The Vellam-kudi, a Group-oriented Ritual (18)

22/12/2011 History of Lord Ayyappa

The austere devotional efforts have both an individual and group orientation. Pilgrim groups guided by a Guruswami, engage in some group rituals during the period of austerities. Vellam-kudi , which literally means drinking of water, is such a major ritual. The pilgrims assemble in the house of one of the pilgrims and the Pooja (ritualistic worship) is performed there. Rice flakes, plantain fruits, sweetened baked rice called Ada, the puffed rice called Malaru, jaggery, jaggery-water, etc., form the devotional offerings to the Lord. After the Pooja, these are distributed among the pilgrims as the Prasaadam, symbolic of Lord’s Grace. The Vellam-kudi may be conducted in the houses of all the pilgrims in the group.

The Padukka

Another major group-oriented ritual is known as the Padukka which involves elaborate performance of the Pooja. First, a Padukka-pandal, a temporary shed for the performance, is erected. The top of the pandal is covered with white clothes and the Pandal is decorated with mango leaves, betel leaves, flowers, fruit bunches of plantain, etc. Oil lamps are hung from the four corners, and placed on the ground also. In the centre of the Pandal there will be a Sreekovil (sanctum sanctorum) where a picture or icon of Lord Ayyappa will be kept on an elevated platform. There will be symbolic representation of the 18 sacred steps of the Sabarimala temple and appropriate places for the accompanying Deities. There will also be an Aazhi, the heap of smouldering embers of sacred fire. The appropriate offerings will be prescribed by the Guruswami, who will be performing the elaborate Pooja.

The Aazhi-pooja

Aazhi-pooja is another major group-oriented ritual performed near the Padukka-pandal during these days of austerities. The Guruswami begins the Pooja in the Brahmamuhoortham, the auspicious hours in the early morning around 4 a.m. In the evening all the pilgrims in the group offer prayers in a nearby temple during the Deepaaraadhana, the ritualistic worship by the rhythmic waving round of oil or camphor lamps. From there they return to the Padukka-pandal and the Guruswami conducts the Deepaaraadhana at the Sreekovil there. After that, the Guruswami and the pilgrims, go to a specially arranged place near the Padukka-pandal to set up an Aazhi, a big heap of smouldering embers of sacred fire. For this purpose, certain high quality fire wood pieces are used and they are arranged only in one direction. When the logs burn, the pilgrims walk around the Aazhi several times chanting aloud with devotional fervour ‘Swamiye saranam Ayyappa’. They offer coconut pieces, fried rice powder, Malaru (puffed rice) etc., to the sacred fire. They sing the Ayyappan-paattu-s, old devotional songs on the exploits of Lord Ayyappa, to the accompaniment of traditional instrumental music. One such distinctive performance is the Vilppaattu, an energetic rendering of ballads accompanied by rhythmic beating on a bow-like musical device with many bells hanging from it.

Charged with intense devotional fervour, some of the pilgrims in the grip of ecstasy their sense of individuality loses and jump into the smouldering fire and with cupped hands lift the red-hot embers and hurl them all around! Those who have made a special study of the strange phenomenon of fire-walking that occurs in different parts of the world opine that it shows the hidden faculty of man to transcend unscathed the fire element in certain altered states of consciousness. It points out the transcendental dimensions of consciousness beyond the ken of modern scientific experiments.

These ritualistic ceremonies are conducted at the houses of the pilgrims and at public places during the period of austerities. Besides these, some special ceremonies are also conducted; and there are also some ceremonies, special to certain regions.

These joint efforts through ritualistic ceremonies for spiritual refinement bestow a sense of solidarity and brotherhood among the pilgrims.

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