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Line with his characteristic personality for further expansion and to enjoy the freedom it brings. The approach of India's sages to this possibility and natural urge for evolution is based on this biological fact. The Bhagavad-gita points out this natural trend of human evolution, of evolving a harmonious social consciousness through the expansion of human personality, which can never be achieved by suppressing it.

Personality has various limitations, and the evolutionary effort involves the transcendence of these limitations. Man has within him higher faculties which manifest in life when the narrowing limitations of personality are overcome. His spiritual urge indicates the natural trend of evolution. The explorers of Truth contemplated on this and studied it with an unbiased approach and scientific temper. 'How to make man establish contacts with his freedom-giving higher dimensions? Temple worship was found to be one of the effective means to achieve this end.

Spiritual concepts were evolved in India through generations of experimental explorations; and these cannot be equated with religious dogmas and blind faith. The ancient explorers maintained a rational and scientific temper. The unbiased spirit of present-day scientific enquiry is well suited to rediscover their knowledge in moderm terms for evolving a broader and deeper perspective about life.

Significance of Temple Worship
The sages of India cultivated the science of spirituality for raising human consciousness to the higher stages of evolution, through intensives search and evolved form of applied science that suits different human temperaments. Temple worship forms a part of this applied science, mainly to benefit the masses who are mostly occupied with day-to-day affairs believing and do not find time enough for meditation and intensive spiritual pursuits. Temple worship is an effective means to come in contact with the harmony and powers of the spiritual dimensions within. So, the sages prescribed the technology of making temples vibrant with various aspects of spiritual power, which help activate the spiritual dimensions of the worshiper. Going to a temple, a person with even a little sensitivity would feel a pervading peace there that makes him composed, gives consolation and a refreshing strength. A worshiper standing in front of an idol prayerfully with folded hands can be seen closing his eyes making a dip into the spiritual Source within, which is the very Source of everything. Temple worship, as some think, is not based on blind faith, but on the time-tested psychological and spiritual knowledge of the great explorers of Truth. As one studies the science of temple worship, one would marvel at its profundity and would come to know that it is rooted in the subtle discoveries of the evolutionary stages of the universe. The various aspects of man and the universe and man's relation with Reality are well represented in this science of worship. Worship in temples with an attitude of humility and sincerity, which are necessary to overcome the limiting factors of the mind that obstruct it from coming in contact with the higher dimensions of spiritual power, would result in satisfaction, healing of diseases, even in developments that may appear miraculous, transforming one's views about life.

Blind faith also sometimes helps to establish this contact. But it will often degenerate into hysteric behavior, intolerance and ! fanaticism. True spirituality is all-round expansion, resulting in reinforcement of the physical, mental and the spiritual dimensions of life. Temple worship is a science that harmoniously blends faith, ritualistic disciplines and knowledge. What is needed is a scientific reassessment of spirituality.

Spirituality is the attunement with the Supreme Fact. One ! who engages in spiritual pursuits at home or regularly worships in ! temples, gradually acquires this attunement, which will be evident from his refined behavior and harmony in life.

The unique feature of Sri Dharma Shaastha temple in Sabarimala and the pilgrimage to the holy place, is the pre-pilgrimage disciplines extending for 4) days. It provides an occasion for intensification of the life-reinforcing Yogic attunement. The whole pilgrimage is designed in such a way that it gives one an occasion and opportunity for a harmonious cultivation of the spiritual dimensions, breaking away for a few days from the routine, ordinary set patterns of everyday life.

Spirituality and Mastery over the Mind
To be always in a state of flux is the ordinary nature of the human mind. Fear, anxiety, sadness, jealously, love, compassion and other emotions keep it fluctuating. Some of these vacillations bring uneasiness and pain and cause deterioration in mental and bodily health. In Indian philosophy such negative tendencies are termed as the Shadvairi-s, six enemies (Kaama-lust,. Krodha-anger, Moha- delusion, Lobha-stinginess,Mada-haughtiness and Maathsarya- rivalry) of man.
On the other hand the positive tendencies like compassion, love and spirit of service bring in a sense of joy and elevation. They help to keep the body and mind in a healthy state. However, mastery over the mind involves keeping both the negative and positive fluctuations in a balanced state by the natural and easy application of the faculty of will. Ordinarily, many of us are not aware of this faculty of will and usually fail to apply it. So we do not have a conscious control over our reactions. Subjecting ourselves to these fluctuations we lead a .life of stagnancy. Conscious practice to keep these fluctuations in a state of balance and molding the thoughts in a positive direction, leads to the evolutionary progress in the human context. Balancing the thought process and giving it a creative direction requires conscious effort. The progress of this effort would make us realize that the mind has a higher faculty called will. This discovery will lead to- greater discoveries and the continuing effort will make man not only a master of himself but also of his circumstances. He gradually transcends his limitations and experiences the unfolding dimensions of freedom, and eventually attains absolute Unconditioned Freedom.

According to some concepts, spirituality is man's effort to establish relationship with God, and God is conceived as a Super Being separate from and not essentially related to him. It is believed that if man praises Him or puts blind faith in Him or becomes an obedient servant of Him, He would save him from all sins, bless him with His grace and keep him along with Him, forever. Often certain religious propagandists project an exclusive God for themselves, and make all efforts to impress upon others that only those who believe in their exclusive God only, can have his grace and all others are sinners doomed for ever!

But the vision of spirituality evolved by the sages of India is basically different from the above-mentioned concept. According to it, whatever there is, is an expression of the Supreme Unconditioned Reality. And the experience of the evolved mystics all over the world, endorses the perspective of India's sages. Because of the infinite and absolute Freedom, Brahman is free to express Itself in an unrestrained manner in any form and direction. While these expressions do have their conditioning, Brahman. the basis of all expressions, remains supremely free. unrestrained by the innumerable and varied higher and lower conditioning of Its expressions. Man is one such expression of Reality. And the expression is in such a state that man can with consistent effort de condition his limitations and expand even to the Absolute Freedom of Brahman.

Human mind itself is the raw material that has to be refined, used and directed for this evolutionary progress. This transformation is not easy. Because of the inborn trends, some people naturally and easily engage themselves in this evolutionary refinement; and some others, are drawn to this direction spurred by painful experiences or inspired by curiosity or earnest devotion to Supreme Wisdom. Basically, the religious striving of man is an expression of this evolutionary trend. but many fail to note its scientific relevance in biological terms. For, they believe that the religious sense is only the outcome of man's basic fears and therefore is unscientific and superstitious. The fears, of course, have a role. They inspire him to think and inquire. And it is deep inquiry that led India's explorers of Truth to take great strides in Self-inquiry that resulted in profound discoveries about the nature of man and his relation with the universe. It is this knowledge that equipped them to evolve practical means such as the system of Yoga for man's spiritual unfoldment.

The pilgrimage to Sabarimala involves invaluable practical lessons in this evolutionary effort. Immersed in the day to day problems of life, most of the people are unable to set apart a certain period for intensive spiritual cultivation. Some of them may be now and then visiting a place of worship and setting apart some time everyday for prayer and meditation. There are many who are not making such an effort for attunement with the higher realm of consciousness that brings in harmony, greater understanding and a refreshing outlook to life.

Sabarimala pilgrimage offers an extensive period of training for such attunement. For a beginner, it is an opportunity for self- refinement. For others, it is a period of training for spiritual unfoldment. This is the only pilgrimage that sets apart such a long period of Yogic training, of 41 days of intensive cultivation of the higher values and spiritual dimensions of life. It is a period of inner refinement with a clear break from the ordinary patterns of life. This value-based practice to develop spiritual will and harmony includes continence, non-injury to any being by word or deed, service to people, special respect to the phenomena of Nature and to all fellow-beings, considering all and everything as manifestations of Lord Ayyappa Himself: effort to transcend egotism, discarding luxuries, abstaining from unhealthy competitions for pomp and power, maintaining honesty, having vegetarian diet only, making a conscious effort to control such negative emotions as anger, jealousy, hatred, etc., and constant remembrance of the Supreme Reality, symbolized by the form of Lord Ayyappa.

The pilgrim thus remains in this state of spiritual elevation for a period of 4] days (the period is known as a Mandalam) prior to the pilgrimage. According to some psychologists, the repetition of an activity, whether mental or physical, for a period of at least 21 days is habit forming and a longer practice would influence one's character. Much ahead of the moderm psychologists, the ancient seers seem to have been aware of this fact and stipulated 41 days of austerities for bringing about a marked transformation in human psyche. Although the degrees may vary, all pilgrims who seriously take to this discipline would acquire a certain healthy control over their mind and achieve self-refinement. The practice of Ayurveda, India's ancient system of medicine, prescribing certain medicines to be taken for a period of 41 days, is worth mentioning here.

The Pre-Pilgrimage Observances
Let us have a general view of the traditional pre-pilgrimage observances. The season of pilgrimage begins on the 1 st of the Malayalam month Vrischikam (mid-November). This season has two phases. The first phase begins from the I st of Vrischikam extending up to the II th of the Malayalam month of Dhanu (around the 26th December), the day when the important rite, the Mandala Pooja, is performed. The Uthsavam. the temple festival also takes place during this first phase.

The temple is then closed for five days and will be reopened on the I st January. The second phase of the pilgrimage begins thereafter and extends up to the 1st of the Malayalam month Makaram (around the 14th January) when the most important temple rite Makara-Samkrama Pooja is performed.

The austerities usually begin on the first Vrischikam and continue for 41 days. The completion of the austerities enables the pilgrim to reach the temple on the II th of the month of Dhanu, the day when the Mandala-pooja is performed. This was the practice in olden times. But, now as the number of pilgrims has enormously increased, many pilgrims visit the temple on earlier dates and complete their austerities after their return.. But if one visits the temple on the Makara-samkrama day, during the second phase of the pilgrimage, one would be completing 60 days of observance in case the austerities were begun on the 1 st of Vrischikam. However, nowadays, the pilgrims visit the temple the whole of the season, except for the five days when the temple remains closed between the two phases, many of them completing within that period 41 days of spiritual observances. The temple will be closed after the concluding ceremonies on the 7th of Makaram (around the 20th January).

Other occasions for the pilgrimage to the temple are during the auspicious day of Vishu in the Malayalam month Medam (April), the day of Thiruvonam (August-September), and on the first of every Malayalam month when the temple is opened to perform Pooja-s for five consecutive days. Pilgrims reach the temple after the observance of the pre-pilgrimage austerities on these days also.


THE sages of yore have prescribed several modes of worship and spiritual disciplines that help human mind to evolve to Unconditioned Consciousness or attain God-Realisation. As individuals differ from one another, physically and psychologically, the practices of Self- realization are also prescribed differently, suited to the people of different temperaments. If one selects a particular mode of practice, he will have to follow certain disciplines which are integral parts of it. According to one's basic leanings one can select a method which is suitable and convenient and stick to it.

One may believe that his method is the best suited to him. .I But if he holds the view that it is the best for all others also. he is ! getting fanatical and cannot be spiritual. In Hinduism one is free to follow any special discipline to spiritually reinforce oneself. The sages have prescribed several such disciplines, and one who undertakes them should follow their rules sincerely and strictly for achieving the best results. The Sabarimala pilgrimage is one such unique practice for attaining wellbeing in daily life through spiritual reinforcement.

The pilgrimage to Sabarimala involves a few well- programmed spiritual disciplines which help thousands to reinforce themselves spiritually, achieve peace of mind and gain a greater vision of life. This pilgrimage is preceded by forty one days of austerities and men of all age-groups are allowed to participate in the pilgrimage. As far as women are concerned, it is stipulated that only those who have not attained the age of puberty, and the menstrual cycle, and those who are past menopause alone should undertake the pilgrimage. Age-wise, it is prescribed as below ten years and above fifty years. We should specially note that only in the Sastha temple of Sabarimala this restriction prevails and it is part of a special spiritual discipline connected with this pilgrimage only. There are innumerable temples elsewhere including all other Sasta temples where women of all age- groups can freely go and worship. Since females below ten years and above fifty can participate in the pilgrimage, there is not much logic in the narrow view of some that there is discrimination against women in Sabarimala.

There is a view that in the olden days women were prevented from participating in the Sabarimala pilgrimage because a long journey through the forests of those days was arduous and risky. But it is not so today. So it is argued that women belonging to all age- groups should be allowed to take part in the pi 19rimage. Of course, today the journey has become easier. It no longer requires many days to reach Sabarimala. As of yore, today a few mountains covered with thick forests need not be climbed over to reach the holy spot. Vehicles go up to Pamba. Thereafter it involves the climbing of only one mountain, the Neelimala, to reach Sabarimala and the temple. Under the changed circumstances, the temple has become easily accessible. Then why should women be denied the opportunity to worship?

This view takes into account only the physical aspect and fails to see the spiritual essence of the pilgrimage. Sabarimala pilgrimage is more important for the rare opportunity it provides for the cultivation of life-reinforcing spiritual disciplines than the accessibility or any other factor. The view is also illogical as even in the olden days females below the age ten and above fifty were allowed to participate in the pilgrimage and compared to them those in the age-group between ten and fifty can better endure the hazards of the journey. There are other important reasons for this restriction and these are related to the special spiritual disciplines involved in the pilgrimage.

In India, religious pursuits insist on physical and mental purity. Before every religious rite the body is cleaned with a bath. The religious customs as well as the traditional science of health like Ayurveda regard the menstrual period as an occasion for rest for women and a period of uncleanliness of the body. During this period, many women are affected by physical discomforts like head-ache, body pain, vomiting sensation, etc. In such circumstances intense and chaste spiritual disciplines for forty one days are not possible.

A major discipline this pilgrimage involves is forty one days of continence, physically and mentally. During this period many pilgrims even maintain minimum contacts with their homes and stay in special prayer halls along with other pilgrims engaging in prayer, recital of devotional songs and other spiritual disciplines.

Firstly, the women of the age group having the menstrual cycle will not be able to engage themselves in intense spiritual discipline for a long period prescribed for the Sabarimala pilgrimage. Secondly their presence in large numbers during the pilgrimage may naturally defeat the effort of the pilgrims to control their sexual urge which is, the most important part of the austerities of this pilgrimage. Sabarimala pilgrimage gives the common man a rare occasion for self discipline and an opportunity to gain inner strength and harmony. If a Menaka, the heavenly damsel of Puraanic lore, could upset the austerities of such a powerful personality like Sage Vishwaamithra, what will be the plight of the ordinary man, who is usually immersed in the mires of worldliness! In the present stage of evolution, man often gets swayed by his emotions uncontrollably and such spiritual disciplines are intended to help him get a mastery over his usually uncontrollable emotions and realise his potentials to evolve to higher dimensions of cultural and spiritual existence.

For one who is ordinarily involved in worldly pursuits, Sabarimala pilgrimage offers a unique opportunity for the practice of spiritual disciplines. The successful completion of the austerities makes him stronger to face the challenges of daily life with equanimity. The broader vision of life imbibed during the period of discipline and the pilgrimage uplift culturally and spiritually and enables him to provide comfort and solace to his fellow beings. The sages have so designed the pilgrimage that no factor should cause a breach in the maintenance of the self-disciplining austerities during this period.

India's spiritual culture was founded by the great Rishi-s who acquired deep insights into the mysteries of man and Nature by activating their spiritual faculties through meditation. They became beacon lights in man's evolutionary march to perfection by renouncing the ordinary worldly comforts and exploring into the deeper meaning of life. They discovered the spiritual values that would lead man to higher and harmonious dimensions of existence. Their penetrating insights gained through one-pointed meditation gave form to various of it is after the age of fifty. Yet another point to be noted is that there are many Ayyappa temples elsewhere, where no section of 1 women are prevented from entering on the pretext that Ayyappa is a ' celibate.

Even during other occasions of pilgrimage as during the first day of every Malayalam month and during holy days as Vishu and Thiruvonam. the pilgrimage to Sabarimala is supposed to be undertaken only after completing 41 days of austerities. For climbing the 18 holy steps one has necessarily to carry the irumidkettu (the sacred package of offerings) on the head. To spiritually equip oneself to carry the lrumudikettu and for making the pilgrimage really beneficent, austerities for a period of 41 days have to be observed. Therefore, for meaningful pilgrimage it is always prudent if women of the forbidden age-group hold themselves back.

Lord Ayyappa is a great unifying spiritual power before whom devotees forget all man-made divisions such as social status, caste, creed, language, nationality, etc. And in such an all - encompassing Presence there cannot be even a trace of discrimination against women.