Friday, March 2, 2012

Makara Vilakke, Makara Vilakke... Malayile Divya Mani Vilakke..........

!!Swami Sharanam!!
I am writing this after a very long time. In between, we have been to Sabarimala yatra for couple of times since then. My last two Makara Jyoti yatras will be the most memorable ones of all till date. As I mentioned in my previous blog that I learn something new every-time I visit this place. That is so true. 
Planning for “Makara Jyoti yatra Jan 2012” started as early as in 14th Sep 2011. We were four this time. Mahesh Guruswami, Satya our periya-swami, Kannan and myself. Kannan was afraid of not making it to the yatra as he had Audit at his office in Jan 2012. Even knowing this, he gave his consent for booking his tickets. We booked the tickets immediately. We were to leave Mumbai on 12th Jan and were to return on 15th Jan. As HE has given us the privilege to travel by plane, we planned a 4 day yatra. You can plan anything in this world, but not a Sabarimala yatra. You plan a thing and something else happens. Sometime in last week of November, Mahesh mentioned that the Makara Sankranti is on Jan 15th and not on Jan 14th (i.e. on the date of our return flight). So we had to reschedule our so called ‘plan’. We rescheduled the tickets. We were to leave on 13th Jan and were to return on 16th Jan. We never discussed about our yatra with anyone. We were the last people to travel to Kerala from Mumbai for Makara Jyoti yatra.

Days passed by, we also went to Ayyappa poojas and bhajans in these two months. All four of us shared one Sharanam Villi in common i.e. “Yadaru Vighnam Illadhai Makara Jyoti Kanuvan Bhagyam Taranum Ponnu Bhagawane, Sharanam Ayyappa”.

Our Guruswami always gives our Malai (the neck-chain made of tulsi beads, which we wear only while going to Sabarimala) for abhishekam in a Ganesh temple. While performing the abhishekam, we were very surprised to see a new Ayyappa vighraham just near the Ganesh idol. And the beauty was all our Malai were immersed in chandanam and was kept on the Ayyappa’s foot.

The D, day arrived (13th Jan). Kettunara was completed with HIS grace. We were to visit Chottanikkara temple in the evening just after landing in Kochi. As said earlier perfect planning is futile. Our flight was late by more than 2 hours and we landed in Kochi at 2030, the time when the temple gates get closed.  We landed at Kochi airport; we came out for collecting our bags. We were astonished to see Lord Ayyappa’s huge poster size photo in airport.

We went straight to Mahesh’s Sannidhi. The next morning we started at 3.45 am and went directly to Chottanikkara temple for darshan. It was Saturday morning 4.00 am and we received a nirmalya-darshanam (the 1st darshan of the day). This was a sight of a successful yatra ahead.

We directly moved on to Vandiperiyar, a place enroute to Kumily and Thekkady. Generally all the Ayyappa yatries trek via Erumeli i.e. from east to west to reach Sabarimala. Our trekking route was from north to south.

On our way, we were able to see huge beautiful layers mountains one beyond the other. Our car moved zigzag with the road. There were villages named after animals “Anamudi” and “Karadikuzhi”. We reached Vandiperiyar at 7am. Climate was extremely cold, with cool breeze flowing through the mountains. The cold breeze made wild sound as if it is speaking to us.
There was a sense of excitement and we were looking forward for the trek. There were few police guards other than them there were nobody. This was a rare sight in January. We hired a special jeep till a place called Satthram, which is down south some 20 kms away from Vandiperiyar and 20 kms north of Sabarimala Sannidhanam. The travel from Vandiperiyar to Satthram was awesome. The narrow road was cutting through various tea estates. On either side of the road there were tea farms. Greenery all round. It was around 8am, sun was shining bright but not enough to beat the cold weather. It was chilling cold. The cool breeze was very strong and it made us take couple of breaks in-between. We reached Satthram at 10am. There were police and forest officers waiting at for our welcome. Satthram is the last civilized village after which the forest boundary starts. Our trek was from Satthram to Uppupara to Pullumedu to Sabarimala Sannidhanam.

This Vandiperiyar-Pullumedu route is a not a new route but it is a traditional one. The Pandiya Raja, his descendents and his followers used this route to reach Sabarimala Sannidhanam. There are many stories being told by people who trek through this route. It is told that no one should pass through this area after the sunset. The reason: the route from Satthram to Sannidhanam cuts the Periyar Tiger Reserve Forest. Once a person loses the way then God can only help. Asianet news channel showed two wild bears and a tiger moving in the Pullumedu area, on this same day. Around 2000 meters above sea level, this place is plain grasslands; you can see acres and acres of grass lands till the horizon. 

Even a non-nature lover cannot stop praising. The land from Satthram to Pullumedu is grasslands, but after that one has to trek down through the dense forest to Sannidhanam for 5 kms 
The trek from Satthram to Uppupara was breathtaking. It was like unlimited acres of golf course. As if, 18 different mountains having the 18 holes. There can only be one Tiger Woods who can play golf in such a place. The photos attached, says it all.

In one section of mountain we saw a bunch of trees crowded at one place. It was heart shaped. It seemed like God’s heart. There were small-small ponds in-between the plain grasslands. On the route to Pullumedu, we saw a dog. We were very surprised to see a dog in a no-man’s-land. It was walking in front of us, as if it was showing us the way.

We reached the Pullumedu top where few police officers and news channel people were present. This short video was shot by Asianet news where all of us are crossing the security gate. ( - directly go to 5.01 and 5.44)

From Pullumedu top we now had to trek 8 more kms to reach Sannidhanam. Moving through the security check we slowly started walking. The grasslands never seemed to end. We all were very tired and thought of having a break. It was 1pm in the afternoon. Soon we came to a point where the dense forest started. We all sat there for having snacks. From that point we could see Sabarimala Sanidhanam. The sight was beautiful. The Sabarimala is smallest of all mountains which is surrounded by 18 mountains from all the sides, so were at the top of Pullumedu looking down. The verses “Malai ki Malai Naduve Malayala Desham Appa, Andha Malayala Deshathile Kannkanda Devam Appa…” would have been composed while sitting here.

Our Satya Swami, had been to Sabarimala many times during this January 14th season. While talking Satya said “Mahesh, I have never seen that Parindu (the eagle) on 14th Jan”.  Eagle is considered as Lord Vishnu’s vahanam. Just as he completed this sentence, Mahesh shouted “eagles!!” We all saw 2 eagles right above the Sabarimala Sannidhanam. We were stunned to see that. We looked into each other eyes. My eyes and mouth was wide open and was not able to utter a word. I had goose bumps on my hands.  The 2 eagles were exactly above Sannidhanam and they were in circular motion. Kannan Swami tried to capture them in his camera, but in vain

Now we had a 5 kms walk through the forest. The forest is very dense. It was 3pm in the afternoon, but it seemed as if it was evening 6pm. The trees are very huge and tall. The sun light could hardly touch the surface of the mountain. In certain sections, the path was very narrow as well; only one person can walk through it. One side there is mountain rock and on another side there is a steep fall, with huge trees. The verses of an Ayyappa Varavu song passed my mind - “Panai pole randu kaallum, Parrai pole randu muttum….”. The roots of these huge trees are above the ground, which makes it more fearful. In my wild imagination, I even thought of being grabbed by the roots of these trees. We could also hear animal sounds, but none of us had courage of asking about it. We just chanted “Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa” and moved forward.

It is said that there are forest Gods and Goddess, who protect the forest and also the people who pass through it. In our Sharanam vili we also mention and thank them - “Vana Devtamare…” and “Vana Devimare…” As mentioned earlier, there are many stories been told about this place. One of the stories is of an old lady named “Paati Amma”, who used to trek to Sabarimala through this Vandiperiyar route. Once while trekking, she lost her way and entered an unknown territory. Light started to fade and she was unable to find her way out. She was helped by a lady to find the right direction to Sannidhanam. It is a belief that the lady was one of the Forest Gods. On the way, we could see many small rock stones laded with flower garland. Such rock stones are believed to be Forest Gods. Near, one such stone we saw an old man and lady. Only a person could walk through this narrow path, they both paved the way for us and the old lady looking into our eyes and smiled at us. From Vandiperiyar to this place, we did not see a single female.

We walked for 3 hours through the forest to reach the boundary of Sabarimala. We could see temporary tents made by people in the forest to have rest in the evening. There were many people who were walking towards Sannidhanam. We crossed the place and entered the boundary of Sabarimala. As we were walking, we heard shouts from behind – “elephant!!” Mahesh was in front of me, he ran forwards. I did not see Satya and Kannan. I ran towards the side. Just then I saw Satya fallen down and getting up. Luckily, the mob came to senses. One of them shouted that an elephant entered in one the tents for food. It was hardly 2 minutes that we crossed that section where the elephant entered.

It was now 6pm. We directly entered the queue for the people trekking down from Pullumedu. We were one of those very few people who came via Pullumedu. We had a very smooth and fantastic darshanam by 6.30pm. Who in this world can believe that we had a darshanam in mere half an hour and that to on Jan 14th, where people stand in queue for days to reach Sannidhanam and have darshanam?

The first glimpse of Lord Ayyappa was incredible and dazzling. I felt as if something hit my face. My whole body sort of moved back. It was a wonderful feeling; a feeling of happiness and peace together. We also had a good a darshanam of Mallikapurathamma. Our Raymond Krishnan mama was waiting for us in Subramanian Trust. He had reserved places for four of us along him. Our Andhra Guruswami was also waiting for us. In the evening we all did a bhajan with him. Andhra Guruswami was our annadhana prabhu. I never had such a delicious food in Sabarimala.

Next day was 15th Jan, Makara Sankranti. We went for the Ayyappa darshanam. On this day, Lord Ayyappa comes out of His penance and opens His eyes to see the whole world. It is believed that He opens His eyes on this day. Makara Sankranti is a day on which Lord Ayyappa is considered as a King and not as a Yogi. We all are the people of His kingdom, He being the King. We had a great darshanam. He had opened His eyes to see us. I just remembered a verse – “Un Paarvai ondru porum appa, engal mel paal pozhia vendrum appa…” of a famous song. That was a feeling of eternal bliss.

We were eagerly waiting for the sun to set. In the meanwhile we went to a ‘Sashta Preethi’ and had an awesome lunch there. We were lucky enough to have a good lunch. In the evening the stage was all set for the Makara Jyoti. All the bhaktamars were excited and occupied appropriate places to view the Makara Villaku on the top of the Kandamala (a mountain to the east and exactly facing Sannidhanam). We were clicking photos of each other and in groups. The whole Sabarimala was buzzing with only one sound – “Sharanam Ayyappa”. The arrival of Tiru-Abharnam (ornaments, armour, sword etc.) was at 6.30pm. Lord Ayyappa is clad with this Tiru-Abharnam. The Makara Villaku was clearly seen at 7pm. We were looking for the Makara Jyoti as well in the sky. It was not seen. We stood at the same place looking at the sky with all eagerness. People started moving towards the temple for darshanam. After 5 minutes, a small star was seen exactly above the Kandamala Mountain. At last we saw the Makara Jyoti, which we had wished for couple of months back. The star was shining bright and emitting various colours at one time. In our heart there was a great sense of accomplishment and achievement.

At 9pm we again went for a darshanam of Lord Ayyappa. The Kalasham above sanctum-sanctorum was emitting a beam of light straight upwards. It was a heavenly feeling. HE was clad with armour, jewels, and sword on to His right. I had a strange feeling in mind as if His left hand saying “calm down” and right hand saying “Don’t worry, I am there”. There is no iota of doubt that He is there, sitting in a yogic posture; accepting prayers of crores and crores of people.

At night 11pm we started trekking down towards Pampa. Now we were six including Raymond Krishnan mama and Moorthy mama. Our car was waiting down at Nilackal. We all had to sit in one car. Ours was the only car moving. We did not see a single vehicle on the road. The road was empty, as if it was just made for us. We reached Mahesh’s Sannidhi by 5.30am very comfortably. This was by far the most memorable and comfortable yatra ever. HE made this yatra possible with Satya’s curing leg, Mahesh’s new job pressure and Kannan’s & mine work pressure.

                                                            !!Swami Sharanam!!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010 more unforgettable trip

Swami Sharanam!!

I have been here as many as six times. However, that doesn't matter. Each time I have learnt something new. However, this time there was something special in store for me, something, which I have always heard from experienced guruswamies.

In May 2009, Mahesh asked me whether I would join him to visit Sabarimala. Instantly, I agreed. This was the simplest of all itineraries I ever seen. I was to seek darshan of Lord Ayyappa and reach home in two days. Not many people can even think to make such a short trip to Sabarimala. Our short plan: I would board a plane to Cochin on 15th August meet Mahesh on the same day. We both proceed to Sabarimala on 15th itself. Reach Pamba that night. Trek up the hill late night at 0200. Seek early morning darshan on 16th August. Trek down that afternoon. And, finally board a plane back to Mumbai. It's all His blessings that I can afford to be a “Modern Sanyasi”. According to me, Modern Sanyasis are those people who travel in planes and air-conditioned vehicles to Sabarimala.

My journey starts on day of independence from Mahesh’s new purchased bungalow in Tripunithura at 1630 hours. He had arranged an air-conditioned sedan. The driver was Saji. He is an experienced driver and has been doing this for past twenty-five years. Our trip would have been a little boring without him. We started with the nearest temple of Chottanikara devi. On our way, we took blessings from Vaikatappan, Etumanoorappan, Sivan at Kaduthuruty, Ganapati at Malliyoor and Karthikeyan at Udayanapuram. Until, 1930 hours we were blessed by Ganapati, Karthikeyan and Devi once, and Sivan thrice.

I was fast asleep until we reached Erumeli. We took Vavar Swami’s blessings and left at 2100 towards Pamba. After few kilometers, our driver found that there was nobody going towards or coming back from Pamba. He was repeatedly asking questions about our visit to Sabarimala during monthly poojas. As an hour passed, he was being irritated and started to speak with himself. He kept saying “Abadhham petti poyi. Ee samayathil waran paddilla”. “We have made a big blunder. We shouldn't have come at this time”.

We kept quiet and allowed him to speak. I saw few closed shops in the distance of every five kilometers. As we reached halfway, Saji stopped the car for the break. He stepped outside and started smoking. We also stepped outside. All through the journey, we were listening to the bhakti ganangal, the devotional songs. As I stepped outside, I could only hear the insects buzzing and frogs croaking. Due to car’s headlight, I was able to see what was there few meters ahead. Beyond that, nothing was seen. It was pitch black. I realised why Saji was so scared. Here is a small blurred video, that would describe the exact situation. They both are speaking in Malayalam. Saji says, “No vehicle is seen on the road”, and Mahesh’s reply “there would be many vehicles in Pamba”, though an irrelevant answer, it managed to divert Saji’s attention. We could also hear the frog croaking. We entered the car and Saji started driving with the same comments and expression on his face.

Nilackal passed by. He started narrating his experiences of animal attacks. As we were talking about elephants, suddenly Saji applied the brake. We saw animals standing in-between the road. The car’s headlight reflected in their eyes. To our relief it was a heard of cows. Mahesh was as usual calm and quiet. We reached the toll station near Pamba and found nobody there to collect the toll. At 2345, we reached Pamba. There was hardly any vehicle parked. I thought about the reply, that Mahesh gave to Saji an hour back. We came to our patented room number 12 at Ayyappa Seva Sangham. It was 0030.

As we had planned to trek down by 0900 the next day, we had to start the uphill trek by 0230. We got up at 0130 and went to have a bath in Pamba. Ice-cold water was flowing with great speed. We could see nobody on the riverbanks. We both were the first people to have a bath in pure Pamba. Pure in all sense! At 0215, we started our march towards Sannidhanam. We reached Pamba Ganapati temple and found out that there was nobody around. As we reached the bottom of Neelimalai (the point where trekking starts), I saw the path was illuminated with dim tube lights in every fifty meters. There was a slight fog cover. The either side of the path was dense forest with huge trees and wild bushes. Nothing was seen other than the path. We could hear the insects buzzing very loudly. I got a little scared but as I saw Mahesh’s fearless face, the fear in my heart flew away. We started chanting Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa and marched. After covering few meters of ground, I stood and saw behind to find out that there was nobody. I was behind Mahesh. At many instances, Mahesh would stop and stare at the path ahead as if something is there on the path. I could only see the deserted path ahead. The fear that flew away sometime back again crept inside. I started asking him why is he standing and why is he staring at only direction. His answer was only three words “Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa”.

We reached midway and there was still some ground to be covered. Suddenly, Mahesh stood like a stone staring up the path. He stood still, controlling his breath. I saw him and whispered “Kya hua?”, “What happened?” Without looking at me he raised his eyebrows a couple of times gesturing me to look towards where he was staring. As I looked up the dim path, at a distance of less than hundred meters I saw a huge animal that would be atleast ten feet tall. Its eyes were shining in the twilight. I saw it was staring back at us. In fraction of a second, it jumped inside the thick forest towards and vanished. For that moment, I could not utter a word. Then I realised that it was a deer. We climbed that patch of land faster. When we reached the spot where the deer was standing, we heard footsteps of a mammal passing through the bushes on the other side. We tried to look into to thick dark forest. Nothing was visible. Suddenly, the mammal ran in a lightning speed downhill. We had no option to run uphill at the same time. I did not know what it was. However, Mahesh was sure that it was a wild cat, which was following the deer. Our climbing speed increased after this incident. We reached Appachimedai. It was 0315. The path was covered with dense fog and was hardly visible. Tube lights were not in working condition for few hundred meters. We had to use small torch to walk.

I could see a group of people climbing down. When they crossed us, one of them said “Swami, kovil vainerame thorukkullu”. I knew the meaning all the words except the word “vaineram”. I asked Mahesh what is the meaning. He kept quiet and did not answer anything. He then removed his cell phone in middle of the forest and started searching for something. I insisted him to speak. Finally, he told what the man said. “Swami, the temple would open in the evening”. Mahesh was of the view that the temple would be open for the people on Saturday (i.e. the previous day) and we could get the darshanam on the next day. The person’s statement had various interpretations 1) we are twelve hours early visiting the temple and 2) in twelve hours we would be in the flight to Mumbai without the darshanam”. In short we would not get the darshanam. Mahesh was trying to find the document that stated the opening and closing dates for monthly poojas. He was not able to locate the document in his cell phone. Finally, he kept it inside and we started walking. Even If he had found the correct dates in the middle of the forest, we would not have trekked towards Pamba at that time of the day.

At last, we could see few tube lights from a distance. We reached the Sabarimala at 0400. As we entered the queue shed, we could not find anybody. The shed was empty. This shed is generally crowded with people when temple is open. We covered the last steps as fast as possible. We saw the Eighteen Holy steps. I was very happy to see the sight again with in a span of three months. We saw the closed temple gate, which confirmed that temple would open that evening. Various thoughts went through Mahesh’s mind. I felt that Ayyappa doesn't want to see us rather He doesn't want us to see him and seek his blessings. I could only see few local people and security guards going here and there. Suddenly, Mahesh asked me whether I was fine with rescheduling the flight tickets to the next day. I did not even think for a moment to say a “yes”. We sat near the Eighteen Steps. It was dark and cold. We decided to take a rest for sometime. The moment I lay down, I slept.

When we go to Sabarimala, we are always in a great hurry to seek the darshan and move out. Hardly we get time to see and enjoy the nature. After one and half-hours, my eyes opened. I could hear the birds chirping very loudly from the four huge trees opposite the Eighteen Steps. I have never bothered to see those trees before. These birds were amazing and I had never seen these kind birds in the past. They had white striped body with a long tail, which made them look very beautiful. The bird’s chirp sounded like songs. I never found Sabarimala to be so peaceful. I have tried to grab this in a video and I would be very happy to share it At around 0800, we informed at our places that we would be returning the next day.

People started pouring in. Many of them were surprised to see the temple closed. Time passed by and we were roaming around the vicinity. Small food joints started their operations by afternoon - I was bored and started asking Mahesh few questions about Sabarimala and Lord Ayyappa. After a while, he started speaking about many things. He described many things that are in and around the Sabarimala; he shared his past experiences, he spoke about the various aspects and importance of Noimbu. Noimbu is the Malayalam word for the forty-one days fasting before going to Sabarimala - . He also speaks about the similarity between Ayyappa and a person visiting Sabarimala. He also

Then he spoke about the incident, which occurred, seven hours back. The Ayyappa veertham has a couple of sentences, which fits into the incident that occurred - There were many things, of which I was not aware. As I mentioned earlier, each time I come here I learn something new.

By the time it was 1300, there were many people around. The place was crowded and the birds on the trees were not seen and heard. I was very tired and fell asleep near the Eighteen Steps. It is good that the temple is not open for 365 days. Just imagine the extent encroachment of forestland, if the temple were accessible to humans for 365 days. Suddenly, I felt a jerk. I saw Mahesh waking me up. He wanted to show me something very interesting. I followed him in half sleep. He pointed his fingers to a group of people standing near the temple guards’ station and said something, which was not audible. As my sleep started to fade, I realized that those were the Thanthries and Melshanties of the temple. They are the people who conduct the prayer rituals inside the temple. It was 1430, and we had no clue as to why these people are standing outside and not moving inside. Generally, these people are given entry from gate for temple guards. We saw Kandararu Maheswararu, head of priests, talking over the phone very loudly. They did not enter the temple due to some problem. Then we saw Kandararu Mohanaru, son of Kandararu Maheswararu, standing alone in one corner of the group. Mohanaru was expelled from the Sabarimala temple for a well-known incident that happened in the past. It came to our knowledge that Mohanaru wanted to enter the temple. But, the police guards did not allow him to enter. The father tried his level best to solve this but all the attempts went futile. We saw the father Maheswararu’s face. He appeared very offended. I had only heard that Sabarimala is a place, where everyone is equal. I witnessed that as well. The person who used perform the daily prayer was not allowed to enter the temple. This is, as if HE is telling I do not need your service. Considering the interests of the devotees, Maheswararu decided to enter the temple without his son.
( Kandararu Maheswararu)
(Kandararu Mohanaru - center)
We were waiting for the temple gate to be open for us. We killed the time by sitting near the bookstall. By the time it was 1630 the whole area was crowded. We stood in the queue for the darshan. As we did not have the Irumudi kattu, we are not allowed to enter the temple from the Eighteen steps. Instead, we were standing in a different queue would enter the temple from the other side.

I captured few moments while I was moving on for the darshan. ( and It was raining and the adjacent mountains were looking very beautiful. People were chanting Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa continuously. By 1830, we got our darshan. We started climbing down. The rain was pouring very heavily. The number of devotees climbing up was increasing and all of them were chanting “Swami Ayyappa”. I could not imagine the quantum of magnetic power that this place possesses. A devotee while moving down would surely think of coming back again. This place has a power to recall a same person atleast twice.

After we reached mid-way, I was thinking about something. I did not know Mahesh was also thinking about the same. After sometime, he asked “Don’t you think it is getting longer for us to get down?” I replied, “Yes, I was thinking about the same. This route was much easier and we took less time to climb up. I don’t know why I have that feeling.” Usually it takes less time to climb down. Then I recollected the whole incident, which took place the other night. It was not possible to come out alive from a place that is located in-between one of 27 Tiger Reserve projects in India. There was somebody behind, who was taking care of us. I realized it was because of that “Somebody”, we climbed the mountain faster and reached safely. And, it is because of that “Somebody”, I am able to narrate this story. We reached Pamba at 2000. Our driver Saji was waiting for us. We left Pamba at 2030 and reached back at Mahesh’s house at 0200 in the morning.

I took very long time to pen this story down, almost six months has passed by. The conversations between Mahesh and me went on for couple of hours that afternoon. During our talks, Mahesh mentioned his plan to visit Sabarimala again in February 2010, and asked whether I was interested. I was ready. He took a promise from me that I would accompany at least three first timers (Kanni Ayyappas) - I do not know why I promised, as most of my friends as ashiest. Once again, Mahesh reminded me of the promise. I did not reply because I knew I would not be able to keep it I knew nobody would come. Therefore, on 9th December, I booked my tickets for February visit to Sabarimala. A day later when I was mentioning about my trip to my friends two of them expressed their willingness to come with me. Now I will accompany the two Kanni Ayyappas to Sabarimala ;-)

Sharanam Ayyappa!!