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. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cx7MAzyC5oU - 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
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.