of forming a voluntary organisation to render service to the pilgrims. Then and there they resolved to work for it soon after their return from Sabarimala. It is this decision that eventually gave birth to a great organisation rendering wide ranging dynamic and selfless service to millions.

A preliminary meeting for giving form to the organisation was held at Thiruvananthapuram in September 1945 presided over by Justice K.S. Govinda Pillai. In this meeting the first Executive Committee was formed with Justice K.S. Govinda Pillai as the president, Dr.P.A. Velayudhan Pillai as secretary and the city Mayor Sri P. Subrahmanian as the treasurer. Thus the Akhila Bharata Ayyappa Seva Sangham came into existence. Today the organisation has expanded with 2872 branches located in different parts of India. The dedicated services of such stalwarts as Swami Athuradas, Sri R.P. Nair and many other devotees contributed greatly for the progress of the organisation.

When anti-social elements destroyed Sabarimala temple in 1950 and the Government failed to bring to book the culprits despite repeated pleas from devotees, Ayyappa Seva Sangham launched a powerful and extensive awareness campaign spreading the universal message of Ayyappa worship.

In the year following its inception, the Sangham started distribution of water in places such as Azhuthamedu, Karimala, Neelimala, Vandiperiyar, etc. At some points they have catering arrangements providing food at reasonable rates. They set up clinics and dispensaries with Ayurvedic, Homeopathic and Allopathic treatment at various centres of the traditional pilgrim route. At Pampa and Sannidhanam they have set up full-fledged hospitals with all modern medical facilities. Several medical firms co-operate with them donating medicines as their humble offerings to Lord Ayyappa. A large number of medical men offer their free service during the pilgrimage season.

Another creditable service rendered by the Sangham is in the area of sanitation. Keeping clean the different centres of the pilgrim route from Erumeli to Sannidhaanam is indeed a herculean task. The volunteers of Ayyappa Seva Sangham with remarkable spirit of dedication render efficient service to keep the places clean and provide the basic facilities like latrines, etc., to the pilgrims.

In the heavy rush of pilgrims, many people lose track of the group to which they belong and tracing a missing person is difficult. The Sangham comes to their rescue with announcement through a well-knit system of loud-speakers along the entire route. This service is rendered round the clock.

Every year the Ayyappa Seva Sangham organises service camps at several points in the entire pilgrim route from Erumeli to Sannidhaanam. Erumeli, Azhutha, Kallidumkunnu, Puthusseri, Karimala, Valiyanavattam, Pampa, Appachimedu, Sabaripeedam, Saramkutthi and Sannidhaanam are the major centres. Now they are also setting camps at places like Kottayam Ernakulam, Chengannur, Neyyattinkara, Ariankavu, Kulathupuzha, Achankovil, Valayar, Punalur, Kumali, Uppupara, Nilukkal etc., on the way to Sabarimala, providing basic facilities to the pilgrims.

Apart from the services offered in and around Sabarimala and giving necessary instructions regarding the austeries and observances for the pilgrimage, the Ayyappa Seva Sangham also engages in may cultural land spiritual activities such as organising Bhajan-s (devotional concerts), religious conventions, scriptural classes and spiritual discourses. Activities as co-ordinating various sections of Hindus, fostering co-operation among different religions on the basis of universality of God and the brotherhood of man, organising classes and libraries for the study of comparative religion and propagation of the essential principles of Hinduism are among the avowed objectives of Akhila Bharatha Ayyappa Seva Sangham.

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