Sabarimala Mandala Kalam 2023/24

The Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala is an iconic temple located deep within the forest amid 18 hills at an altitude of 4133 feet above sea level. It is situated in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala state. This is an ancient temple whose earliest mention goes back to Treta Yuga, during the time of Lord Ram.

What is Mandala Kalam – Makaravilakku Season?

The Sannidhanam or the main temple is built on a 40-foot high plateau. The shrine was rebuilt in 1950 after a fire gutted the premises and the stone image of the deity was replaced by a Panchaloha idol made from an alloy of five metals.

The temple opens for the first five days of every Malayalam month. During the Mandalakala season, the temple will remain open for 41 days, starting from the first of Vrischikam month, till the eleventh day of Dhanu month.

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Then the temple will be shut for four days, after which it will open for the 21-day Makaravilakku season. The culmination of the season happens during the Makara Sankranti when the Sun transits to the Makara constellation and enters Uttarayana or the north of the celestial sphere.

Sun in Uttarayana is generally considered the beginning of an auspicious time. Makara Jyothi is the star that appears in the sky during this time.

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When is Mandala Kalam 2023/24?

Makaravilakku is a light or flame that appears thrice on the Ponnambalamedu hill, four km away from the temple to mark the occasion. The 2023 Mandalakala season begins on November 17, Friday and ends on December 27, Wednesday.

The Makaravilakku season starts on 30th December, Saturday and ends on 20th January 2024, Saturday.

How to do the 41-day Mandalakala Vrutham?

Only after undertaking a rigorous vrutham for 41 days does a person become eligible for the darshan of Lord Ayyappa. The person has to be dressed in black or dark blue clothes and carry an irumudikettu to climb the 18 steps to reach the abode of the Lord.

During the vritham or the fasting period, the person is to lead a pious life. He/She should subsist on the simplest and minimal food. The vritham is initiated by wearing a Mudra Mala. The person fasting should get up early, bathe in cold water twice a day, not cut hair or fingernails, and chant swami saranam before every conversation and at the end of it. He/She should also be wearing simple clothes either black or dark blue.

The person should refrain from indulging in worldly pleasures during this period. He/She should not get angry and remain calm throughout. The idea is that to see god, one should transform oneself into a god. Once the Mudra mala is worn, the person starts the journey to become one with god. Before ascending the 18 holy steps of Sabarimala temple which gets you a darshan of god, you are told ‘tatwamasi’, meaning ‘it is you’. That is, the god you have come to see is within you.

The 41-day fasting period transforms the devotee from human to god. It is customary to revere every devotee preparing for Sabarimala pilgrimage as an avatar of the Lord himself. To ascend the 18 holy steps leading to Lord Ayyappa, the person should have irumudikettu.

What is Irumudikettu?

Irumudi is a cloth bundle with two compartments. It is carried on the head by the devotees and is of the colors of black or dark blue. The front portion contains the pooja articles and the sacred offerings to be made to the deity, like ghee-filled coconut, raw rice, jaggery or cane sugar, betel leaves, camphor, etc., while the personal belongings of the devotee are carried rear in the compartment.

The ghee coconut is the most important. Known as Mudra Thenga, the outside of the coconut is cleaned thoroughly, and the inside is emptied by draining out the sweet water through the eye of the coconut. Then the coconut is filled with pure ghee, which is used later for the abhishekham of the Lord.

The opening of the ghee coconut is then sealed. The ghee coconut represents the act of emptying oneself of worldly pleasures first and then filling the void with pure life force. Bathing the Lord with the ghee amounts to merging one’s consciousness with the divine.

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The 18 Holy Steps of Sabarimala Temple

Ascending the Pathinettaampadi, or the 18 steps, is the most important part of the Sabarimala pilgrimage. The devotees start the ascension to receive the Lord’s darshan by placing their right foot on the first step. The 18 steps are thought to signify the 18 hills which surround the Sabarimala temple. But, it is revered much more for its spiritual symbolism.

The first five of these steps are considered to represent the five senses – vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. The next eight signifies the eight negative traits of human emotions such as desire, anger, greed, lust, pride, jealousy, envy, and boastfulness. The next three represent the three Gunas or qualities – sattva (clarity), rajas, (activity), and tamas (inertia); and the last two steps denote the twins of knowledge and ignorance.

It is believed that only after climbing these steps and going beyond all that they represent, one can detach the self from all worldly bonding and attain a state where one can align with the supreme. For this, strict adherence to austerities during the 41+ day Mandalakalavritham period is essential.

Significance of Mandalakala Vrutham

As per mythology, Lord Ayyappa devised the 41-day vritham to protect his devotees from the evils of Shani or Saturn. The extreme Dasha period of Shani lasts for seven years during which the person may lose his flair to keep his hair and nails trimmed, may have to suffer from cold weather, be forced into austerity, may lose property, and even resort to begging. An Ayyappa devotee can overcome these seven years and others by undergoing similar penance during the 41 days starting from Vrischikam.

This is a period when the Sun is farthest at Daksinayana or south of the celestial sphere. This means the influence of the Sun is at a minimum. Since Shani is the opposite of the Sun, it means the influence of Shani is at its peak. Under Shani’s influence comes bitter weather, laziness, bad food, bad company, cruelty, and illnesses.

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For persons with Medam Rashi, Karkidakam Rashi, and Thulam Rashi this is the time of kandaka shani. For Medam Rashi persons there may be problems with employment. For Karkidakam Rashi personal problems may arise in the form of undesired and unpleasant travels. For Thulam Rashi persons, problems will come in the form of arthritis or from maternal relations.

Persons with Midhunam Rashi are facing Ashtama Shani. They may encounter health problems. Those in Dhanu, Makaram, and Kumbam Rashis are going through sade saath and may face excess expenses, failure, and lack of results to efforts made.

For persons in these Rashis, undergoing the 41-day vritham will bring excellent benefits. For those belonging to other Rashis too, observing the penance will help to mitigate the evil influence of Shani. The clothes worn during this period should be either black or dark blue as that’s the color agreeable to Shani.

The vritham is observed for upwards of 41 days as it takes around 40 days of disciplined observance for a person to physically and psychologically accept the change that is being evoked within him or her.

The Science of Mandala Kalam

Black clothes absorb heat and protect the body from the cold climate. Black clothes were also used to hold back animal attacks during the long trek through dense forests.

Significance of Black Colour in Astrology

Devotees wear rudraksha, spatika, tulasi, sandalwood, coral, and lotus beads as jewelry around the neck at the time of vritham. Rudrakshas control anger and bring down the pressure. Tulasi chills the mind, sandalwood beads keep the body hydrated, spatika beads absorb toxins, coral beads make blood flow smooth while Lotus beads keep the skin fresh and healthy.

The best time to wake up during the vritham period is 4 in the morning which is called ‘Bramhamuhurta’ where the brain cells can perform in higher magnitude and fill the body with new life force.

The smoke from burning camphor will clear the sinuses. Devotees worship Lord Ayyapan twice a day by lighting a camphor.

Coldwater baths make the bodywork harder to maintain heat. That and a steady diet leaving out spicy, hot, and salty tastes and eating only sattvic food, which is easily digestible, raises immunity power and improves mental stability.

Walking barefoot acts as a treatment of acupuncture and controls blood pressure. Sleeping on the floor will relieve various ailments in the body due to the earth’s inherent life force.

Sabarimala – The Mount of Dharma

As per mythology, Shabari was a tribal woman, the daughter of a hunter. But, rather than follow the path of her parents, Shabari sought knowledge; she wanted to know what Dharma is. However, no rishi was prepared to accept a woman from a hunter tribe as a student of holy scriptures, till she found Sage Matanga at the foot of Mount Rishyamukha. Sage Matanga accepted Shabari as a student and she spent the following years serving him.

The time came for the sage to leave the material world. A sad Shabari, who also had grown old with greying hair, requested the sage to tell her the way to reach where Sage Matanga was going. The sage asked Shabari to carry on doing what he did, to serve and worship Lord Rama, till the Lord gave her darshan. This was to be her dharma. For this, Shabari took residence atop the hill and started observing her charya.

A long time after, Lord Rama did arrive, as he was on his way to save Sita. There was a long line of sages, gurus, and other prominent persons who expected the Lord’s darshan. But the Lord chose virtue over pomposity and gave darshan to Shabari and granted her moksha. The hill where she resided over time came to be known as Sabarimala. She is the original Dharma Sastha.

Lord Ayyappa as Dharma Sastha

Once upon a time, there was a female demon by the name of Mahishi. After observing severe penance, Mahishi pleased Lord Brahma and won from him the extraordinary boon that she can be killed only by someone who is born to the Lords Shiva and Vishnu. Since two males can’t produce offspring, Mahishi patted herself on her cleverness and resorted to enforcing her will upon the world.

At the same time, someplace else, another demon by the name of Bhasmasura pleased Lord Shiva through strict penance. From Shiva, the demon obtained the boon to turn to ash any person upon whom he placed his hand. Having received the boon, Bhasmasura resorted to placing his hand on Lord Shiva himself. Outwitted by the demon, Lord Shiva approached Lord Vishnu for help.

Lord Vishnu assumed the form of Mohini, a bewitching beauty, and appeared before Bhasmasura. The demon was enchanted by her beauty and got enslaved to her. So when Mohini placed her hand over her head, Bhasmasura did the same and instantly he turned to ash. An impressed Lord Shiva consented to a union with Mohini and thus was born Dharma Sasthavu.

This child was later found by Raja Rajashekara Pandiyan, the King of Pandalam, on the banks of the Pampa River. The King, who was childless at that time, adopted the child and brought him up as his son. As there was a bell tied around the neck of the child when he found him, the king named the boy Manikantan, the one with a bell in the neck.

Sometime afterward, the queen bore the King a son. Still, Raja Rajashekara Pandiyan considered Manikantan to be the elder son and the next king. The jealous queen, under the influence of a scheming minister, hatched a plan to have Manikandan killed. Pretending to suffer from a mysterious illness, she had the physician prescribe the milk of tigress as medicine and wanted Manikandan to bring it.

Though it saddened the King, young Manikandan took up the task and left for the forest. There he encountered the demon Mahishi. A fierce battle ensued and ended with him killing the demon. Having attained moksha at the hands of Lord Ayyappa, Mahishi turned into a beautiful woman who desired to be near the Lord forever. The Lord, being celibate, mandated a certain distance to be observed, and said ‘So be it’. She is worshipped to date as Malikapurathamma and resides a little away from the Sabarimala temple. Supremely pleased with the annihilation of the demon, the Devas assumed the forms of tigers, riding on whom Manikantan returned to the palace.

With his mission completed, Lord Ayyappa retreated to the divine mount of Shabari went into deep meditation, and left the material world. Before leaving, the Lord had asked the King to build a temple over there after the King wanted permission for himself and other devotees to visit the Lord. Ayyappa agreed to give darshan provided they observe penance for 41 days or more, starting from the first day of Vrischikam before coming to see him. Being a celibate, and out of respect to Malikapurathamma, he forbade women of mensurating age from visiting him.

King Raja RajasekharaPandian built the temple as desired by the lord as per the advice of sage Agastya, in which, the stone idol of the lord carved by Parasurama was consecrated on the first day of the Malayalam month Makaram (which falls in the middle of January). Since Sabarimala, the mount of Shabari, was already known as the mount of Dharma, Lord Ayyappa took the mantle of Dharma Shasta as well.

Significance of the year 2023/24

On January 17, 2023, Shani moved to Aquarius or Kumbham Rashi, which is his own house. Shani will stay there till March 30, 2025. So, Shani is expected to remain calm and pleasant during this Mandala season. As the lord of justice, Shani gives what one deserves. Good deeds will bring in good results.

The Trek to Sabarimala during Mandala Kalam

There are three routes to reach the Sabarimala temple – The Erumeli route, the Vandiperiyar route, and The Chalakayam route. The Erumeli route is the most arduous. Pilgrims have to walk about 61 kilometers barefoot over several days through forest and hill tracks to reach the temple. It is believed that this was the route taken by Lord Ayyappa to reach the peak.

The Vandiperiyar route starts at the 94.4 km stone on the Kottayam – Kumili road. The temple is about 12.8 kilometers from here. The third, the Chalakayam route, is the shortest and most preferred trek. Chalakayam is near the Pampa river. Sannidhanam is just 8 kilometers from here.

However, even the simplest route involves arduous trekking covering steep slopes and rocky terrain. Persons with problems in the heart, or those suffering from high pressure are advised not to make the trek. If the pilgrimage is essential, then they can take the services of ‘doli’ for a fee. Doli service is where two or four men carry the devotee seated on a chair fixed to two logs (doli) up till Sannidhanam.

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