Sri Dharma Sastha Worship – A Tuning to Advaithic Consciousness (1)

13/12/2011 History of Lord Ayyappa

Here is a revealing incident. A group of pilgrims from Tamilnadu, on their way to Sabarimala, reached Kollur, a beautiful and calm village nestled amidst the mountain fastness in Karnataka to offer worship to the Divine Mother at the reputed Sri Mookambika temple. This group of about twenty five devotees, after taking bath in the holy river, Souparnika stood in a row on the banks. Their age might have ranged from seven to seventy. There were sons and fathers, uncles and nephews, even grandfathers.

From the right end, a devotee left the row, and with folded hands worshipfully prostrated before each one and took his position at the left end. This continued till each one thus offered his salutation to everyone else. Grandfather fell at the feet of his grandson, father, before the son, teacher, before the student, and vice versa. True to the principles of Sri Dharma Shaastha worship, they were taking a practical training in Advaithic wisdom (philosophy of basic spiritual oneness) by symbolically negating all differentiations, recognizing the harmony of Supreme Divinity in everyone and trying to identify themselves with that Transcendental Reality. It is a training to develop the awareness that everything, the river, the forest trees, man, beast and everything are That, which they identify with the name and form of Lord Ayyappa.

Now the group would proceed to the temple, and there, standing with folded hands in front of the gracious four armed form of the Divine Mother, would loudly utter the popular invocatory slogan: ‘Swaamiye saranam Ayyappa’ – O Lord Ayyappa, you are our refuge – emphasising the spirit of the Vedic vision: ‘The One Truth, people call by different names.’

Thath Thvam Asi

Proceeding to Sabarimala, when you climb the eighteen sacred steps of the shrine and step into the front yard of the temple, what greets you first is the huge inscription in Sanskrit and Malayalam ‘THATH THVAM ASI’,one of the four mahaavaakyas, the great sayings, of the Vedas that reminds you: ‘You are essentially That – the Supreme Reality.” The emphasis again is on the ‘One Truth’.

The holy shrine of Sri Dharma Shaastha is located deep in the Sahya mountain ranges (the Western Ghats) in Kerala, the state located almost at the south-western tip of India. Climbing some lofty mountain peaks and walking amidst dense tropical forests the pilgrim reaches the small shrine at Sabarimala, the mountain named after the ancient woman sage Sabari, mentioned in the Ramayana. During the pilgrimage season from November to January, according to the latest estimates, about fifty million people reach Sabarimala to worship Sri Ayyappa.

The natural settings of the region of unsurpassed scenic beauty on the way to the shrine, the spiritual disciplines that precede the pilgrimage and the solemn atmosphere of vibrant divinity, all blend well here to give the pilgrim a touch of awareness of the Transcendental and the Timeless – the Source of all that exists. He receives a reassurance from the Eternal.

The pilgrimage in its totality, including the pre-pilgrimage austerities, is specially conceived to give a practical training in Advaithic wisdom and bestows one with mental poise and a deeper perspective, the basic requirements for a healthy and harmonious life.

The worship involves the cultivation of a broad outlook and acquisition of a psychological orientation to inculcate the sense of the basic spiritual oneness. Each pilgrim is required to consider himself and all others as Ayyappa incarnate and address all as “Ayyappa” or “Swami”. In fact, he is supposed to take everything, whether living or non-living as nothing but the Lord.

(To be continued)

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