Sunday, September 26, 2010

A peek into the tedious 41 days ritual of "shabarimala"

Shabarimala is the famous shrine located at the summits of western ghats surrounded by 18 hills of Kerala in pathanamthitta district in India.Millions of devotees visit this temple every year ,after following the strict 41 days "vrata" or customary ritual to have a glance of their favorite lord "Ayyappa"Some people who cannot observe this vrata for that duration,practise it for a minimum of 3 days to 1 week and visit the temple.It is considered that observing the 41 days vrata purifies the body and soul of the devotee and helps him achieve the heavenly abode ,by washing away the previous sins of the present and past incarnation. A strange customary practise of this temple is that ,only men visit this temple mostly and the girls before puberty or women who have crossed menopause.The logic behind this is related to a historical story.
Traditional attire of the devotees
          Let me highlight a few rules to be followed in the ritual :
  • "Vrata "begins by wearing a holy garland of"rudraksha" beads ,which is delivered by the temple priest or guruswami.A person who wears this is considered to be a  strict bachelor /"sanyasi"/"or a "swami".
  • Get up early in the morning  before sunrise and  have a bath with cold water and also in the evening before prayer.
  • Do the regular prayers to lord "ayyapan" by having a 108 chants of lord ayyappa ,and perform the "aarthi" twice a day ,morning before sunrise and evening after sunset.If  possible visit temple of lord ayyappa.
  • Eat only after your prayers in the morning.Food should be perfect vegetarian and also should contain rice only once a day/partial fasting. The food should not include the previous day items and also should be freshly prepared after a bath.Some people even observe fasting throughout the day and eat only at the end of the day.
  • Strictly speaking some people do not shave or cut their hair/nails throughout the vrata period.
  • The costume to be worn is a black /dark blue "mundu" /"dhoti"or approx 4 feet long cloth to be wrapped around the waist.and a black shawl to be worn over shoulders,with the holy "bhasma "or charcoal powder to be applied over forehead and arms. (but today we have short cuts for everything and people wear black pants and then wear a black shawl over the shirt )
  • People do not wear footwear throughout the vrata period.
  • Sleep should be least comforted ;they should be sleeping on bare floor or on a mat ,and not on a mattress.
  • Sacrifice all wordly pleasures ,quit smoking ,alcohol ,tobacco.
  • And most of all ,married people should remain perfect bachelors and maintain distance from woman or  have a sex free life during these day.
  • Perform a pooja and "annadana"or food offering to people at the end of 41 day period.

The devotees dancing their tunes to devotional songs on the way to the temple .

Shabarimala premises

  These are the few rules which a person under"vrata "has to abide on..I learnt from my husband ,the reasons to follow these. In fact most of the traditional rituals have some logic behind them;and so is with shabarimala vratam.The black/dark blue robe is to signify that these people are following the" shabarimala vrata"and all unhygienic people /ladies having their menstrual cycles have to stay away from them,whilst the ritual followed would be disrupted. In the olden days and in fact even now many of the travellers take the strenuous approximately 48 km walk to the shrine ,which involves forests ,hills and terrains.A person cannot walk these tough path with his footwear on and would find it better to cover these routes bare footed;and additional to this ,it is also considered auspicious to walk barefooted .That is why a person prepares himself prior itself by walking barefooted during the "vrata "period.The stringent rules which they follow ;like bathing with cold water ,sleeping on the floor,fasting ,all these are done  to condition the body to the toughest of the situations during their walk to the shrine and make themselves " resistant "to all obstacles.The journey would take them 4 to 5 days and they would have to shelter themselves by either camping or taking shelter under forest tree houses;bathe in the river each day even under extremities of weather;availability of food is also unpredictable .This is how the tough rituals of the vratam originated and is actually a "preparatory test"for the real exam.Even today all these rituals are followed through generations ,and even though science and technology has advanced so much ,people still have to walk around 6 miles trekking all the way to the divine temple of shabarimala situated at the hill top, from the pampa river ,as there is no acess to vehicles till the temple door step.All these are considered heartfelt offering to god from our side and there have been no manipulations on these.
This is a mosque which the devotees visit on the way to shabarimala temple.(India which has Hinduism as a dominant religion ,portrays unity in diversity )


SG said...

Nice narration. Thanks. Swamiyaayyy Saranam Ayyapppaaaa.

raji said...

@sankalp always welcome.I always wanted to write this topic...