Sunday, March 20, 2011

The trek to Sabarimala






I’ve been going to Sabarimala since 1984. Not every year, but most years. Every time, it’s been a satisfying experience, going together as a group of six or eight or ten, alighting at the Chengannur Railway Station in Kerala, hiring a van to Pamba, stopping at the PWD guesthouse in Aranmula to wash and change, worshipping at the Krishna Temple in Aranmula, walking barefoot to the cool Pamba waters, having a wash again if one felt like it or just dipping hands and legs in the waters, and then trekking the way up, the toughest part, and then finding accommodation, which usually is the Kerala Dewaswom Board guesthouse.

The first year, in 1984, I remember we had reached well past 6pm; it was dark and drizzling and we held hands and made our way up through difficult terrain, halting several times to drink lemon juice, glucose water etc. But every year, once we climbed the holy 18 steps and entered the temple, all the hardships were forgotten and we would try to get as many darshans as possible. Over time, some of the older members in the group have stayed away, because of age and ill-health, but others have joined. And every time it’s a great feeling doing the journey together.

We’ve never traveled during the peak season, the 41-day Mandalam Festival and then the Makara Vilakku. It’s mostly been September-October or February-March. This time, we chose to go in March and we were most fortunate. Despite the Utsavam, the large crowds were missing and for the first time ever I saw the holy 18 steps empty, or a lone figure climbing up. There were devotees posing before the steps for pictures. And what’s more, we had several darshans and at times it seemed almost unbelievable.

The Sabarimala trip is useful in other ways: there is a bonding among the group, relationships are strengthened, new friendships are forged, there’s bonhomie, and it’s a wonderful feel really. There are several light moments, too. For example, one in the group, a senior customs official, has the habit of snoring loudly at night. It starts like the soft purr of a well-oiled motorcycle, grows into a guttural roar and then explodes in mid-air as it were, almost like some of those crackers you see bursting high up in the sky during Diwali. Obviously, a few of us just can’t get to sleep with the ‘monster’ lying by our side; so, save for pouring water over him, all efforts are made to halt him in his tracks. Often, it’s impossible and we end up up rolling with laughter. And while we manage to finally find some sleep towards break of dawn, more out of lack of sleep than anything else, the monster is up and about after a sound sleep, ready for ablutions.

Pictures show the decorated arch outside the 18 holy steps or Pathinettampadi (notice how bare they are); devotees posing for pictures before the steps; and the sparse crowd inside the temple precincts.

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