The Traditional Forest Route (25)

25/12/2011 History of Lord Ayyappa

Pilgrims going through the forest route are comparatively less during the first phase of the pilgrim season, that is, during the Mandala-pooja season, between the 1st Vrischikam (mid-November) and the 11th Dhanu (end of December); but during the Makara-samkrama phase beginning from the 1st January, a large number of pilgrims go by this route.

Till about two decades ago, the pilgrims taking to the forest route used to step directly into the forests immediately after Erumeli, but now he has to walk at least 4 kms through public roads before entering the forests. On the way there is a broad stream called Peroorthodu, once considered the boundary that separated the inhabited land from the forests. But now villages extend from here up to a place called Irumpoonnikkara, 3 kms eastwards. At Irumpoonnikkara there are three temples, dedicated to Lord Shiva, Sri Subrahmanya and Goddess Balabhadra Devi.

Immediately after Irumpoonnikkara, the pilgrims enter dense tropical forests. Many prefer to walk bare foot through the holy mountain ranges, considered to be the Poonkaavanam, the blooming grove of Lord Ayyappa.

After about 3 kms walk, crossing some of the gentle forest streams, the pilgrim reaches a place of rest known as Arasumudikotta, where it is believed that Ayyappa and his soldiers took rest for some time. It is a place of worship of the Guardian Deities of the forests and there is a small shrine for them. Then the pilgrim proceeds ahead through a forest path that lies along the side of a river called Paarathode, the crystal clear water of which frisks and roll about amidst the rocks. It is an ideal place for a refreshing cool bath.

Kalaketti

An important centre of pilgrimage in the forests, after leaving Erumeli, is a place called Kalaketti, about 11 kms from there. After climbing one or two hill slopes the path to Kalaketti is rather even. It is a sacred spot and there is a temple of Lord Shiva. In the vast space around the temple, the pilgrims take rest under the big forest trees. There are temporary catering centres where fruits and light refreshments are available. According to the Puranic version this is the place where Lord Shiva tied his bull mount and watched the dance of Ayyappa over the body of the slain Mahishi. The historical version has it that Ayyappa tethered the bull he was riding to an Aanjili tree here and his soldiers also took rest here and evolved the strategies to siege the fortresses of Udayanan.

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