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About Temple
TILL about fifty years ago the pilgrimage to Sri Dharma Shaastha or Sri Ayyappa Temple of Sabarimala was mostly confined to the people of the old Travancore State of South India. Road Transport and rail facilities were then very limited. With their hearts surging with devotion, the pilgrims in groups, wearing blue or black clothes, and carrying on their head the Irumudikkettu, (the package of offerings and provisions) used to trek long distances in groups to reach the shrine of Lord Ayyappa. The routes covered small towns, villages and long stretches of mountainous terrain, of dense forests inhabited by wild animals. In those days the maximum number of pilgrims reaching Sabarimala in any peak season was only up to 15,000.
Fast Facts
State: Kerala
District: Pathanamthitta Language: Malayalam
Best Season: Sept - Apr Weather:
Summer 23 to 35C
Winter 17 to 32C
Altitude: 914 m
Pincode: 689645
STD code: 0473
Today, the scene is drastically different. The latest estimate of their number is around fifty millions. The number is steadily increasing every year. Pilgrims from all over India and aborad reach this forest shrine to offer prayers to Lord Ayyappa. the whole of Kerala reverberates with the chanting Swamiye sharanam Ayyappa. - O Lord Ayyappa, you are our refuge.

There have also emerged Sri Ayyappa shrines allover the country; they are being established abroad too. What is the reason for such growing popular focus on and participation in the worship of Lord Ayyappa? The comforts of man's outer world have increased many fold, but his vital inner world remains neglected. This imbalance has increased his mental tension also many fold. As the over-emphasised materialism of the, consumerist civilization alienates him from his greater dimensions, the subsequent sense of suffocation makes him yearn for a different experience and a greater vision of life. It is the broad-based spiritual longing and approach that transcend the limitations of religious dogmatism, combined with an opportunity for a period of holistic spiritual disciplines that reinforce the body, mind and soul involved in Sri Ayyappa worship, that inspires him to take part in the Sabarimala pilgrimage.

There exist diverse theories and views about Sri Ayyappa and his worship. Most of them dwell elaborately on the legendary or historical aspects. There is no dearth of intellectual discussion on whether Sri Ayyappa is an Aryan or Dravidian God, whether His form and the pilgrimage have a Hindu or Buddhist origin, whether he is a historical figure or not, etc. And in the debate what gets neglected is the most vital -the underlying spiritual wisdom.

What attracts millions to this vibrant centre of' Divine Power, is neither mythological stories nor historical importance, but the very personal experience of spiritual solace and harmony. In a historical assessment what is overlooked is the very essence- the blending of many positive aspects of religious concepts and spiritual disciplines that gives a broad-based practical impetus to the striving of man to know himself and to find a greater meaning to his life.

The legendary and historical aspects, of course, have been discussed in the book, but what is given importance is the all-embracing Spiritual Fact that transcends time and space, legend and history and points out to us the Source of all that IS.

For transliterating some of the proper names and Sanskrit words the pattern adopted is as follows: aa as in father; I as in sit; ee as in see; u as in put; 00 as in too; 0 as in got; e as ay; the visargah(:) sign is indicated by h. The Sanskrit names and words are spelled as they are pronounced. However, the spelling of some of the words, for example 'saranam' that have become popular through common usage, are maintained as such.

THATHWAMASI

Proceeding to Sabarimala, when you climb the eighteen sacred steps of the shrine and step into the front yard of the temple, what greets you first is the huge inscription in Sanskrit and Malayalam "THATH THVAM ASI",one of the four Mahaa-vaakya- s, the great sayings, of the Veda-s that reminds you: "You are essentially That - the Supreme Reality." The emphasis again is on the "One Truth",

The holy shrine of Sri Dharma Shaastha is located deep in the Sahya mountain ranges (the Western Ghats) in Kerala, the state located almost at the south-western tip of India. Climbing some lofty mountain peaks and walking amidst dense tropical forests the pilgrim reaches the small shrine at Sabarimala, the mountain named after the ancient woman sage Sabari, mentioned in the Ramayana. During the pilgrimage season from November to January, according to the latest estimates, about fifty million people reach Sabarimala to worship Sri Ayyappa.

The natural settings of the region of unsurpassed scenic beauty on the way to the shrine, the spiritual disciplines that precede the pilgrimage and the solemn atmosphere of vibrant divinity, all blend well here to give the pilgrim a touch of awareness of the Transcendental and the 'tzzlmeless -the Source of all that exists. He receives a reassurance from the Eternal.

The pilgrimage in its totality, including the pre-pilgrimage austerities, is specially conceived to give a practical training in Advaithic wisdom and bestows one with mental poise and a deeper perspective, the basic requirements for a healthy and harmonious life.

The worship involves the cultivation of a broad outlook and acquisition of a psychological orientation to inculcate the sense of the basic spiritual oneness. Each pilgrim is required to consider himself and all others as Ayyappa incarnate and address all as 'Ayyappa' or 'Swami'. In fact, he is supposed to take everything, whether living or non-living as nothing but the Lord.

The Natural Urge to Know Oneself
One of the basic urges in man is to seek the meaning of his own existence and that of the universe. He wants to know whether he and the universe are involved in far greater dimensions than he perceives, and in which he can find a deeper meaning in lite and experience a greater freedom, transcending the moods of the world, apparently restricted by time and space. This urge to know the basic 'acts is a natural consequence of man's evolutionary status. Behind all fields of human inquiry there is the prompting of this natural urge. The philosophical and religious disposition of man is a dominant expression of this basic urge to know about his own greater dimensions:
But this natural urge often gets misguided by restrictions imposed on the free play of thought and inquiry. This results in religious dogmatism and intolerance. Ayyappa worship reveals itself as a well-designed system which denies any scope for such mind- narrowing restrictions, and offers a set of practical disciplines to activate the divine energies to reinforce life with a deeper perception and broader outlook.

The Two-fold Inquiry
Spiritual thought and faith in Supreme Reality were evolved n India through free inquiry and deep meditation by the seers of Truth. They discovered facts that transcend the ordinary levels of knowledge. Their knowledge and experience were based on the natural development of the basic urge to know the higher facts of life. The two major paths they evolved for their exploration were devotion and rational Self-inquiry. But these paths are not water- tight compartments.
A devout worshiper who does not restrict himself by a dogmatic approach but maintains a universal outlook, is creatively developing that natural urge. While enjoying the sweetness of his Increasing identification with the object' of his worship, the awareness dawns in him that he and the worshiped are one and the same Supreme Reality -Brahman.
The other way is that of rational Self-inquiry -'who am I'?'. As the inquirer explores deeper, he discovers that both he and the world outside him are the manifestations of the same Truth -Brahman. Through both the paths, the inquirer transcends the borders of his limited individuality and acquires the universality and freedom of Supreme Consciousness. The blending and tempering of devotion with Self-inquiry, and enlivening Self-inquiry with devotion would impart sweetness and broadness to both the paths.

Evolutionary Unfoldment
Indian culture has evolved various means and steps to help the evolutionary unfoldment of the human mind to spiritual consciousness. Some would like to approach the Subjective Reality as a supremely glorious Person (Iswara or God) to whom they would like to shower their devotion. The result of such earnest and consistent devotion will be the gradual dissolution of the differentiation between the worshiper and the worshiped. Thus unkno-wingly one's existence becomes one with the Supreme Person he worships. Indian culture has evolved a science of spiritual cultivation for such step by step evolution. Temples, Pooja-s, etc.. form a part of this spiritual cultivation. Supreme Truth is conceived as Brahman and one can adopt a suitable path taking any sublime aspect of Brahman as a symbolic Godly form for worship and adoration, and come intimately closer to the Truth. But one should always keep in mind that all such names and forms are essentially one and the same.
Such worship of Ishta Devatha-s (perso-nalized Deities who suit one's psychological make-up) is a practical means prescribed by Indian culture for spiritual realization. Ishta Devatha is a conceptualized personal aspect of Brahman, on whom one can bestow one's intense devotion for achieving spiritual communion with the Supreme. Brahman, the Supreme Truth, is infinitely free and has the freedom to assume any particular aspect. Brahman's creative mood finds expression as the infinite objective phenomena, and this energetic aspect of creativity is identified by the name Paraa Shakti, the transcendental Divine Mother; and Brahman's transcendental unconditioned aspect is distinguished as Para-Brahman.
Temples are personalized centers of the creative and energetic aspects of Brahman. There the aspects are maintained in a vibrant personalized state of spiritual power, as conceived and installed by using a spiritual technology which involves rites and rituals, evolved by the seekers of Truth.

Old Sabarimala

The first idol installation at Sabarimla was performed by Kantararu Prabhakararu Thazhaman Madhom.

In 1951 Edavam 4 at 7.45a.m. the present Panchaloha idol was installed by Tantri Kantararu Sankararu. When Sabarimala was it under the rule of Travancore. Maharaja pooja i was performed only once in each month. The temple was protected with trenches. It was to I save Sabarimala from the attack of wild I animals. It was used to place a temporary bridge across the canal when the temple opened for pooja. Even during that period there were eighteen steps. The only difference was that they were narrow and made of stone. As a result of years of use the steps were wornout In olden times devotees used to break coconuts on these steps. In each journey pilgrims break coconut on each step and when they comes for the 18th time a coconut sapling is planted at Sannidhanam. Even now that custom prevails. Nowadays the coconut sapling are planted just behind Sannidhanam. It is pathetic to note that the authorities do not take any measure.

In ancient times it was Melsanthi of Aranmula who performed the Pooja at Sabarimala. Pooja was performed only once in a month and only nine days during Makaravilakku.

There is yet another path to Sabarimala. It is through Vandiperiyar Uppupara. Perhaps it is the shortest route; Vandi periyar is only 20 kms away from Sabarimala. There was a time when even flowers were not available for Pooja. Then dried Tulsi leaves were used for Poojas.

In olden days Bhasmakulam was situated north to Sannidhanam. New pond is dug at west to Sannidhanam. Bhasmakulam in north is completely covered with concrete slabs. Even during draught, this pond does not get dried. Once there was a pond just in front ofthe18 holy steps at the pedestrians path.

It was named the vessel pond. Pilgrims used to make tents under the shades of trees and cook food for themselves. For washing 1 the vessels the water from this pond was used.

Tharaka Brahman

Dharma Shaastha enshrined in Sabarimala temple combines both the above-mentioned aspects of Brahman, which is at once immanent and transcendent. In the Puraanic lore, Lord Vishnu represents the Divine Power of Brahman that maintains the universe, which is the objective expression of Reality, and Lord Siva, the power that releases the objective expression from its limitations and makes it one with the uncondi-tioned glory of Reality. Dharma Saastha is a combined personification of the Vishnu and Siva aspects of Reality, representing in one Divinity both the protective and liberating power of Brahman. Hence Dharma Saastha is also known as Thaaraka Brahman. 'Thaaraka' means a deliverer.
Thaaraka Brahman signifies the liberating power of Brahman. The purpose of man's spiritual striving is to evolve from the conditioned state of existence by raising the level of consciousness gradually to its unconditioned infinite glory. As one's existence becomes more and more object-based, one increasingly gets alienated from the liberating and solace-giving Supreme Fact. This increases the hold of objective limitations and their pain and bewilderment. The spiritual striving to strengthen the contact with the Supreme Fact awakens the faculties of intuitionary guidance which, very much like a Guru, helps the seeker to equip himself to embrace the freedom of infinite expansion. It expands the object-centred existence with a broadening universal outlook. The Supreme Truth -Brahman - assumes the role of a Preceptor and Liberator -Thaaraka Brahman, symbolized by Dharma Saastha. Dharma Shaastha means one who chastises and leads to righteous living.
Dharma Shaastha is also known as Kaliyuga - varada, one who protects the devotees from the evil propensities of this Kaliyuga (the age in which the freedom-giving higher values of life get degraded) and bestows on the devotees divine grace for the smooth progress of life to the destined spiritual liberation. In due course, we shall also discuss how Dharma Shaastha came to be known as Ayyappa.

To get an insight into the Dharama Saastha and Ayyappa concepts, we should make a study of the Puraanic as well as the historical points of view.

While examining the Puraanic lore we should have in mind , some of the special characteristics of the Puraanic approach. The Puraana-s are not mere myths as some of the scholars would like us to believe, nor are they historical accounts. They combine myths and history with philosophical wisdom and are evolved by the masterminds of yore for the specific purpose of inculcating spiritual values in the common man.