The Initial Rituals (17)

21/12/2011 History of Lord Ayyappa

Traditionally, austerities begin on the 1st of Vrischikam (mid-November) with the wearing of a Maala (rosary) of Rudraaksha or Thulsi around the neck. The pilgrim going for the first time to Sabarimala finds out a Guruswami, a preceptor-guide, who has a few years of experience of going to Sabarimala, preferably eighteen years. A pilgrim receives the rosary with a metallic pendant with the figure of Lord Ayyappa engraved on it, either from the Guruswami or a temple priest. The wearing of the rosary is symbolic of the pilgrim’s spiritual training to identify himself with the Supreme Truth represented by the form of Lord Ayyappa. The Mahaa-vaakya (Great Saying) of the Rig-veda: ‘Thath Thvam Asi’ – You are That Supreme Truth – boldly inscribed on the top of the temple reminds one of this Truth.

It is an opportunity for the pilgrim to apply spiritual disciplines in life. After wearing the rosary, he is expected to make an effort to transcend the limitations of his personality and its restricting expressions and moods. People, even his parents, no more call him by name, but reverentially addresses him as Swami or Ayyappa. He addresses others also as Swami and he is supposed to consider not only man, but beasts, trees and everything else as essentially Divine. When he visits any temple or any place of worship, he chants “Swamiye saranam Ayyappa”. He considers the Deity in any temple as a different form of Lord Ayyappa only. He is supposed to look at everything, whether living or non-living, as the manifestation of the one Truth – Lord Ayyappa. The donkeys that carry the goods up the mountains to Sabarimala temple, are ‘Kazhutha Swami-s’ (Kazhutha means donkey). Even the human excreta is referred to as ‘Bhoo-Swami’. The Advaithic vision that there is nothing other than manifestations of the transcendental Reality is set to maximum practical application to decondition consciousness from its various limitations.

During the austerities many pilgrims often do not stay at home, but prefer to stay in a hall adjacent to a temple or in special prayer halls called Bhajana-madom-s built for the purpose of group worship, singing devotional songs and so on. His food is called Bhiksha – alms. He should not entertain any worldly distinction of caste, creed, religion or occupation. For the time being, he becomes a recluse for all practical purposes. Although he is in the midst of society, he leads a very different pattern of life, relaxed and transcendental, his mind mostly occupied with the thoughts of the Supreme Truth. He is like a Yogi who lives in a solitary cave in the mountain fastness. During this period the pilgrim usually wears blue or black clothes with a shawl of the same colour over his shoulders. If he is working in an office, he wears the dress of a Swami after office hours.

It is almost a total break from the ordinary pattern of life and this special discipline for a certain period reinforces him physically, mentally and spiritually. Some modern psychologists are of the opinion that the suppression of the sexual instinct is not advisable. According to the Yogic approach the withdrawal from indulgence in sense pleasures with the aim and effort for a spiritual breakthrough results in a healthy sublimation of sexual energy, and thus reinforces the body, mind and spirit. The pilgrim is thus availing himself an opportunity for an all-round recharging. Many pilgrims, after returning from the pilgrimage, long eagerly for the next chance.

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