Friday, September 19, 2008

The pilgrimage - Part I

You Idiot! Why did you take food from my plate? Shouted Anoop(H.L) as I took a bit of the masala dosa from his plate. I was quite bewildered by the outburst.
Why, what’s the problem? I asked.
I am taking the penance to go to Shabarimala. I am not supposed to eat food touched by anybody other than the cook. Now, thanks to you, I have to order again!
Oho, like that huh? Good, go ahead and order again!
Then I turned around and shouted to the guys sitting at the next table “guys, come over! H.L won’t eat anything that is touched by somebody else”.

As far as I know H.L went hungry that day.

But my curiosity was piqued and I felt a bit envious. Shabarimala had always held an enigmatic attraction to me. My mother’s native place at Koovapally sits on one of the major traditional routes to this south Indian pilgrimage centre. All through my childhood, I would see men and children dressed in black, with the “erumudi-kettu"* make the pilgrimage. The whole thing had a slightly romantic touch to it, especially since I was born into a Christian family and not allowed to make the pilgrimage myself.

“Da, can I come along to Shabarimala with you?” I asked H.L the very next day.
“No food stealing Christian is allowed into Shabarimala! Screw off! I am not going to take you anywhere”. He pompously shouted back.

I must be a real persuasive guy, since in hardly half an hour I had not only managed to convince him to take me along, I even roped in Arun George (AGT) for the same.

The hardest part of the whole exercise was the penance. I was doing it only for 22 days rather than the customary 45(?) so that I could go along with H.L. It was 22 days of abstinence from non-veg food (the maximum I have managed in living memory!!!), porn, female contact and a basically anything interesting in life! By the end of the second week all the “romanticism” and “enigma” had been rubbed off. I was dying for my rightful chicken leg!!

Finally the D-Day came. Our Shabarimala party had by then expanded to include H.L's room mate Sujith (Kokku) and his landlord's two sons. Before starting out on the journey, one was supposed to go to the temple and tie the erumudi-kettu*. I was a bit tensed when I went to the temple. What if the priest found out that I was a Christian? I thanked my stars that despite our different religions we all looked the same ( *general* look and feel i.e. I am of course, way more handsome..:D) Fact is, I needn’t have worried, seems that Ayyappan’s greatest friend vaavar-swamy was a Muslim! And the temple allowed entry to non-Hindus.

After the ceremony, I was in extremely high spirits (not literally!). Our bus journey was un-eventful and we reached there by 12 in the night. A swift dip in the Pampa River was the first on the itinerary. The water was cold, but not extremely so. I was raring to go by then. Faith, excitement, fear**… they were all palpable among the devotees milling around. Everyone around me seemed to be high on steroids.

The Shabarimala route is a set of five hills one after the other. Most of the path is concreted and a hill is almost razed to the ground. The “thorn-and-stone-beneath-our-legs” legend is exactly what it is… a legend!

As we began our journey we were joined by a group of Tamil pilgrims. All stout men in their twenties, they were actually running the route chanting several mantras as they went by like, “swamiye sharanam-ayyappa, devanae-deviye, eshwaranae-eshwariyae,kallum-mullum kaalukku meethae” etc. We ran alongside this group chanting at the top of our voices. Their devotion and fervor was infectious, it was like the mantras plucked out raw energy from thin air. I wasn’t even out of breath after the first hill. The way it was going I guessed that we would reach the sannidhanam (sanctum sanctorum) in half an hour. I had guessed wrong…:(

*Head gear consisting of two coconuts and other assorted offerings for lord Ayyapan)

**It is a forest path and supposedly you can see wild animals (The last of them who tread the path in a very long time being yours truly!) The fear is baseless but somebody shouts “animal” and everyone gets keyed up.


mathew said...

"I was dying for my rightful chicken leg!!" LOL!!
hey dont worry bud..we have our version of Sabarimala too..last time i had been to Vatican they had a high speed lift which replaced the "stairway to heaven" out there..;-P

apart from jokes i always wanted to go through the sabarimala experience once..i hope to do sometime with my friends sometime..

silverine said...

I grew up listening to my Dad's friends saying that they need to go to Sabarimala, because their cholesterol level was getting high, or they needed an enforced break from alcohol etc. So I don't have any romantic notions of the place having seen increasing number of people in Bangalore doing the journey for the restrictions it puts on you! It has become like dieting here now, as Ayyappa is supposed to be a feared God and these guys need the fear of God to keep away from vices lol!!

Primitive Lyric said...

So i pressume u've never observed lent?!:)
I have..twice and it was tough! Made up for it on christmas day with a grand feast. It shows every christmas season in the form of an expanding middle!:(

stillwaters said...

Hmmm..interesting. Since ur title says Part 1, I am guessing you didnt end up inside any wild animal. :D Waiting for Part 2 which, I am sure, is filled with more of your antics! ;)

Anooja said...

Abe.. Mikavarum palliyil ninnu purathakkum :D
Waiting for part 2..

Abraham Menacherry said...

Mathew: I guess most of us want to go at least once. "Stairway to heaven"...:D:D

Silverline: Only things that are interesting are the things other people do...:D But yes most people I know do it for similar reasons.

Primitive Lyric: no, I dont have that kind of self control...:D But even if I dont observe lent I still attack christmas dinner with a vengeance!

Stillwaters: Part 2 is a tragedy......:D
Thankfully I didnt end up inside any "wild" animal..

Anooja: "mikavarum" all "orapayittum"..:D

N!$#@N^# said...

part 1 : to sabarimala...
is part 2 : TO THAILAND ??? am waiting for it ... :)
after all u should get all ur sins back after u have washed em off... how can anyone survive without doing some sins...

Reflections said...

I enjoyed reading both the parts:-D.
This sounds exactly like something I wd have done in my college days...I've done Muttappan temples in Kannur & many others along with my Hindu friends.
But now a faint feeling of guilt is there when I thk abt it coz my faith in my religion has strengthened & u knw how it goes;-P

Abraham Menacherry said...

Nishu: no... I guess everyone has to sin...:D illengil entha oru fun

reflections: No, I do not have any such issues. I hate single God religions. I am no atheist, but I really hate religion and associated moral laws. So no such qualms.

Vinod V said...

Hey..!! Your poor friend Arun George's name in just one sentence and then never again. Was that to include him as your partner in crime in case you are shown the exit door from the Church as you said? :P

By the way, I guess Ayyapan's friend is 'Vaavar', not 'Vaamar'.

Abraham Menacherry said...

I think you are getting a bit communal here arent you...:D My friend Sujith's(Kokk) name is also mentioned only once!

Thanks for the vaavar info, will update!