Pilgrimages that deepen awareness
We have discussed how our ancient masters have inculcated mind and body purification practices to deepen Awareness through enjoyable rituals and pilgrimages. One such yearly pilgrimage, is Sabarimala in Kerala. Ayyappa is the deity in Sabarimala and this temple is visited men of all ages but restricted to women of age group of 12 to 55. There are various reasons it is restricted to women, which we will discuss later.
What is the need of Sabarimala pilgrimage?
We had discussed the importance of pilgrimage is to transcend to Awareness state, the Source of Healing and all other creativeness. The mind because of its wandering nature, tries often to be away from its pure Awareness state. Through rituals and practices (Sadhana) the wandering mind is brought to the state of awareness and finally realize Consciousness, the ultimate aim of life.
To achieve this the mind and body should be purified and finally the Ego has to transcend to Awareness state and realize the pure Consciousness . The various practices and rituals to purify mind and body and the practice of abstinence to transcend from the realm of Ego to the Atma is all beautifully integrated in this pilgrimage. This should be clearly understood, otherwise it will remain as a meaningless torture to the body and mind.
Pilgrimages that deepen awareness
What does the form of Ayyappa symbolize?
The very form of Ayyappa is very symbolic and denotes the principles of Vedas. One can enjoy this, if you read first, the Vedic Principle (click the blue color link ).
The whole body (foundation) rest on his feet that represents perfection attained by the strict discipline of mind. In Vedic culture, importance is given to the feet of a great person. Feet represents the principle on which the great person stands. It is the principle (Dharma) that had made the person great and he stands on that great principle. We are not prostrating before the mortal body of the person, but we are actually worshipping the highest principle on which that great person stands. Same way the feet of Lord Ayyappa represents that great Dharma obtained by the strict discipline of mind, on which Ayyappa stands.
His sitting posture reflects that of a Yogi , one who has mastered the Self. A black belt around his legs anchorages the wandering mind and the color black represents complete with drawl or absorption to inwards. The color of an object is due to its ability to absorb one or many colors in light spectrum and reflect the rest. Black represents complete absorption of all colors.
Hands represent action and his hands are in a state of inaction (which means witnessing) and one hand in fearless posture, shows a mind that is free from the clutches of the Ego. Ego controls the mind by inculcating different types of fear.
When there is no fear and the mind is drawn internal, there is Awareness of the thoughts. This Awareness then witness everything as shown in the picture below. This witnessing finally transcends to the bliss of pure Consciousness.
Thus there are three aspects, the Consciousness (Sath) and Awareness (chit) and the bliss (Ananda ) and therefore Ayyappa is called as Sath-Chit-Ananda or Sacchidananda. He represents all these three states of Consciousness, Awareness and Ananda.
Pilgrimages that deepen awareness
Symbolism of Ayyappa
In the previous page we have seen that Ayyappa represents the state of a Yogi in Sath-chith-ananda. Why is Ayyappa called the son of Vishnu and Shiva. Vishnu is the witnessing Consciousness (sath) and shiva is the actioning awareness (chith). Witnessing is static witnessing, while Awareness is in dynamic action. Dharma Sastha, Parusuraman.
Ayyappa is in the sitting posture to denote the two aspects of life , action (dynamic) and inaction (silent static witnessing), as told in Bhagavad Gita. Sitting posture is neither in action (Awareness) nor in-action (Consciousness). Our true nature is witnessing Consciousness, but for Consciousness to witness to happen, Awareness (action), takes a form of a body (matter). But in the body form we are always think that we are just the body and mind. We never realize that Awareness is behind all the action of life and our true nature (Atma) is that witnessing Consciousness.
We have taken a human form to experience our true nature, that is Consciousness. Unfortunately we always identify with the body form and forget that our true nature is Consciousness. This ignorance of our own real self, causes us to discard the old body (death) and take new body form (birth) again and again. This endless birth and death is called Samsaara. An exit out of this roller coast ride happens, when we realize our true Self, which is Brahman or Consciousness. This exit is called Moksha or liberation, salvation etc.
Sankara-Narayana (Shiva-Vishnu) :
Haranum Hariyum Onnu , athu ariyaathavar Thalayila Mannu
The above is a beautiful proverb in Tamil, which means that Shiva (Hara) and Vishnu (Hari) are one and one who does not know this Truth is stupid (Having mud in his head instead of brain). The Witnessing silent and static Consciousness (Vishnu) and the dynamic actioning Awareness (Shiva) are one and the same. It is the static Consciousness that is in the form of dynamic witnessing. Ayyappa denotes this great Truth who represents the Concept of Sankara-Narayana (Shiva-Vishnu), that dynamic principle and the silent principle is one and the same and this is our True nature (Atma) , which is the meaning of That-Tvam-Asi, the big inscription board you find when you reach the sanctum sanctorium of Lord Ayyappa in Sabarimala.
Mohini and Bhasmasura
Bhasmāsura was an asura or demon who was granted the power to turn anyone into ashes (bhasma) when touched on their head by him. The asura turned himself into ashes by the trick of Lord Vishnu who took a female avatar, as the enchantress Mohini.
Our Ego to control the Universe by destroying everything around us, is symbolized as Bhasmasura. When the Awareness (Symbolized as Shiva) gives prosperity energy as boon to us, our Ego then drives out the very same awareness away. Then to bring back peace within us, Vishnu the symbolism of Vedas, appears in the form of enchanting spiritual knowledge and tricks our egoistic mind and transforms it.
The fusion of this Awareness and Spiritual knowledge gives birth to Moksha, symbolized as lord Dharma Saastha. Dharma is the only objective of all lives and one who is viligant on that is Saastha. His latest incarnation is Swami Ayyappa worshipped at Sabarimala.
Mahalaksmi the wife of Lord Vishnu stealthily watched Mohini's dance and learnt it to spread the Vedic wisdom in the dance form known as Mohiniaattam.
Reference - Uni5 Selftual Sabarimala - 2015 (more info is given in this ebook published).
Purpose of going to Sabarimala
The real purpose of doing the Sabarimala pilgrimage is to realize "Tat-Tvam-Asi", which means our tue nature (Atma) is the Witnessing Consciousness and dynamic Awareness are one and the same and we are not this mortal body and mind. Unfortunately, people go to Sabarimala for getting materialistic wishes granted, boosts their Ego, which is the very opposite of getting liberated form the never ending cycle of birth and death. People has innumerable wishes like to get a better job, house, car, promotion or to overcome physical illness. Even without going to Sabarimala, these things would happen.
The irony is that we go to the right place for a wrong reason. It is as good as going to college to have fun , where the right purpose is to study and gain knowledge. Similarly we go to Sabarimala with the wrong objective. However, the spiritual disciplines observed in Sabarimala Vratham is so powerful that gradually over years wisdom dawns.
Pilgrimages that deepen awareness
How to realize the real Self and distinguish it from the mortal body?
One has to clearly understand that getting materialistic things always comes even without going to Sabarimala or praying to Ayyappa. More than just hard work, that comes due to the our past and present deeds. This is why not all hard working people achieve everything and also some get results more than what they expect without much effort. These are based on our past and present actions (Karma). Mis-understanding this fact and being idle only ends up in suffering. What is important is to understand what is the purpose of life and spiritual practices help us to know that Truth.
These spiritual practices and journey is for us to experience the bliss of knowing our own true nature. The Jyothi in sabarimala is the final indication of seeing our own “Inner Light” the Consciousness” within ourselves.
When proceeding to Sabarimala, after climbing the eighteen sacred steps of the shrine and step in to the front yard of the temple, what greets everyone first is the huge inscription in Sanskrit and Malayalam “THATH THVAM ASI”, one of the four Mahaa-vaakyas, the great sayings, of the Vedas that reminds you: “Your are essentially That – the Supreme Reality”.
To see that inner light we have to clear away the darkness in us. Our Egois the screen that covers the inner light in us and so we experience the darkness of pain and suffering.
How to remove this Ego?. It is a step by step process. Life after life we have evolved gradually to that process and finally got the human life to fulfill the goal. But even in human life we have to take many births to get the knowledge. We are like students who are detained for years in the same class until they get pass in all the subjects.
Why 40 + 1 days of practice or Vratham?
Since the human form is the last form to get this enlightenment, 40 days spiritual discipline is undertaken to remind us the 40 weeks we were in mother's womb and the finally on the 41st day we take the final journey to Sabarimala. This knowledge of the Self requires help of a teacher a guru and so Ayyappa Vratham should be initiated with a Guru. The Guru initiates the practice by putting a Tulsi mala (holy basil beads) or Rudraksha malaa, a means to do mantra japa. Japa helps in remembering Ayyappa's name which is our true nature as well. Usually there will be 108 beads, that represents the mathematical rhythm of nature.
The wearing of the rosary is symbolic of the Pilgrim’s spiritual training to identify himself with the Supreme Truth (Thath Thvam Asi - You are That Supreme Truth ) represented by the form of Lord Ayyappa. 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 limitation of his personality and its restricting expressions and moods.
Why do we wear black or blue dress?
Wearing black clothes is the traditional dress to indicate total with-drawl of mind and total absorption into the "Self" or "Atma". (Objects are black due to complete absorption of color spectra). Blue color is the color of illusion like the blue sky or blue ocean. To remind us the maya (illusion) of this mind, blue color is worn.
What is Maya? The reality is that everything in this universe is only Pure Consciousness. There is nothing other than Consciousness. Everything is Consciousness, but we make an error of seeing different names and forms. This inability or error of seeing different things and forgetting the reality, the Consciousness is Maya or illusion. In simple words to think that we are this mortal body and mind without being aware of the Awareness and Consciousness functioning in us, is Maya or illusion.
Pilgrimages that deepen awareness
Why to address everyone as swami Ayyappa?
Because of our attachment to our body and senses, we are under the grip of Maya and so see and perceive different names and forms instead of the "One" reality, Brahman or Consciousness. To give up this non-duality of various names and forms, the spiritual Ayyappa devotee addresses everyone as "Swami Ayyappa". The beauty of whole Vratham is that the devotee never uses the word "I" or "You", the words of the Ego. He addresses himself as Ayyappa and others as Ayyappa. Thus he identifies all names and forms as One, Ayyappa, One Consciousness, which is pure Advaita (non-duality).
Not only in Ayyappa Vratham one does not mention one’s name or other’s names but also never addresses even relationships. There is no addressing of mother, father, brother, sister, friend, enemy, aunt, uncle etc. Everything is in fact only one supreme Consciousness.
He addresses others also as Swami and he is supposed to consider not only man, but beasts, trees and everything else as essentially Divine. 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).
Why is the word "Ayyappa" repeated often?
We have dealt in detail about the wandering nature of the mind. To fasten the wandering mind, a short positive statement or Mantra is used as a powerful anchor. Here Ayyappa is a positive statement reminding the Sat-chit-Ananada nature of Consciousness. This is why during Vratham the person keeps chanting Ayyappa, even while eating sitting, walking and all mundane and professional and spiritual actions. This becomes the japa or constant remembering one one true nature. One constantly remembers one's true nature "Ayyappa" or Brahman or Consciousness.
Why is Swami Saranam repeated often?
Saranam means surrender. What is to be surrendered? The body?. No, the Ego is what to be surrendered. Without surrendering the Ego, one cannot transcend, because it is the Ego that prevent Transcendence. Ego always makes us to think that we are this body, mind and senses. It keeps reminding us "I" , "I", "I". So the answer to the question what has to surrender, is only the “I” thought.
Surrender is not merely a physical act of bending the body and uttering surrender of prostrating before the image of God. The act of prostration is the surrender or giving up the thought of "I", before an image that represents the Consciousness (here Ayyappa). Without understanding the symbolism, the general public performs a mechanical act of prostrating as a means of “Surrendering to God or higher self".
One has nothing to surrender other than the “I” thought or the identity to body mind complex thought. Therefore to forget the "I", Saranam Ayyappa is constantly repeated to drive in the thought that even this body is functioning through the power of consciousness.
The essence of Ayyappa Vratham is to transcend from the realm of the Ego to the realm of the self. The individual tries to avoid all that strengthen the Ego. Here, in this practice, the individual transcends from being identified as the body to the state that he is the Brahman or Consciousness or the witnessing principle of the body and not the body.
Therefore while chanting "Saranam Ayyappa", be aware that you are surrendering the Ego. Without this awareness it becomes very mechanical and no benefit accrues with this Ayyappa Vratham.
Pilgrimages that deepen awareness
Why not to cut nails, shave not cut hair?
It is a great practice to give up the thought that we are not this body that is born and dead, but the immortal Consciousness principle, Brahman. Importance is not given to physical comforts of body and so no shaving, no nail cutting, no wearing shoes etc is done so that it helps the mind to transcend from the body sense to the awareness state and finally to consciousness state.
What about the importance other practices?
While observing Vratham, one walks bare foot, sleeps only on a mat made of grass , uses no pillow, gets up early in the morning, takes bath twice a day in cold water, chants Ayyappa names and sings Bhajans (devotional songs), eats satvic vegetarian food (see food section) and does engages in action by constantly chanting Ayyappa names.
During the austerities many pilgrims often do not stay a home, but prefer to stray 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. If he is working in an office, he wears the dress of a Swami after office hours and does all the practices after work. 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 Yogi living in a solitary cave in the mountain fastness.
Even if he stays at home, he spends no time with family relationships or wife. It does not mean to ignore the family outwardly, but only inwardly. It is an inward detachment and so in Vratham one does not take part in any social activity like marriages or celebrations, entertaining acts or even death and birth events. In short for 41 days there is lot of abstinence does which robs the power of the Ego.
Abstinence to weaken Ego
In the space section we had discussed about abstinence (Please click here to read about it). They are
1. Abstinence of food (fasting) for small period of time. - Earth Element.
2. Abstinence of food without taste -salt-less, sweet-less, avoiding meat-foods or any favorite food - water element.
3. Abstinence from Sex - Fire element
4. Abstinence from an addictive ( favorite or sensually entertaining ) activity - Air element
5. Abstinence from talking- Silence -Space element.
All these five elements are observed in Sabarimala which makes this a wonderful pilgrimage to purify the body and the mind. The power of Abstinence if not clearly understood, will give an impression that pilgrimage is a meaningless torture of the body and mind.
The five elements or Pancha Bhootas,
The Boothanaathopaakhyaanam is the main Puraana related to Dharma Saastha or Ayyappa. Dharma Sastha is also known as Boothanaatha, because from Him-the supreme Reality – evolved the Pancha bhootas, the five elements, or the five phases of evolution from the subtlest to the grossest, as Aakaasa (the physical space), Vaayu (the gaseious stage), Aghni (the fiery stage, or the stage of chemical combination), Apa (the stage of liquidity) and Prithvi (the stage of solidity).
Through the five abstinence practices one can transcend the Ego and realize the Consciousness the uncaused cause of all manifestations. Only through the purification of the body, mind and Ego , can one attain Self-realization. This is indicated by the 18 steps of Sabarimala.
The 18 steps of Sabarimala and its symbolism
Pilgrimages that deepen awareness
18 steps of Sabarimala and its symbolism
When we pray to God, we pray silently with the belief that God is listening to the prayers. If God is close to listen to our silent inner prayer, how close God should be to us. God is in us only, in our heart.
Heart that god resides: This is not the physical heart that pumps blood to all parts of the body. The dictionary meaning of the word “Heart” means the core or essence. So which is our heart (Hridaya)?. The core being of us or the essence of us. Where is that core or Essence?. That is our Awareness which is the “liveliness” we experience. The experience of being alive is Awareness or the "Heart".
The heart is symbolized in a red curved triangular-form It is in this heart that God resides. Why is that we cannot effectively communicate to the heart. In lay man language, what is that prevents to reach our core of our being or heart?.
There is only one obstacle (EGO or Ahamkara) that prevent us from transcending from realizing God. God is symbolized in many images. The awareness is symbolized as Shiva and the Cosmic intelligence that expresses the awareness in a form is Vishnu. Both the Awareness and Intelligence is symbolized as Lord Ayyappa.
To realize Lord Ayyappa or Awareness-Intelligence (Brahman), we need to trancend the Ego or Ahamkara. But this Ego is expressing through our body , mind and intellect in eighteen forms. So to transcend this one Ego, the 18 expressions of Ego has to be overcome using 18 different physical mental and intellectual exercises.
Like Ayyappa killing the Demon using 18 weapons, we have to overcome the 18 expressions of Ego with 18 physical and mental exercises. These 18 exercises are symbolized as 18 steps representing the 18 obstacles that one has to transcend to see Lord Ayyappa or Consciousness (Brahman).
Let us see the 18 expressions of Ego expressing at three different levels of body, mind and intellect.
1. Body level. At body level we identify ourselves with the five sense organs of action and perception (Karma-Indriyas and Gnana-Indriyas).
Five organs of perception - 1. Ears (sound), 2. Eyes (sight) 3.Skin (Touch) 4. Nose (smell) and 5. Tongue (taste).
How to transcend from the body sense organs identification to the conscious-Awareness-Ayyappa state?
Music gratifies - hearing sense, 1. Ears (sound)
Movies gratifies two (audio-visual). 2. Eyes (sight)
Talking to others is enjoyable because of the three organs involved. 3.skin (Touch)
Food gratifies four, taste, touch, visual and smell.4. Nose (smell)
Sexual act gratifies all five senses. 5. Tongue (taste).
More the sensual organs involved , more the difficult to give it up.
How does these sense organs become obstacles?. These sense organs and perception get us stuck with the physical phenomenon of the world without realizing the Conscious-Awareness cause behind it. Only by withdrawing from these sense perception for a while we will know the reality behind these perceptions and actions. This is why all the 42 days of avoiding Sensual activities.
What exercises do be done?. Everything that you perceive using these five sense organs , say Saranam Ayyappa. This will bring you to the awareness that behind all these perceptions the real perceiver is the Consciousness Brahman. Avoid all sensual activities that brings addiction in you. (Read Sakthi Gita for details). Addiction to any habit is what you break during the 42 days of Ayyappa Vratham or austerities.
1.Ears (sound) - Listen only to good talks related to God (satsangs) avoid listening to gossiping that strengthen our Ego of finding fault with others and feel us superior.
2.Eyes (sight) - See things that are good and create inner inspiration. Avoid sensual sights that trigger unwanted desires in us, like sexual content or material possessions. But those things that meet our basic needs of life and not that fulfills our wants (greed).
3.Skin (Touch) - Stimulating touch (sex) is to be avoided. Enjoy sense of touch of japa-maala (rosary beads) that helps in chanting God's name. Feel the feather soft of flowers and feel that we should show that soft compassion to others.
4. Nose (smell) - associate smells of flowers and scents related to Lord's pooja. Pay attention to addictive smell of food.
5. Tongue (taste). Eat very satwic food that does not create addiction and over-indulgence like sweets and spicy hot foods. Eat food that are healthy and natural. One can eat natural sweets like dates, raisins and honey. (For advanced people, try special-diet like No Salt diet like given here in the link).
More the sensual organs involved , more the difficult to give it up.
2.Mind level. Being identified with these sense organs we develop six other negative qualities (Ari-shadvarga).
6. Kama (Desire or possession),
7. Krodha (anger when desires do not get fulfilled or when desired possession is lost).
8. Lobha (greed to fulfill the desire or not allowing anyone partake in one's possession),
9. Moha (Infatuation of the obtained result or having the possession).
10. Mada (pride of getting the desire fulfilled or having a possession)
11. Matsarya (Jealousy that others should not get what we have fulfilled our desire or when others have a possession that we have.)
How does these six mind factors become obstacles? These mind factors strengthen our identity or Ego. Initially paying attention or bringing these qualities into our awareness is the best exercise. Everyday evening before retiring to bed think if we have expressed these six qualities in our daytime. Then pray to help eliminate these qualities the next day. Next day morning start with the prayer to help avoid these qualities.
2. Intelligence Level. At the intelligence level then there are three gunas that we have to transcend. They are
12. Tamas: The Inertia (not to do action) or lazy or sluggish attitude is Tamasic. This is overcome by doing getting up early in morning having cold-water-baths doing pooja or worship. We dont want to do these because we are lazy in doing this. Only by doing these we overcome Tamasic nature.
13. Rajas: Action oriented with the feeling of "I". By constant mantra Japa of Saranam Ayyappa, this I doing the action feeling get diminished.
14.. Sattva: Goodness. The feeling of I am good is also a Ego feeling. That also should be transcended as Krisha says in Gita. Feel everyone who are doing bad are doing due to ignorance. We should not ignore them, by by compassion help them to grow out of it.
15. Raga: The strong likes or attachments that we use in making decisions. This is possible only by developing Bhakthi to Ayyappa. This means to surrender all likes to Lord for the common good.
16. Dvesha: Same way the strong dislikes also should be given up in making decisions. Also through surrender attitude (Bhakthi) we can transcend this attitude.
17. Avidya: The Knowledge about physical material things alone is Avidya. Vidya is the knowledge of Truth. By attending satsangs of Guru alone will help to gain the highest knowledge.
18. Ahamkara (Identity): All the attachments is summarized as this one factor, the identity felling of "I". This is the final step or block in reaching Ayyappa. Wearing black clothes and addressing ourselves and others as "Swami Ayyappa" dissolves this identity like a salt doll plunging into a salty ocean.
All these exercises are included in the Ayyppa 42 days Vratham. Only doing these practices one makes the Irumudi-kettu and goes to Ayyappa. This is why the 18 steps are allowed to step only those who have the Irumudi-kettu, which means they have practiced the 18 steps to realize the Lord.
All the above 18 aspects of Ego shrinks the identity to a mere mortal body subjected to birth and death. But doing the 18 exercises one transcends these 18 blocks and attains Self-realization. Aham Brahmasmi - Tat Tvam Asi.
Sabaraimala is the blissful Journey to the Consciousness.
What benefits one get by doing the journey to Sabarimala?. One gets the individual material desires fulfilled and get a life with more inner strength to withstand challenges in life instead of undergoing mental suffering. The karmic effects , that is, the results of our past and present actions are buffered by increasing our Self-Awareness of the practices of Ayyppa Vratham. Going to Sabarimala without knowing the real purpose would give only tiny benefits of getting relieved a few picnic days from a stressful life. However knowing the purpose and going would be fully rewarding like a child going to school with full awareness of education one receives at school.
Pilgrimages that deepen awareness
The Ayyappa Story and its Symbolism
Brahma, Vishnu and Siva are described in the Puraanas as the three major divine aspects of Reality associated with creation, maintenance and dissolution of the universe. These Divinities took a manifestation as Datta. The consorts of the Divinities also there upon took a manifestation as Leela.
Datta eventually married Leela and after living a few years of conjugal love, he wanted to renounce the worldly life and engage in spiritual disciplines to transcend his conditioned being and to be one with his greater existence. But Leela would not agree to this. She wanted to continue the life of mundane pleasure in the company of Datta, who tried to convince her that one can never find lasting contentment in a lustful life. But Leela was adamant. An enraged Datta cursed her to be born as a Mahishi, a senseless she-buffalo to satisfy her desires.
Datta, the combination of the all the three Gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva represent the supreme Consciousness. Their respective divine wives represent the energy aspect of Consciousness. When this energy aspect wanted to express itself into forms of energy manifestations, it became limited in nature unlike its unlimited un-manifesting real nature, the Consciousness. This limiting manifesting aspect is represented as the curse.
Rest is history.
The manifested forms, acquired Ego. Ego means to identify it to the "acquired" form instead of the principle behind the form. With this emerged the whole creation. The Ego form is represented as the She buffalo or Mahishi.
In course of time, Leela took birth as a bizarre creature with the head of a she-buffalo and the body of a woman. She was very powerful because of her divine origin, but very dull-witted because of her buffalo nature. She did intense penance and propitiated Lord Brahma, who granted the boons she desired for, such as that powerful creatures very much like herself would emerge out of all her hair follicles whenever she wanted and that she could not be killed except by one who was born out of a union of Lord Vishnu and Lord Siva, which was thought to be an impossibility. Having obtained this boon, she struck terror in the heavens, the abode of Devas (godly beings) and drove them and their king Indra away. She placed herself on the throne of Indra as the ruler of the heavens.
Mahishi, the Ego, though the shadow of the Consciousness, is naturally powerful. This Ego derives its power from mind, the "thoughts". This is what is symbolized by Mahishi doing penance to Brahma, the mind.
Hair on head always represents Ego and that is why shaving of hair is done as a means of surrender of Ego to God. Shaving of head represents loss of identity and pride about beauty, similar to loss of Ego. Here Mahishi says similarly that her hair follicles each should give rise to creatures like it, which shows propagation of Ego into many forms.
She got the boon from Brahma that she will be destroyed only by some one born to Vishnu and Shiva, who represent the consciousness and awareness. Brahma represent the mind and killing of Mahishi or Ego represent the complete transcendence, back to the Source.
Once the Ego goes out of control, it will cause havoc in heaven. Heaven means pleasures in the enjoyment of senses, however in a controlled manner. The king of heaven is Indra that comes from the word "Indriya" or senses. The heaven becomes when sensual pleasures become addiction, under the rule of uncontrolled Ego. This is the symbolism of Mahishi striking terror and driving away Indra and other gods from heaven.
Pilgrimages that deepen awareness
The Symbolism of Ayyappa Story
The oppressed Deva-s prayed to Brahama, Vishnu and Shiva for their intervention. There was another incident which ended up in churning of the ocean (ksheer sagar). Vishnu took form of a beautiful lady - Mohini to settle dispute between the demons and God. Seeing the enchanting form of Mohini, Lord Siva himself fell in love with her and from their union a son was born to Mohini. This was Dharma Saastha, who was destined to kill Mahishi, according to the boon given to her by Lord Brahma that only the one born from the union of Siva and Vishnu could kill her. The child was placed by the Devas on earth on the banks of the river Pampa, where Mahishi was living.
The churning of Ocean is deep in symbolic meaning (Please Click here to read about it). When there are problems and there is no happiness, we turn inward and this is represented by the Devas seeking help to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Mohini represents the powerful form of the intellect, the inquiring nature. Inquiring nature (Vichara) leads to discrimination of the real from un-real. This deepens the awareness which we had discussed earlier. The inquiry (Vichara) helps in transcending to the awareness state. Intellect is other form of Consciousness and so the Union of the Consciousness and awareness state is Dharma Sastha or Ayyappa. At the birth Ayyappa wasfound with a jewel in the neck representing the throat Chakra, the one who has control over his body metabolism.
During this time, Raajasekhara, the king of a small kingdom Pandalam (in south Kerala), was engaging himself in a hunting expedition. When he was moving along the banks of the river Pampa, he saw a crying child in a secluded spot. He took the child to his palace and brought him up as his foster son. The child was named “Manikanda (jewel in neck)”.The child grew up in the palace under the affectionate care of king Raajasekhara, who had no son of his own. The boy proved himself to be a genius and mastered the Vedas and the martial science quickly.
Rajasekhara (Sekhara means hair) refers to Shiva , the awareness in us. A spiritual aspirant who has progressed to the state of the throat chakra, which means control over his metabolic needs of the body, will next progress total control over the body represented by the ajna- chakra, the third eye (Shiva).
However the Raja's wife under the influence of the minister to get rid of Manikanda, pretended head ache and the royal physician was bribed to prescribe fresh leopard's milk as an antidote. Manikantan volunteered to bring leopard. The minister felt happy over the expected turn of events which assured the imminent death of the Prince in the forest.
A spiritual aspirant in his spiritual evolution notices mystical powers. Often the Ego desires to acquire that. He does not understand that dwelling in these mystical powers is a trap. This trap will ruin the whole spiritual Sadhana.
This is beautifully symbolized by the above story of Ayyappa, where the queen with the minister enacts the trap to kill Manikanda. The leopard symbolizes the mystical powers. The queen represent the one form of the Ego that wants to rule the kingdom of the mind. The minister represents the cunning nature of the Ego and the bribe to the royal physician is attraction towards exercising mystical powers.
All spiritual aspirants go through this phase of getting attracted to mystical powers. This use of these powers only strengthens the Ego and is a trap that strangles the sadhaka. |Very few like Manikanda overcomes it by killing the Mahisha within.
Pilgrimages that deepen awareness
The Symbolism of Ayyappa Story
Ayyappa who sent in search of leopards encountered the Mahishi in the forest. He caught hold of Mahisi by her horns, lifted her and hurled her downwards. She fell near the river, Azutha. Lying there incapacitated, and having had the divine touch of Ayyappa, she immediately recollected her original divine nature and sang in praise of him. As the compassionate glance of Ayyappa fell on her, there emerged out of her bizarre body an extremely beautiful Goddess, now worshipped as Goddess Maaligappurath-amma in Sabarimala.
Killing of the Mahishi is the killing of the Ego. The moment the veil of Ego is removed, the inner light of Consciousness is realized. We understand our True Self to be Consciousness and not the Ego, body and mind. Then such a realized person would live a royal life in the palace of bliss. "Maaliga" in Malayalam means palace. This state of a Self-realized person is an honorable state and so symbolically worshipped as "Maaliga Purathamma", the would-be wife of Lord Ayyappa.
When the Mahishi was killed, Leela emerged and remembered her real nature to be the divine energy of Consciousness. She asked Ayyappa to marry her. Ayyappa refused saying that he has to take care of people who needs his help. When there are no more help needed then he would marry her, until then she has to wait, indicated by no more arrows in "Saram kuthiyaal". In the section about the Journey to Sabarimala we will discuss about this very interesting aspect in detail.
A self realized person immediately does not leave the body, if he or she has any trace of vasanas (desires) left. This will be extinguished through the action of Service to others. This is symbolized by the refusal of marriage (Union of jiva with the supreme Atma). The nil arrows in Sarankuthiyaal represents this symbolism.
Thereafter, Ayyappa returned to the kingdom of Pandalam with the leopards.
A Self realized person who has killed his Ego , would have all the mystical powers under his control as seen As Ayyappa riding on the leopards.
The king, the queen and all others realized the divinity of Ayyappa and surrendered to him before him. Ayyappa imparted to them spiritual wisdom about the meaning and destiny of human life. The king prayed to the Lord to bless them with his everlasting spiritual presence in a temple to be dedicated to him, for showering his Grace to millions for generations to come. That would be especially necessary in the present Iron Age (Kali Yuga) when people would increasingly tend to be self-centred and materialistic, bringing much disharmony to life. Thereupon, the lord suggested a holy spot and advised the king to construct a temple there. The Lord assured him that the temple would ever be vibrant with his Divine Presence and then He disappeared. Eventually the king constructed a temple in the deep forest of Sabarimala as suggested by the Lord. An idol of Lord Ayyappa seated in the Yogic pose Veeraasanam and showing the mystic sign of Chinmudra by the right hand was installed in the temple.
In a self realized person all the thoughts are under his control. He recongizes his divinity asinscriped in the Sabarimala temple "ThatTvam Asi", which means "You are that supreme Consciousness".
This is the meaning of chin-mudra that ayyappa shows. Little finger represents body, ring finger represents mind (that is why in wedding ring is worn in ring finger or mind finger because the event is the joining of two individuals are mind level) . The middle finger is the senses and the fore finger is the “I” or ego thought. The thumb is the consciousness finger or intellect finger without which the other fingers are useless. The forefinger is always found associated with the other three fingers and when it transcends them it merges with the thumb to form a circle which indicates that this consciousness has no beginning and end. This is the thatva of chin mudra that Ayyappa shows and tells his devotees to achieve in life.
Knowing the Symbolism of Sabarimala Ayyappa, let us now take the Journey to The Source. We will understand how each ritual in the journey represents the symbolism of Ayyappa story actually represents our inward spiritual journey to our own source, the Consciousness.
Pilgrimages that deepen awareness
Journey to the Source - Sabarimala
The most important rite just before starting the pilgrimage is the Kettunira, also known as Kettumurukku. It is the filling in of the sacred package, (Kettu means package and Nira, filling in), which the pilgrim reverentially carries on his head. For this purpose a blue or black bag with two compartments, which is known as Irumudi, is used. This ritual is performed by the Guruswami on the day for the pilgrimage fixed by him. This filled package is known as Irumudikettu . Only those who carry the Irumudikettu on the head would be allowed to climb the 18 sacred steps to the temple, as they are the ones considered to have observed the austerities and thus eligible to climb the holy steps.
Irumudi represent the two types of karmas, Prarabda and Sanchita karmas that we bring to the world at birth. Sanchita karma is the store of karmic debts from previous births; Prarabdha is that portion of one’s Sanchita karma that has to be worked out in the present birth. The sanchita store of karmic debts is cleansed by the spiritual practice of 41 days and is symbolized by first filling a coconut with ghee (clarified butter). This ghee-filled coconut (Nei-thenga) is an offering that will be given to the Lord upon reaching sabarimala shrine. The coconut will be broken and ghee would be smashed on the body of the Lord's image.
What is the symbolism of ghee filled coconut?
The coconut represents the human head, the outer shell of the coconut symbolizes ego. Coconut has three eyes: and the third eye represent the spiritual eye. Opening of the spiritual eye helps to drain the coconut water and fill the coconut with ghee.
Ghee symbolizes devotion that replaces the coconut water. The coconut water represents stored karmic debts, that will help the coconut to sprout again and bear more fruits. So to extinguish this stored karmic debt, it has to be emptied and filled , otherwise the coconut will go spoiled. Ghee is the filler used in the coconut free from coconut water.
Why ghee and not butter or some oil?.
Ghee represent devotion or love (oneness or non-dual vision). This comes with time by constant effort and understanding. Devotion comes though the process of purification, like obtaining ghee by processing milk, churning curd to form butter and finally melting it to ghee. The ghee is the fruit that one obtains after following strict disciplinary practices.
The ghee filled coconut is kept in the front compartment and closed by tying it with a string. This front pouch, for identification, is marked with the symbol `OM' and is the sacred compartment. It will also be filled with devotional items like camphor, raw rice, aval (flattened rice), pori, sandal paste incense sticks, vibhuti (sacred ash), kumkum (vermilion), turmeric powder, jaggery, kalkkandom (candied sugar) and coins for dakshina. All these items will be emptied in the temple like we extinguish the karmic debts.
The rear pouch of the Irumudi Kettu contains consumable edible items which are used by the pilgrim for his personal sustenance during the journey to Sabarimala. This is, similar to the karma that will naturally be depleted by living it.
Front part- Ayyappan picture on bag, kaani ponnu (the coin to Family diety), one coin for Ganesha (both offered to family temple after safe trip), betal leaf, areca nut, aval (rice flakes), malar (puffed whole rice), pori (puffed rice), Jagerry (odd number), raisins, sugar crystals, camphor, sacred-ash, turmeric, Kathali banana for Ganesha.
Ghee filled coconut for Ayyappa,
Turmeric to Nagaraja
Vara Podi ( fried rice flour), sugar crystal, raisins to Maaligapurathamma
Sacred ash to Mani Mandapam
Camphor all temples,
Incense stick to mosque
Pilgrimages that deepen awareness
The Journey Starts
Irumudukettu will be a compact package that can be conveniently carried over the head and the sacred package is handled with great reverence. Before taking the Irumudikettu on the head, there is a function called Sarvapraayaschitha, in which the pilgrim prays to the Lord for forgiveness for all wrongs and lapses he has committed knowingly or unknowingly during the period of austerities. He prays for Lords Grace for an unhampered pilgrimage.
The journey after the Sarva-praayaschitha the pilgrim turns to the east, and the Guruswami, with his mind surging with devotion to Lord Ayyappa, places the Irumudikettu on the head of the pilgrim. The pilgrim then, with prayers to the Lord breaks a coconut by hurling it on a stone, symbolising the shattering of impediments for a smooth pilgrimage. He now starts the journey in the company of the team led by the Guruswami.
Why is a lamp lit after the the pilgrim leaves home?
When the pilgrims leaves his home for Sabarimala, he breaks a coconut on a stone near his door step. A lit oil lamp is generally placed on this stone. Till the pilgrim returns home after the pilgrimage, one of the family members ritually lights this lamp at dusk, and allows it to remain lit for a couple of hours, in a gesture of prayer for the well being of the pilgrim and his safe return. But it symbolically means that the pilgrim has sought the inner light within him after he left for Sabarimala.
The whole journey to Sabarimala is a symbolism of the Journey we undergo inwards. The rituals and the events reminding the adventures of Ayyappa in holy spots are nothing but mile stones in our inward journey overcoming the blocks of our Spiritual journey.
Erumeli (Means killing the buffalo, the symbol of Ego).
The first pilgrim spot is the Erumeli. It is believed that the place derived its name ‘Erumely’ from the Malayalam word ‘Eruma kolli’. (Eruma means she-buffalo, and kolli, the place of killing). The slaying of the buffalo here has a deeper connotation, that of eliminating or transcending the Ego. At Erumely there are three sacred spots, which the pilgrims visit. They are the two shrines of Lord Dharma Saastha, the Kochambalam (small shrine) and the Valiambalam (bigger shrine) and the mosque of Vaavar (Vavar muslim palli).
The pilgrims who go to Sabarimala via Erumely reach this place in vehicles and after participating in a ritualistic dance called petta -thullal and worship at the shrines either proceed to Pampa in vehicles or by foot through the forest path.
Pilgrimages that deepen awareness
Symbolism of Petta-Thullal Dance
Petta-Thullal, a devotional dance, performed by the pilgrims in Erumely, is an important ritualistic custom of the pilgrimage. The Petta-thullal is a re-enaction of the joyful dance of the people on knowing that Ayyappa had slain the terrible Mahishi, the demoness having the form of a she-buffalo.
Externally the devotee dances the petta-thullal , which internally represent this state of having slayed his own Ego, symbolically represented as Ayyappa killing Mahishi, the she-buffalo. The important feature of this dance is the smearing of color powder and charcoal on the whole body including the face and erasing their identity. This also erases the sense of all social and religious distinctions from the minds of the participants and to integrate them into a dynamic whole. They dance in abandon in a state of forgetfulness of their individual distinctions while making a conscious effort to fix their attention on the divinity of Ayyappa, whom they considered as the manifestation of the Supreme Reality. While dancing, they uttered aloud “Ayyappan thinthakathom, Swami thinthakathom”.(Veeramani's song is popular)
The ritualistic dance in Erumeli is the expression internal slaying of the Ego (buffalo). Buffalo is a symbolism of lazy animal always finds cozy in dirty water that represent darkness. Ego lives in the darkness , the absence of the light of Consciousness. Slaying of the Ego, results in the loss of the sense of identity and immersing in the ecstatic moments of pure awareness.
Before Petta-thullal begins the pilgrims go to the market (Petta means market and Thullal, dance) and buy small arrows for ritualistic purpose, provisions as cereals, vegetables etc. All these items of a group are placed in a blanket and then tied up into a bundle. The bundle is carried suspended on long poles, the ends of which rest on the shoulders of a pair of pilgrims.
This dance represent the transformation of a spiritual aspirant who then takes all the worldly objects and possessions and events only an aspect to rejoice. The petta or market represent the world of displaying objects. Without any judgements and distinctions he treats all the objects as one extension to be shared with the fellow beings. This is expressed as the provisions from market, tied into a bundle and carried suspended on long poles, the ends of which rest on the shoulders of a pair of pilgrims.
The pilgrims with the face and body smeared with charcoal and other colours go to the Kochambalam, the small shrine of Dharma Shaastha, from where the Petta-thullal begins. After worshipping at the shrine, the pilgrims start the dance to the accompaniment of instrumental music, like drumming and Naagaswaram (all these represents the music of rejoicing life). Petta-thullal is performed with devotional fervour, many of the pilgrims holding green twigs and uttering aloud: “Ayyappa thinthakathom, Swami thinthakathom”’’. The green twigs from trees symbolize the integration with nature.
Pilgrimages that deepen awareness
Ayyappa brings Unity of Religions
From the Kochambalam, the dancing pilgrims move first to the mosque of Vavar, and circumambulate it. They render their offerings and receive the sacred ash from a Muslim priest. It s a remarkable scene of a practical demonstration of the spirit of India’s all embracing spiritual heritage that sees the diverse religious pursuits as just different paths to the same spiritual goal.
After coming out of the mosque the dancing pilgrims move towards Valiambalam, the bigger temple of Dharma Saastha, about a kilometre away on a riverbank. On reaching Valiambalam, the pilgrims throw the green twigs over the roof of the temple and after circumambulation and worship, conclude the Petta -thullal by lighting camphor in front of the temple. Camphor is a volatile substance emitting smell or vasana. Burning of camphor symbolize burning traces of desires in the fire of knowledge of the Self.
After taking bath in the river, they proceed to the onwards journey in the forest. Even today many pilgrims prefer to go by the traditional forest route after reaching Erumeli, a holy place associated with Sabarimala pilgrimage. From there they would walk about 50 kms through forests and mountain peaks to reach Pampa and then climb the mountain, Neelimala.
Journey to the Source continues through different stages.
Many of the pilgrims camp at the banks of river Azhutha, a tributary of the holy river Pampa. A special ritualistic ceremony performed here is Aazhi-pooja, which is a prayerful walking around a huge pile of fire, chanting aloud “Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa”. The holy bath in the river Azhutha is a part of the pilgrimage. While making a dip, the pilgrim, as a ritualistic custom, takes a pebble from the river which he later drops on reaching a place called Kallidumkunnu, which literally means the hill where the stone is dropped. It is believed that Kallidumkunnu is the place where Mahishi’s body lay buried.
In the spiritual pursuit, the intellect , the realm of knowledge that helped the mind to transcend is also dropped like the stones dropped after circumnutating the huge heap of fire of knowledge.
Pilgrimages that deepen awareness
Manikanda means represent the Throat Chakra (Visuddhi)
Finally the pilgrim reaches the extensive area of the Pampa river bed. Ayyappa (Manikanda) at the Pampa river region represent the Throat Chakra (Visuddhi). At birth Ayyappa was found as a baby with a bell in his neck (Mani is jewel and kand means neck). This represents the throat chakra and it is the place of thyroid gland. Thyroid gland controls all metabolic activities. Ayyappa represents a spiritual aspirant who has strict discipline over his body. We know that the mind has a strong affinity towards the body and we bring that mind for transcending to the awareness state.
The Ayyappa lore has it that king Rajasekhara of Pandalam found the child Ayyappa on the banks of this river. All spiritual activities of meditation, reading holy texts prayers are done here, because this is the place were Ayyappa as a child was found with a jewel in his neck. Hence Ayyappa is also called mani-kanda.
An important function which the pilgrims, who come in groups, arrange here is the ritualistic feast called Pampaa-sadya, a sumptuous feast representing contentment in the spiritual journey. There is a festival of light on the banks of Pampa a day before the most important Makara-samkrama pooja called Pampa Vilakku. The lights again signify the victory over the darkness of the mind.
Climbing the mountain Neelimala is the next phase of the pilgrimage. At first the pilgrim climbs the steps to reach the shrine of Sri Ganesha at the foot of the mountain and worships there before climbing Neelimala. On the top of Neelimala there is a spot called Appaachimedu, on both sides of which there are very steep gorges. Appaachimedu is considered to be the seat of evil spirits and the pilgrims propitiate them by throwing offerings of rice-powder balls into the gorges.
Now the great climb is over. The pilgrim is getting closer to his destination. Walking a short distance from Appachimedu, he reaches a level ground and there is the sacred spot, Sabaripeedam. Therefore, the whole region including the location of the sacred shrine of Lord Ayyappa is known as Sabarimala, the Hill of Sabari. The pilgrims make offerings and worship at the holy spot. About a kilometre from Sabaripeedam is another sacred spot known as Saramkuthiyaal, which means the banyan tree under which the arrows are to be dropped.
At this juncture, you would recollect the symbolism of the story behind the life of Ayyappa to understand about the significance of Saramkuthiyaal.
Pilgrimages that deepen awareness
Mahishi and Ayyappa were husband and wife in the previous birth, which means it is the same Consciousness that is behind the creation. Leela (Mahishi) was cursed to become Mahishi, and later recovered to her original form by Ayyappa. The new name of Mahishi or Leela is Maaliga-purathamma. Ayyappa told her he would marry her when no “New” devotees’s meet him.
What does this new devotees mean and when would they stop coming?. Only when no more births occur would new devotees cease to come. Or when the number of people with less desires increase , so would the numbers decline. Presence of new devotees coming is indicated by Saram (arrow) in the Saramkuthu-kaavu. Every new-comer is addressed as kanni-swami.
What does this mean?. Only when we liberate our minds from the negative tendencies, which like Ayyappa killing the demons in us, we will be able to transcend from Maaliga-purathamma state. Still we would not get into Moksha state, until we are sure that no more thoughts (arrows) arise. This is when Ayyappa weds Maaliga-purathamma. This is when our Awareness weds to Consciousness and attain Moksha. In other words when all prarabda karma and sanchita karma is exhausted, there is liberation, we merge with the supreme consicousness, the marriage of Ayyappa and Maaliga-purathamma.
Each time when we go to Sabarimala we have to watch in our minds whether new “Sarams” (arrows) of thoughts (desires) arise. When the thoughts of “needs” supercedes thoughts of “wants” we would experience the Marriage of Ayyappa with Maaliga. Without understanding the concept it is a pity for people to think that women’s presence would disturb the Brahmachari Ayyappa. Then poor Ayyappa would fall even lower to the caliber of an ordinary human being with no self –control. Ayyappa is the one who has self-mastered.
Rolling coconuts in Maaliga-purathamman shrine
This is the same reason why no coconuts are smashed in Maaliga-purathamamman's shrine, instead coconuts are rolled. Since Maaliga-purathamma symbolize the state of a devotee who has killed his Ego , but is in the final state of getting rid of even trace desires. Smashing of coconut represent smashing the Ego.
We had earlier discussed that a single thought, Who Am I , brought the whole creation into being! Then to get back to the original state, all the thoughts has to be dissipated. Unfortunately, thoughts are like chain reactions in an atom-bomb. They continue to give rise to more and more reactions. Stopping it , is a big process. Each thoughts in us are like arrows in a quiver, ready to be released. To stop the game, the arrows in quiver should be emptied.
Pilgrimages that deepen awareness
Why women aged between 12 to 55 not allowed in Sabarimala?
Through Ayyappa Vratham we try to attain Self Realization or realizing “Consciousness”. This is possible only when we transcend from our “Body-Mind” awareness-state to Consciousness-state. This transcendence is called Moksha or liberation, which means freeing oneself from the thought of Body mind to Consciousness.
To achieve this liberation one should not “Create” or “breed” more thoughts that again bind us to the body-mind-state. The predominant or the sole-breeding thought of every living creation is to perpetuate itself in the form of Progeny (off-spring). Children represent our thoughts of future. Seeds of our thoughts sprout in the form of children, but for this a fertile ground is needed.
Male (Purusha) is representation of ”Seed” and Female (Prakrithi) the symbol of the “Vehicle” for that seed to get nourishment and growth. This fertility is symbolic of menstrual cycle. Menstruation represents “ground of fertility “ for creation to happen. The active “Prakrithi” is what we should avoid and hence in Sabarimala to denote that avoidance, Female’s in fertile period (11-55) is avoided.
Menstruation, the fertility is a taboo in Sabarimala to be aware of our thoughts and avoid it to grow and propagate more thoughts. Restricting menstruating females in Sabarimala is a symbolic representation of not allowing the ground for sprouting new thoughts. This symbolism is not understood and hence a hell lot of superstitious acts and feminist criticism has arisen. The feminist and atheist do not understand this message and so they attack this rule as male chauvinism.
The Second reason is the location of Sabarimala in the forest which is inconvenient for women to reach. Thirdly women by helping husband in spiritual progress itself can attain the same benefits, which we had discussed in the Space section. Forgetting her ego self and working for the family is the best means to transcend the Ego and hence scriptures say taking care of family is the best sadhana for women.
in the One of the reason is that women at this age group has to take care of the family when men observe this 41 day ritual every year.
Pilgrimages that deepen awareness
The Symbolism of Makara Sangranthi
On Magara Sankranthi day, the Sun starts on His northward journey by entering the Makara sign of zodiac. Change for good is Sankranthi. In a year, Sun passes through the twelve house of the zodiac in twelve months. The Sun's entry into each house of the zodiac is described as a Sankramana. 'Kranthi' means 'change'. Sankranthi means a secured change.
Festivals connected with the moon and the sun are celebrated in India, in order to drive into the minds of men the importance of mind control, (chandra or moon is the deity of the mind) and of clarifying the intelligence (Surya or the sun is the deity of intelligence).
Sankaramana is the time when the inward journey towards a pure and unsullied heart is made. Just as the sun embarks on his northward journey, Sankranthi is the day on which the intellect should be turned towards the Atma for Self-realisation.
Thiru-Abaranam (The Jewel of the Lord)
This day of Self Realization, is the day of the festival in Sabarimala. The Thiru-abaranam (Golden wear of Lord) is brought under the witnessing of the Garuda (Eagle) in sky and adonred on Lord Ayyappa's idol, symbolizing the union of Jivatma (individual soul) with the Paramatma ( Supreme soul).
Makara Jyothi - The Light of the Lord
The union is symbolized by the Makara-Jyothi (light) sees amidst the mountains. All our Journey ends seeing this inner light. The evolutionary life which we took for millions of years culminates with this Jyothi (light).
The above pictures from www.sabari.org
Pilgrimages that deepen awareness
Experience the Symbolism of Sabarimala
It is very important to understand why we go to Sabarimala doing rituals and experience it. It is a pity that most of the public ignorantly go to Sabarimala without understanding the purpose of it. Ignorance of people have been so deep rooted that we fail to see the symbolism and the deep message of life in our spiritual practices.
There is no God sitting us and watching us whether we are doing five times prayer and punish or reward us. God is consciousness which is our own true self. Consciousness having took a form and the awareness that comes out of it forgets itself to play the game of life. Spiritual practice is to transcend back to our source to know that we are Brahman or consciousness.
Knowing the symbolism of Lord Ayyappa and doing the beautiful Sabarimala rituals and spiritual practices let us see the inner light the Makara Jyothi in us.
Let us self realize the Maha Vakya of Rg Veda That Tvam Asi (I am that).
Swamiyae Saranam Ayyappa.
Lord Dattatreya came as the Supreme Philosopher so that the true meaning and purpose of Sacrifice (Tyaaga) may be revealed to mankind. Atri, His father, symbolizes penance (tapas) as described in the scriptures, and Anasooya represents freedom from jealousy. When penance and non-jealous nature unite in a single person, the highest truth emerges as Lord Dattatreya. As ultimate self-sacrifice, the Supreme God gave Himself as Datta to Atri and Anasooya. Hence, "Datta" means not only "that which is given", but also as the ideal of "giving" without desire for reward, i.e. selfless giving. The whole life of Dattatreya shows us that this "giving" selflessly is the true renunciation/sacrifice. The significance of this sacrifice is stated in the Dattatreya Upanishad where the Lord says, "Not by action, not by progeny, nor even by self, but by renunciation (tyaaga) alone is immortality attained. "Real renunciation is the giving up of "I" and mine, not the mere abandoning of duties. Living a selfless life require giving up one's ego. That is what Lord Dattatreya describes as true sacrifice.
Why Women are not allowed in Sarimala Temple - Is it based on body impurity and menstruation? Here is an interview
V: Dr. Pradheep is a PhD in cancer biology and now working as a biotechnology scientist in the US. Another contribution is that he developed the Uni5 energy pattern based concept and education. He has given international talks on this energy pattern for the past 18 years.
I have also come across about your connection with Shabrimala. May I ask you for how many years have you been going to Shabrimala?
For the past 35 years I went almost every year.
Taking all this into account I would like to ask you a question about the recent issue of Shabrimala. In the name of religion don’t you see this as a discrimination that women are not allowed to go to Shabrimala?
As a scientist, I am trained to look at things objectively, without any prior bias. In order to answer and understand this whole situation, I would look at it from a more holistic point of view.
V: What do you mean by a holistic point of view?
Holistic means that seeing and understanding a phenomenon from all the possible angles.
I am going to explain it from three levels of the way we look at things. We look everything from a physical then an emotional and an organized structural or intelligence view.
V: Then, do you think that there is a discrimination on the physical or body level?
It appears to be a discrimination at the level of the physical body.
But there exist a difference between male and female body from body organs to core cells and its x and y chromosome.
V: Do you mean that women have a different and impure body?
More than the physical, the purity of mind is very important.
V: Does it mean that women are impure at the level of mind and men are pure?
From mind level –man and woman are equal and impure at the same time.
V: If male are as impure at the level of mind as women, then men should also not go!?
Ideally then men also should not go.
18 steps and 41 days vratha is to purify the mind of the pilgrim. Sanathana dharma
V: What do you mean by purity?
Purity – pure gold pure ghee, has only one substance in it.
Vedic tradition talks about purity of one thought one goal, Moksha.
Sabarimala is a temple about Mosha. Swamiaye kandaal Moksha kittum.
Men carry a token of that goal orientedness in the irumdi.
V: Do you think women cannot do that 41 day vritta and carry that irumuddhi? Is it very heavy? Is that your measure of purity needed to step into Shabrimala?
Yes, you are right. We can measure the age of female body and restricted the entry. Men can be restricted the entry if they do not carry the irimuddhi.
V: This is a joke. This is totally arbitrary and manmade rules. Whatever you say, in the eyes of God there is no discrimination. But why is this temple preventing women to enter and to worship God?
Women have every right to worship. PAUSE
In order to understand this issue, one has to understand that there are two ways of worship of God:
Agama and Tantric
V: What is Agama and Tantric?
Agama means worshiping God without any conditions, just pure love for God. Agama literally means ‘grammar’. To speak a language without mistakes, one should use correct grammar. Similarly, to lead a life without making mistakes one should ideally Agama mode of worship.
The second way is Tantra or Vedic Temple Technology.
However our lives are filled with desires and requires Energy to fulfill it. Energy can be generated only technology and so the Vedic Temple technology.
V: What do you mean by temple technology? What has a temple to do with technology?
From the Vedic Temple Technology perspective, temple is a place where the subtle energy is generated and preserved. To do that, the priests and temple guardians have to follow strict rules and procedures. For example, which rituals should be done at what exact times and they have to strictly keep the purity on the physical level. They have to take shower every hour before entering the sanktorium.
All these rules are based on scientific reasons, it is not arbitrary.
V: Ok, I understand all this technology, but what does that have to do with women? Why is this technology discriminating women? What is wrong with women from the energy perspective of this technology?
There is nothing wrong in women’s energy. But we have to understand that the woman’s physiology is designed to channelize energy for creation. Creation means, when one becomes many.
Whereas, ideally men’s physiology is designed for moksha, which means to liberate from the creative cycle of birth and death, this also means to become only one.
I will give you an analogy. Let’s say, there are two devices: a heating stove and a refrigerator. They both use the same electrical energy. But, a heating stove produces heat, on the other hand a refrigerator cools things. It is the same energy, but used for opposite tasks.
In essence, Stove will never be able to cool
Refrigerator never be able to heat
Does that mean that a refrigerator is better than a stove? Or a stove better than a refrigerator? If you want to heat up something, a stove is better and you will use it. If you want to cool something, then naturally a refrigerator is the preferred choice. It is not a discrimination, their design is like that!
We need both! Equality of both is in the energy.
V: So how does this connect to Shabrimala?
One has to understand that Shabrimala Ayyappa is for Moksha only. Which means no more creation, but the liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
Hence, if the temple energy of Shabrimala will be channelized for creation, it will be contradictory to the very purpose of the Shabrimala temple.
Consequently, the energy channelization is different, because of the different nature of female physiology.
One has to understand, that the existence of a temple is not by chance or arbitrary. This is our treasure of Indian spiritual tradition.
V: In other words, you are saying that women are not allowed, because they have a different energy channelization, which is contradictory to the purpose of Shabrimala and not because my body is impure!
You are right! Shiva and Shakti are one. Only there are different devices for the channelization of the same energy. In fact, the Goshana of Ayyapa is “Tatvam Asi”, which means that “you and I are one”.
Also, before women reach puberty and after the meno pause they are allowed, because then they are not in the mode of creation anymore. That is the logic for the Shabrimala temple, which is generating the energy for Moksha.
Different physiology of male and female are for achieving different results. I don’t see it as a discrimination, but it is the purnatva, the completeness of Sanatan Dharma, that caters both, the need of creation as well as the liberation at the same time.
V: Thank you very much for this deep and holistic explanation. I am really surprised that there is so much misunderstanding and misinterpretation about this issue. I would like to ask you many more questions in this regard in our second part of this interview.
Bringing it back to the male and female body, the nature of the male body or Purusha is using the energy for moksha and the nature of the female body or Shakti is for creation. For example, that is why all the male Gods are for liberation and the female Gods are for creation and fulfilling material desires.
Sanatan Dharma is the only xxx which has taken into account both aspects. Agama and Tantric. In other religions, usually only male aspect is there. Tantric is for the fulfillment of desires as a technique.
Deviation from one goal is impurity. Purity is to stick to only one goal.
That subtle energy for moksha which is generated is disturbed by the energy a female is carrying. The same way cell phone data gets disturbed, when you bring a strong magnet in its vicinity.
V: In a way you are saying that the female physiology is not meant for moksha, which means liberation from the cycle of birth and death, because it supports further creation, which means it leads to the process of life and death. Is that right?
One becomes many and many become one, not impurity or purity.
Yes, you are right! This is why women are not allowed at the Shabrimala temple when they are in a period of their life, where their physiology supports the creative process, which starts when they reach puberty and ends after their meno pause. Before and after this period, they are not carrying this energy for creation, with which they should not enter a temple, which generates energy for the opposite purpose.
V: But I don’t understand one point. There are very sincere female spiritual aspirants, whose goal in life is only moksha. They are not getting involved in the creation process. They lead a pure life and to keep their mind pure and goal oriented from the Vedic perspective. All this in order to attain Moksha. Do you think that only because their body would support creation, but on all other levels they only have this one goal, which is Moksha, they cannot have darshan of Ayyappa Swami at Shabrimala?
In Shabrimala, Ayyappa Swami is for or symbolizes Moksha. However, there are more than 400 temples of Ayyappa where he is with his female consort and the energy in those temples is the combination of both, moksha and the support of the creative process. This is because the Temple Technology in these temples is different. In those temples all ladies of all ages are allowed.
V: Except during the time of the month, when women are considered to be “impure”.
I am glad that you brought this point up again. I can understand how this can be understood as a discrimination against women from the perspective of women. I will try to make you understand how men and women are treated equally in this aspect.
From our earlier discussion, you have now understood, that women are carrying the energy of creation while they are going through the regular menstruation cycle, right?
V: Yes, that makes sense.
So now, we can look at this process in more detail and also understand what is happening inside the female body every month.
Because creation of a baby is such a special process, the body gets ready for it and renews the cells and tissues in the uterus, to prepare it in order to be able to conceive. When the egg is not fertilized it starts to dissolve, along with all the cells and tissues that were created for this egg. In other words, the egg and the cell tissues die and are disposed and thrown out by the body. Then, this cycle starts over again, where another egg is sent on the way to be fertilized and new cell tissues in the uterus are created. Consequently, the female body is continuously undergoing the cycle of life and death inside her body itself.
V: Which everyone should consider as a completely natural process and nothing impure.
You are right! The cycle of life and death inside a female body is as natural as the cycle of life and death that all bodies undergo!
V: Exactly! So why the big fuss about it?
The rules for all temples are the same and very strict in this point. Anybody, whether male or female, when there has been a birth or death in the family, they are not allowed in the temple, even the priests.
V: But then, why is it pointed out particularly that women are impure at that time?
I would like to make a point about the usage of the word “impurity”. We have to be very very careful with the usage of words that have been around for a long time, because the meaning changes over time. Nowadays, when you say to someone that he is impure, it is very negative and is considered an insult.
V: Indeed, it sounds very filthy and dirty.
The Sanksrit word which is used in the Vedas is ‘shudda’, which means ‘only one, not another’. For example, when we talk about pure oil or pure gold it means that there is nothing else inside.
You were born with only one goal, for Moksha. So when there is something else, even if it is just a desire for something else, you have become ‘impure’ in the sense that you are not only seeking that one goal Moksha anymore. That is the original understanding of impurity and how it was used by the Vedas.
To be born and to die without attaining Moksha or liberation means that you have missed the goal for which you took birth, which is attaining Moksha. This is why this process is considered ‘impure’ in the Vedic understanding of impurity.