Significance of the 18th Step (35)

30/12/2011 History of Lord Ayyappa

The first five steps represent the sense experiences; the steps from six to thirteen, the eight Raaga-s, the fourteen to sixteen, the three Guna-s; the next step Avidya and the final step Vidya. It is on getting above the 18th step (the word ‘Pathinettaam’ means the 18th) one experiences Supreme Consciousness. According to the Advaitha philosophy man can attain salvation, that is, expansion to unconditioned Supreme Consciousness, only by crossing these eighteen limiting hurdles with penance and self-control. It is to be specially noted here that Vidya (knowledge) is also regarded as a limitation, which also has to be transcended. Till the higher knowledge transforms itself through its practice into the experience of the unconditioned Supreme Reality, the knowledge itself remains to be the last limitation of the mind, which is represented by the 18th step. By transcending this final limitation, the spiritual seeker embraces Supreme Consciousness and this transformation is represented by the stepping beyond the 18th step and reaching the Presence of Dharma Shaastha, the Unconditioned Reality. It is very symbolic that when one steps over and crosses the 18th step, one views in front of the temple the inscription of the profound Vedic Truth, That Thvam Asi – You are That Supreme Truth – reminding one of the inbuilt potential of man for Total Freedom achievable through intelligent spiritual expansion. The forty one days of austerities give a training for transcending these limitations and that is why it is stipulated that only those who have observed them and carry the Irumudikettu on the head as a sign of this observance, should climb these steps.

The eighteen steps also represent the eighteen mountains of Sri Ayyappa’s sacred grove (Poonkaavanam), namely, Ponnambalamedu, Gowdenmala, Naagamala, Sundaramala, Chittambalamala, Khalgimala, Maathangamala, Mayilaadummedu, Sreepaadamala, Devaramala, Nilakkalmala, Thalapparamala, Neelimala, Karimala, Puthusserimala, Kaalakettimala, Inchipparamala and Sabarimala. During the Padipooja, the Deities of these mountains are offered Pooja-s on these steps.

In Hinduism the number eighteen is given a special importance. The Bhagavad-Gita has eighteen chapters, the major Puranas are eighteen, the great Kurukshetra war described in the Mahabharatha lasted for eighteen days and there are eighteen Vidya-s, the branches of knowledge.

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