A Description of Traditional Path (Long Route)
The Periya Paathai, also known as the long route or traditional path is said to be the path taken by Lord Ayyappa to kill Mahishi and also the path taken by King Rajashekara to visit Sabarimala after the consecration of the holy shrine at Sabarimala.
Vratham, Irumudi Puja
Ayyappa Ayyappa Endre Solli Naanga Aaru Vaaram Thaane Nonbum Irundhom
Devotees undertake the Vrata (a vow or fast and discipline) for 42 days by wearing a Mala under the guidance of their Guru Swamy, the Guru who will lead them on the pilgrimage. On the day of Kettu Nira (preparation of Irumudi), the Guruswamy performs a Puja to invoke Lord Ayyappa and goes through the process of filling the ghee meant for the Abhisheka into a coconut. The ghee filled coconut, along with the other essential offerings for the Lord are then packed in a two compartment bag, referred to as as the Irumudi. The Guruswamy then places the sacred Irumudi on head of the pilgrims to the continuous chanting of Saranams. The pilgrim then leaves on the pilgrimage without bidding farewell to his family and friends.
Enga Guruswamy Thunai Kondu Avar Paadham Nambikittu
Irumudiya Sumandhukittu Vandhom Ayya
There are three routes to Sabarimala – (a) The Erumeli route (b) The Vandiperiyar route (c) The Chalakayam route. In the early days, Ayyappa devotees walked through the jungles from Erumeli to reach Sabari Malai. It is still believed that this route, covering approximately 50km, should be followed for a true Sabari Malai pilgrimage experience. This route is called ‘Peruvazhi pathai’, ‘Periyapathai’ or ‘The long route’. It is said that this route was the one used by Lord Ayyappa himself during his forest expedition to kill ‘Mahishi’ and that the King of Pandala ‘Pandalaraja’ took to visit Ayyappa’s shrine. Ayyappa devotees choose this route to experience the lord’s Poongavanam (the Lord’s garden) to get closer to the Lord in mind, body, and spirit.
The nearest railway station to Erumeli is Kottayam or Chengannur. The nearest airports are at Cochin or Trivandrum. Devotees then take a bus or car to reach Erumeli. The chart below summarizes the Periyapathai yatra route from Erumeli to Sabarimala which goes through Perurthodu, Kottapadi, Irumpunnikara, Arasumudikota, Kaalaketti, Azhuthamedu, Kallidaamkunnu, Inchipaarakotta, Mukkuzhi, Karivalanthodu, Karimala, Valiyaanavattam, Cheriyaanavattam, Pamba River, Neelimala, Appachimedu, Sabaripeedam, and Saramkuthi. A brief description of each milestone during the Yatra follows.
|Erumeli||Perur Thodu||Tar Road||3.2 km|
|Perur Thodu||Top of 2nd Hill enroute Kalaketti (via Kottapadi, Irumpunikkara)||Hilly||3.5 km|
|Top of 2nd Hill enroute Kalaketty||Kalaketti (via Arasumudikota)||Plains||7.0 km|
|Kalaketti||Kallidumkunnu and Injippara kota (via Azhutha river and Azuthamedu)||Steep Hill||5.5 km|
|Karivalanthodu||Karimala Peak||Steep Hill||5.0 km|
|Karimala Peak||Periyanavattam||Downhill||4.75 km|
|Pamba||Sabari Peedam (Neelimala, Appachi Medu)||Steep Hill||2.75 km|
|Sabari Peedam||Saramkuthi, Sannidhaanam||Plains||3.75 km|
Erumeli and Pettai Thullal
Erumeli Pettai Thulli Vavaraya Vendikkitu
Perur Thodil Pori Pottu Vandhom Ayya
The name Erumeli is derived from “Erumakolli” (Killed the buffalo). According to legend, it was here that Lord Ayyappa killed the buffalo headed demoness “Mahishi”, sister of Mahishasura in this place on the way to collect leopard’s milk for his ailing mother. Mahish means buffalo and “Eruma” in Malayalam and hence the name “erumakolli”. This name later changed to Erumeli. The Dharma Shaastha temple built by the king of Pandala is located here. Lord Dharma Shaastha appears here as a hunter with a bow and arrow. There are two other small shrines adjacent to the main temple at Erumeli – one (mosque) dedicated to Vavar who was the trusted aide of the Lord and another – called Pettai Shastha, in honor of Ayyappa himself.
Erumeli is synonymous with the famous Pettai Thullal. It is said that after destroying Mahishi, Lord Ayyappa danced on her body. The ritual remembering this event is called Pettai Thullal. The devotees paint colors on themselves with ashes, saffron and carbon and carry odd-looking arrows, clubs, bundles of fruits and vegetables. The essence of this practice is to give up ones’ ego and surrender to Lord Ayyappa. With Kanni Ayyappans lined up in the front, they dance rhythmically to the drum and cymbal beats and to the chants, ‘Ayyappa Thinthakathom, Swami Thinthakathom.’ Petta Thullal commences at the small Pettai Shastha Ayyappa shrine and proceeds to the Dharma Shaastha complex. It is obligatory for Kanni Ayyappans to participate in Pettai Thullal. These rejoicings commemorate the joy of people after Mahishi was slain by Lord Ayyappa. Devotees then take a shower or bath and visit the Dharma Shaastha temple to seek authorization from Lord Ayyappa to tread through the Poongavanam (god’s garden) and the sacred hill Sabari.
Perur Thodu (meaning river) is the first landmark located about 3.2 km from Erumeli. This used to be a forest path, but has changed to a tar road path to accommodate commercial traffic. Lord Ayyappa rested here during his expedition. Devotees give alms here and put puffed rice into the river and continue the trek tpo the next major landmark – Kalaketti. Enroute to Kalaketti, there is a beautiful Shiva and Murugan shrine at Irumbunnikkara and also a temple for Goddes Bala Bhadra Devi. The forest beyond Perur Thodu is poongavanam.
Kalaketti Anjal Vandhu Azhutha Malai Erikittu Karimalaiyin Uchiyile Vandhom Ayya
About 10 km from Perur Thodu is Kalaketti. The legend says that Lord Shiva, Ayyappa’s father, came on his bull (‘Kaalai’) and tied (‘Ketti’) it here and witnessed Lord Ayyappa killing Mahishi. There is a shrine where the pilgrims light camphor and break coconuts. In the olden days, the path from Erumeli to Kalaketti used to be a forest path. Due to commercialization (road side shops), the path has been made into a tar road.
Azhuthamalai, Kallidamkunnu, Injipparakottai
Azhutha river, a tributary of Pampa, is about 2 kms from Kalaketti. After a dip in Azhutha river, devotees take a small stone/pebble with them. On the far side of the river is the steep Azhuthamalai (hill), famous for its arduous track. After 2km of steep ascent, devotees reach Kallidumkunnu. The devotees drop the pebble taken by them from Azhutha River here. This is done as the mortal remains of Mahishi was cast off here and filled with stones. Injipparakotta (Kotta means fort) is at the peak of Azhuthamalai where there is Kotayil Shasta shrine. Lord Ayyappa graces here in the name of Devan Vyakrapadan. Vyakram means Tiger. Lord is keeping the tigers under His control to protect His devotees. This also has a spiritual background. Men are occupied with material desires as gold, women and land and have little space in mind for sublime thoughts. Men are ready to do anything sinful to gain these desires. These desires are but brutal tigers. When such animal thoughts are shed off, the mind turns towards the Almighty.
From Injipparakota the pilgrims descend the slippery path carefully. The devotees reach Mukkuzhi where Mother Ambika graces them. They then continue on for about 8kms of ups and downs to reach Karivalanthodu (canal) with Azuhtha hill on one side and Karimalai hill on the other. They will have to cross the river Puducherry here. There are some facilities for the devotees at Karivalanthodu where they can rest and relax before they ascend Karimala.
Karimala is the abode of elephants which visits the Karimala canal to drink water. Pilgrims light the aazhi (campfire) to protect themselves from wild animals and cold weather. Karimala hill is very steep and consists of seven levels and is climbed in stages. As the ascent of 5 km is difficult the pilgrims continuously chant saranams. As there are powerful herbal plants with medicinal values here, it is said that after crossing the place, the devotee would be cured of any disease he is suffering from. On top of Karimala the terrain is flat suitable for the pilgrims to rest. Nearby are the Nazhikkinar – a well within a well with fresh spring like water, as well as deities of Karimalanathan, Kochukaduthaswami and Karimala Bhagawathi.
Pambayile Kulichiputtu Pavangala Tholachuputtu Neelimalai Erikittu Vandhom Ayya
From Karimala peak begins the 5km descent to Periyanavattam. It is so named as there were huge numbers of elephants once. Pamba River flows here as a small stream. It is in its full form at a distance. After another 2.75km, devotees reach Cheriyanavattam and the holy Pamba River. Devotees coming through Erumeli long route and those from the Chalakayam route meet on the banks of Pamba. It is as holy as Ganga. Lord Sri Rama performed Tarpan to His father Emperor Dasaratha in Pamba. Some devotees bathe in a place called Triveni Sangama – confluence of three rivers – and perform Tarpan to ancestors. Others bathe at the Pampa to wash themselves of their sins. Many devotees stay on the banks of Pamba for a night and light Pamba deepas (Pamba Vilakku). They then cook food from things they have brought in their Irumudi package. They offer it to Lord as Naivedhya and share with their pilgrim mates. It is believed that Lord Ayyappa accepts the food in the form of devotees. This is called Pamba Saddhi/ Saddhi Puja.
Devotees begin climbing the Neelimalai after worshipping at the temple of Pamba Ganapathy, Sri Rama, Hanuman and Shakti temples. On the foot of the Neeli hill is the representative of the King of Pandalam. The pilgrims offer their respects to the representative. After seeking the permission of the representative to visit the shrine of Lord Ayyappa they proceed with their journey. From here the Sannidhanam is about 6 km. Neelimalai is as difficult as the Azhutha and Karimala. Knees would hit the ground while climbing. It is said that Sage Madhanga lived here with his daughter Neeli and performed penance to Lord Shiva, hence the name Neelimalai. A road branches from here called Subramaniya pathai. Things needed for pilgrims are transported through this path. Some people walk this path to reach or return from Sabari peedam. The top of Neeli hill is called Appachi medu. Here there are two abysses – Appachi Kuzhi and Ippachi Kuzhi. Kanniswamy throw rice balls here to calm down the evil spirits present around the place and to please the jungle Gods- Vana Devathas.
Sabaripeedam, Saramkuthi Pathai
Sabaripeedam is at the peak of Neelimalai. Lord Sri Rama’s celebrated devotee Sabari lived here after whom this name came into being. Devotees break coconuts here, show camphor Aarathi, worship and proceed further. The path is plain and comfortable for the devotees from here. The path towards the Ayyappa shrine bifurcates here. The left track is for transportation of goods and is also the return path. Devotees take the other track called Saramkuthi Pathai. For the Kanniswamis, Saramkuthi is considered very sacred. They place the wooden arrows they used during the Pettai Tullal ritual in Erumeli in this place.
Sannidhanam, Pathinettam Padi, Tathwamasi
Pathinettam Padi Thaandi Bhagavane Unai Vendi Karpoora Jyothidanai Kandom Ayya
The devotee feels the blissful experience on seeing the golden temple of Lord Ayyappa. The chanting sound “Saranam Ayyappa” echoes in all directions. In front of the sacred temple is the HOLY 18 steps (Pathinettampadi) all covered with gold. The 18 steps is made of black granite and was installed during the consecration of the temple. It has been covered with Panchaloha (five metals) to avoid wear and tear to the holy steps. Before placing their feet on the first step, the devotees worship Kaduthasami and Karuppusami, forgetting all the difficulties they experienced on the way to this great shrine. The devotees shed their ego by breaking the coconuts and begin climbing the steps with Sharanams. As all the 18 steps represent a deity, only those with their Irumudi package are allowed to use the steps to reach the Sannidhanam. The Vedic reading ‘Tathwamasi’ greets the devotee at the entrance of the shrine. It is called from the Vedas, meaning ‘Thou art that. Devotees have to conquer, or climb over the 18 aspects that the 18 steps represent, to come to the realization that the GOD that they seek is already in them.