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Sharana Manthra
THE literal meaning of Japa is constant vocal or mental repetition of spiritually potent words or sentences. Japa leads to contemplation on their meaning and import, which will in turn result in invoking the higher faculties of consciousness and expansion. The practice of Japa is universal irrespective of religious differences. This shows that it is a natural act prompted by the evolutionary urge in man. The Buddhists, Roman Catholics, Sufis and all sections of Hindus perform Japa. Whatever be the manthra or name used, Japa is a very effective means for concentrating the mind on a divine idea or principle and to realize it in life through constant practice.

The practice of Japa is to lift the curtain that conceals one's true nature and enable the gradual development of man's faculties of will and insight which would help him to grasp the Truth Eternal. With the progress of Japa, our senses, which are by nature outward- going are turned inwards and the mind is guided to embrace the superior realms of consciousness and discover and experience the true nature of our Being.

According to the Yogic philosophy, the universe is a manifestation based on vibrations or special expressions of Energy that originates from the Supreme Truth, Brahman, through various subtle and gross stages. Therefore, all energy is basically consciousness itself, and sound is such an energy, the gross and subtle stages of which are used by the practitioners of Japa for expansion to the various stages of consciousness and eventual realization of the latent faculties. (These stages are broadly mentioned as Paraa, Pashyanthi, Madhyama and Vaikhari.) .The progress of the practice depends mainly on knowledge, devotion and faith. Certain technical methods of recitation have been evolved based on pitch, rhythm, volume, speed, frequency, harmony, intonation, etc., which performed with a spirit of devotion would bring best results.

For deriving particular results, the sound energy has Lo be organised and channelized in specific ways. This principle forms, the basis of the combination and formation of some spiritually powerful sounds, which are known as the Beeja-manthra-s (seminal or seed sounds). The, incomparable and magnificent Manthra- saasthra (the science of Manthra-s) of India is based on the application of higher physics and metaphysics ,of sound. Accordin 1to it, through the Japa of Manthra-s (animated or charged words the entire physical, mental or psychic nature can be transformed.

The human mind is normally in a state of constan. fluctuation. The uncontrolled mental activities serve only to detain one in the conditioned state of consciousness and thus prevent hill from the perception and experience of higher dimensions of Reality Sage Pathanjali's Yogasuthra defines Yoga as 'Chiththa-vriththi. nirodhah', that is cessation of this conditioning flux of the mind. It prescribes the disciplines necessary to come in communion with Reality. Mind cannot be silenced by forceful suppression. The, attempt to suppress the activities of the mind would only help to intensify its turbulence. It is here that Japa helps us. Through the steady practice of Japa, the ever fluctuating mind is trained to behave orderly with some rhythm.

The repeated chanting of a name or Manthra and the contemplation on its potency with devotion helps the mind to achieve and give one-pointed attention to the principle represented by the name or Manthra. The practice reinforces the mind and activates its latent resources. When we pronounce a name, the qualities represented by it are evoked in our mind. In the Manthra-shaastra the higher divine qualities of consciousness are often identified with a divine form and name. When we utter or remember the form and name, the principles and power which they represent and which are latent in our consciousness are invoked, helping us to transcend some of the conditioning patterns of consciousness. The medium of name and form are thus used in the Manthra-Japa to realise the Truth which is Absolute Unconditioned Consciousness.

'Japasutram' a book by Swami Pratyaga-tmananda Saraswathi makes a scientific appraisal of Japa as a mode of worship. It says, "The Indian Metaphysics of sound asserts that there is sound even without vibration, the unvibrated sound and there is sound without the usual and sensually perceptible medium. It has developed the theory of static sound, the primordial causal stress. In developing this theory it says that there is no vacuum in this universe. It is a beginning less and endless continuum and an indivisible un fragmented plenum. This plenum is instinct with the most powerful and subtle energy yet undetected by modem physics and its delicate instruments, which according to the measures of metaphysics, are still gross. It is the subtlest element, subtler than solid, liquid and the finest gas. It is subtler, finer and speedier than light and electricity. It pervades the universe. Not an inch or fracti9n of the universe is without it. Being all-pervasive, it contains, sustains and coheres every object is the universe. It is the container without the content, which is itself an element and not a vacuum. It invades, pervades and inheres. It is both un expellably immanent and spontaneously transcendent."

Human consciousness is intrinsically capable 01' the freedom of this subtlest unfragmented plenum, the total supreme unconditioned consciousness, Brahman. Japa helps us in this evolution to freedom.

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The Sharana-Manthra

Among the various modes of spiritual disciplines included in Ayyappa worship is the Japa of the Sharana-Manthra: "Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa", which confers immense spiritual power to the worshipper.

The Malayalam month Vrischikam (October-November) dawns with the reverberation of this very potent Sarana-manthra of Lord Ayyappa -"Swamiye saranamAyyappa". The pious and vibrant utterance" Swami saranam" keeps echoing from the different nooks and corners of South India and other parts of the country and even from abroad till the end of the pilgrimage season. This has assumed the status of a leading torch-bearer slogan of the Sabarimala pilgrims. Throughout the long and arduous trek it is this Manfhra which energises the pilgrim and leads him forward. During the period of austerities, the ardent devotee immerses himself in the mental repetition of it even while he is involved in different activities of his daily life.

The literal meaning of the utterance, "Swamiye saranamayyappa" is, "O Lord Ayyappa, I Take refuge in Thee". Ultimately it is only in the Supreme Soul that the individual soul can find peace, solace, strength and freedom. Material comforts and luxury can give man only temporary satisfaction and relief. Over indulgence in material and carnal pleasures brings him only misery and pain. Contentment can be gained only through spiritual wellbeing. Once this is achieved man will be equipped to endure the pressures of worldly life and gain a control over them. And it is this spiritual solace and strength that the pilgrim seeks by worshipping Lord Ayyappa.

Spiritual adepts have explained that each sound of the .Manthra "Swaami saranam" is potent with profound spiritual power because it is a combination of some spiritually powerful. sound vibrations which are known as the Beeja-manthra-s (seminal or seed sounds). The repetition of the Manthra with devotion helps to awaken the spiritual power which is dormant in the devotee. It is a mystical formula which can bring about all-round spiritual reinforcement ensuring well being and peace. Certain traditional texts on Ayyappa worship expound this idea. The following verses contain the explanation:

Rishiprokthanthu poorvaanaam
Mahaathmaanaam gurormatham Swami saranamithyevam
Mudraavaakyam prakeerthitham.
The well-known insignia slogan of Ayyappa worship is "Swami saranam". This has been recommended by the Rishi-s and Guru-s of yore. Its meaning is as follows:

'Swaa' kaarochhaaramathrena
swakaaram deepyathe mukhe
Makaaram thu sivam proktham
'E'kaaram sakthiruchyathe.
The moment the 'Swa' sound is uttered 'Swakaaram', the Real Self, reflects and illumines the face of one who chants the Manthra, 'Ma' sound represents the Supreme Reality Siva and 'Ee' sound, Sakthi, the Supreme Energy. The combined form of these two, that is, 'Mee' represents the union of 'Siva' and 'Sakthi'. When the 'Mee' joins with 'Swa the utterance of the combination has the power of granting spiritual illumination."

Swaathmaanam cha paraathmaanam
Thayoraikyarthadam subham
Prasannam paapasamhaaram
Vincctham vashyakaaranam.
This Manthra confers the auspicious result of the union of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul. It destroys all sins and brings happiness. Moreover, it induces humility which will endear one to others.

Sham beejam shathrusamhaaram
Nakaaram sidhidam shaantham
Mudraa vinaya saadhanam.
The 'Sa' sound of the word 'Saranam' destroys inimical forces. The 'Ra' sound kindles the fire of knowledge and the 'Nam' confers 'Siddhi', spiritual accomplishments, and 'Saanthi', peace. It is at the same time a mystical formula that confers the quality of humility to the worshiper.

Shaasthru mudraa -vaakyamevam
Yanmukhe parisobitham
Thanmukhe vasathe Lakshmi
Vidyaa vinaya -saalinee.
Whoever recites this slogan of 'Lord Dharma Saastha, he will be blessed by the divine spend our f Goddess Lakshmi, who is the embodiment of knowledge and modesty.

Kalau kalusha chiththaanaam
Naraanaam parishudhaye
Risheenaam punaraakhyaanam
Upadesham Mahaththamam
For the purification of the turbulent mind of the people of Kali.yuga, the present Iron Age, this Manthra is recommended by the ancient seers.

The Importance of the Vratha-s (Religious Austerities)

Vratha-s are special observances for achieving spiritual refinement. They involve rituals and austerities. The purpose of such disciplines is to train man for the evolution of spiritual consciousness leading to Self Retaliation. Rituals will be meaningful only if they are reinforced with devotion. Austerities and devotion complement each other helping one to gain one- pointed attention and attunement of one's being with the Supreme Reality.

Vratha-s have the following salient features: Cleansing of the boc;iy with the relevant actions (Karma-s), the mind with discrimination and spiritually refining thoughts, and invoking Brahman (Supreme Reality) through rituals.

Scientists prescribe a particular methodology to achieve a particular result. Likewise, Vratha-s are spiritual methodologies laid down by the sages for achieving supra-scientific results that bring harmony and peace in human life; they are based on their investigations and experiences. Naturally, a Vratha will be haying certain rules and regulations. They are to be strictly followed to attain the desired results.

Some Manthra-s in the Rigveda (1-22-19) d~scribe that the whole universe is sustained through the Vratha-s of Vishnu.

Vishnoh karmaani pashyathaa
yatho vrathaani paaspashae
lndrasya yujyah sakhaa

The Manthra advises one to comprehend the significance of the actions (Karma) of Vishnu, which have the essential characteristics of a Vratha, in sustaining the universe. It is said that Vishnu is the friend of Indra. Contemplation on the Vratha-like actions of Vishnu would be helpful for our observance of austerities. Vishnu here means the omnipresent Reality. "Veveshti v.yaapnothi charaacharam jagat sa Vishnu". It means, that which pervades all the animate and inanimate objects is Vishnu. Indra means the possessor of lndriya-s, the sense organs and the organs of action, that is, the conditioned ego-self. Therefore, the statement that Vishnu is the friend of Indra means that the. supreme Reality is the Eternal Companion of the time-bound conditioned self (Jeevathma).

The universe, in its subtle and grosser levels, in its inanimate and animate dimensions, is maintained by a disciplined order of actions and reactions emanating from the all-pervading Reality and this is described as the Vratha of Vishnu. The regular repetition of the movements in the so1ar family gives rise to days; months, seasons and years. This regular movement is the, basis of life on Earth. This is all possible because of the disciplined and harmonious actions - the Vratha -of Vishnu. When the Vratha of Vishnu stops, Pralaya - dissolution -occurs. As Vishnu resumes his Vratha, there occurs creative evolution again.

Creation, sustenance and dissolution are based on the eternal flow of the Vratha of Vishnu. There is also beyond this a more subtle and transcendental Vratha and it is called Saaswatha Vratha (Eternal Austerity) of the Supreme Reality.

In the eternal flow of time, man's life span is insignificant. His life is also governed by the Vratha principles involved in the creative evolution of the universe. Because Nature bestows on man a certain extent of freedom of thought and action, he often tends to misuse this freedom for narrow selfish ends, which further restricts and conditions his self. This freedom is designed to enable him to use his elevated status among beings to attune himself with the higher principles of the universe and gain the grace of the Supreme Reality. But his abuse of freedom to erroneous ends, causes an estrangement with Nature and results in nescience and suffering. For a beneficial integration of the body, mind and the spiritual reality, which would bestow health, harmony and a deeper vision of life; the sages advised the observance of the Vratha-s, citing the supreme example of Vishnu's maintaining everything in harmony by His Vratha.

Vratha Mudra-s

It is customary to wear a sign (Mudra) to mark a Vratha. The oldest form of it can be seen as the Yojnopaveetha (the sacred thread) worn by Brahmins. The wearing of a Mudra during a Vratha is a usual practice even today. During the Vratha preceding the Sabarimala pilgrimage a Maala (rosary) with a metallic figurine of Lord Ayyappa is worn around the neck by the pilgrim. Wearing a special ring or sporting a beard are also signs of a Vratha. The Mudra is significant as it constantly reminds the wearer and others that he is observing a Vratha.

The disciplines required for different modes of Vratha-s for achieving particular ends are described in several Puraana-s. In the Mahabharatha, a person, who decides to observe a Vratha, while addressing Manthra-s to propitiate Aghni, Vaayu, Soorya, Chandra and Vrathapathi, takes the following oath:

Vrathapathe vratham charishyaami
aham anruthaath sath.yamupaimi.

"I will strictly follow the Vratha. After rectifying the discordant rhythms in me, I will be living in righteousness." An observer of Vratha will choose to follow the principles of honesty, punctuality, endurance, self-reliance, abstinence, contentment and peaceful disposition. Strict practice of these chosen ideals is the true Vratha. In course of time honesty, noble thoughts, constant remembrance of the Eternal Reality, moderation in food, talk and luxury would become an integral and inalienable part of his life.

If any lapse occurs in the observance of a Vratha, one can rectify oneself by earnestly repeating the Vratha. The Vratha of the Sabarimala pilgrimage begins from the I st of the Malayalam month Vrischikam (mid-November) and continues up to the 1st of Makaram (mid-January). It extends for 60 days. The pilgrims are supposed to observe at least 41 days of austerities. The observance of the Vratha activates the spiritual resources within and bestows tangible benefits and harmony in the physical, mental and spiritual levels. And with the yearly repetition of the Vratha, it becomes a way of lite.

What makes the Vratha for Sabarimala pilgrimage unique is that from the day the pilgrim begins his Vratha, he is reverentially addressed by others as Swami or Ayyappa, that is they consider him as the very embodiment of Lord Ayyappa.

Homam and the Homa-kundam

The spiritual methodology evolved in temple worship involves the application of several practical Thaanthric principles that combine the Vedic rites, Manthra invocation and Yogic contemplation. Both the material and the subtler psychic and spiritual energies are applied in the rituals.

Homa-s integrate the physical energies released from the appropriate materials offered to fire and the spiritual energies activated by the Mantra invocations. This serves to maintain a subtle and harmonious spiritual atmosphere in temples. This facilitates the attunement of the worshiper with his powerful spiritual dimensions represented by the idol of the Deity.

(Can there be forms of energy other than what we usually know as physical energy? Scientists are today getting vaguely aware of the possible forms of energy that "show the characteristics of consciousness". Werner Heisenberg, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics; does not deny this possibility and says that there may be:,existing "other forms which we cannot match with the mathematical form of modem atomic physics.")

Fire is the active element of a Homa According to the ancient sages, fire represents one of the five stages of evolution of the universe from the subtlest to the grossest physical energy called Aakaasa, the physical space. These five stage evolutions are known as the Panchabhootha - s and they, from the subtlest to the grossest, are: Aakaasa (physical space), Vaayu(gaseous stage),Aghni (fire element stage), Apa (liquid stage) and Prithvi (solid stage). (It is said that Aakaasha originates from Chittaakaasha, the space of mental emanations; and the source of Chittaakaasha is Chidaakaasha, the Supreme Space of Consciousness -the Ultimate Reality, Brahman).

Fire is the intermediary stage between the subtle and the gross. It is both subtle and gross, and as such it has the potency to influence both the fields. Fire element is the medium of all chemical actions and reactions, both in the material world and in living beings, giving shape to substances and forms. It can transform the subtle into gross and gross into subtle. The ancients discovered that the fire element can well be used as a medium of such interaction between mind and matter that may bring about' transformations in the conditions of life and in the environment. The Homa-s assume importance in this context. Today, modem science is slowly gaining insights into the relationship between mind and matter and the new investigations of scientists may, in due course, result in deeper perception on the significance of such performances prescribed by the Rishi-s. These are subjects to be investigated for a deeper understanding and larger benefit of humanity, not to be blindly ridiculed and denied, as some among our intelligentsia prefer to do.

The nature of the physical energies released by the special substances u~ed and the mental disposition during the invocations may have much relevance in the effect caused by Homa-s. For different results, different objects are offered to the fire along with appropriate invocatory Mantra-s.

Scientists tell us that even a sub -atomic movement has the potency to exert its influence throughout the universe, as the entire universe is a single entity. The dispositions of the human mind can influence the conditions of the world. As the poet John Donne said, man is not an island. Each mind is subtly connected with all other minds. The release of thought energies of one person has the potency to subtly influence the mind of all others and the condition of his own life. That is why the Rig Vedic Rishi-s prayed, "Let noble thoughts come to us from every side". They advised us to entertain and nurture noble thoughts for the welfare of the whole world. The prevailing conditions of mistrust and enmity among individuals, communities and nations are the reflection of the negative thought patterns of an influential section of humanity caused by a lack of understanding of the above-mentioned fact. Antagonism among nations and the stockpiling of nuclear arms are the result of the accumulation of life-vitiating negative thoughts in the human mind. To a sensible person this is an irrational behavior pattern cultivated by the wrong disposition of the mind of man who is unaware of the transience of his worldly existence.

On the other hand, every emanation of positive thought emerging from the human mind subtly influences mankind as a whole imparting a sense of harmony, peace and well being. In the Homa-s performed with positive intentions with fire as the all-transforming medium, the spiritual energies released by the invocatory Mantra-s and the material energies from the offered substances together give rise to a powerful positive current of energy that influences the human mind and the environment. That is why in temples and other places where Homa-s are usually performed, most of the people feel a sense of peace and wellbeing.

In the huge Homakundam in Sabarimala, the substances offered are coconut and ghee and both have a mind-soothing and p1easing aroma when burned. And the offering of each piece of coconut is accompanied by the pious .disposition and the vibrant energy of prayer. This praytrful act performed by millions will help to set up a positive impact in the whole universe, especially in the!. mind of people on earth, in tune with the Vedic motto, Lokah samasthaa sukhino bhavanthu"-, let the whole universe be maintained in welfare'

The positive energies, emanating from, the Homakundam propitiate and reinforce the Divine Powers of Nature that help the evolution of mankind to Divinity.