During the mandala kalam millions of devotees go to Sabarimalai
During the mandala kalam, millions of devotees from all over India and also from other parts of the world throng to Sabarimalai to have darshan of Lord Ayyappa and witness the makara jyothi which appears in the horizon at the time of aarthi at dusk on makara sankranthi (beginning of makara month in Hindu calendar) which is usually the 14th of January. Because of heavy rush of devotees on this day and time, sometimes there are stampedes.
There are many devotees of Swami who are aged and ailing. It is impossible for them to scale the Sabari hills to worship the Lord and fulfill their desire of witnessing the divya jyothi. Swami's grace towards them is limitless. By the grace of Gurunathar and Ambal, Swami installed an idol of Lord Ayyappa along with sacred eighteen steps in the siddhar peetam itself, wherein one can worship the Lord peacefully for hours together without any disturbance in a pious and peaceful environment. The devotees get absolute mental peace and solace here. Moreover, Swami has shown such love and concern towards his devotees that with his siddhis he has enabled the divine jyothi to appear in the sky at the same time and on the same day as in Sabarimalai, so that the devotees can witness the blissful sight peacefully. It is a moment of ecstasy when one witnesses the jyothi with the whole peetam echoing with the divine chants of Swamiyai Saranam Ayyappa.
The trip we had undertaken to Sabarimalai along with Swami in April 2000 was a memorable one. I was also chosen to be one among that group with Swami's blessings. I would like to share with the reader the unforgettable experiences of this trip.
As mentioned earlier, my husband comes from a Kerala Brahmin family and used to go to Sabarimalai every year to worship Lord Ayyappa. Being an ardent devotee of the Lord, he would take the traditional route from Erumeli to sannidhanam covering a distance of sixty-four kilometers following strict penance. He had taken our daughter and son also to sannidhanam. Since the year 1997 when the jyothi could be seen clearly in the sky in siddhar peetam itself, he did not make any more yearly trips to Sabarimalai, as per Swami's advice. He is designated as guruswami of the siddhar peetam for all Ayyappa devotees during mandala kalam by Swami's grace.
In the years past, during the mandala kalam, year after year we used to follow and adhere to strict restrictions whenever my husband decided to go to Sabarimalai. So naturally, I developed a strong urge to go to Sabarimalai at least once in my life span. It was the first week of January 2000, we were at the peetam for the celebration of Gnananandar aradhanai and for divya darshanam of Lord Ayyappa. I expressed my desire to Swami about Sabarimalai and sought his blessings. I told him that by his divine grace we were all gifted to worship the Lord peacefully and also to witness the unique sight of divya jyothi in the peetam sky. I then told him about my long standing wish of going to Sabarimalai. He immediately replied that Devi had told him earlier that if the divya jyothi could be seen clearly at the peetam during the ongoing Ayyappa festival, then he might have to go to Sabarimalai during Vishu (Malayalam new year day) along with few devotees. With Gurunathar's and Devi's blessings, the divya jyothi could be witnessed by one and all at the peetam. After the function, Swami told me that he had no further directions from Devi regarding the proposed trip to Sabarimalai.
Later, in March, Swami went on a trip to the middle east. There was no news about the proposed trip to Sabarimalai from Swami. A close friend of my husband was to go to Sabarimalai for Vishu and I enquired with my husband if we could go too. He declined saying that he had no directive from Swami and that if I want to go, he will have my travel arrangements done along with that of his friend. I persisted but he bluntly refused. Being a lady going to Sabarimalai for the first time, I felt very uneasy to go on my own without my husband. I kept praying to Lord Ayyappa to bless me so that I could go to Sabarimalai to have His darshan. On March 25th I was in the midst of a heated argument with my husband and even asked him why Swami made him Guruswami for Ayyappa devotees if he was not even willing to help his wife undertake the pilgrimage. While we were arguing, the phone rang. It was a devotee of Swami. He said there was a message from Swami, who was in Sharjah at that time. The message was that Swami, along with eleven male devotees and one female devotee (he mentioned me specifically) accompanying as Ambal would be proceeding to Sabarimalai from siddhar peetam after Tamil new year day. He further said that since one lady from Madurai named Kamala had seen a vision of Swami in Sabarimalai during 1999 Navarathri period, Swami wanted me to make the trip with him and others. The sighting of Swami by Kamala of Madurai during 1999 Navarathri was unique. Swami was in Mumbai for the Navarathri celebrations and he had told a devotee from Madras who was to be at the Lord Ayyappa sannidhanam on 16th October, 1999 that he would be present there. Strange, it was not this devotee who spotted Swami, but Kamala from Madurai who has seen Swami a couple of times when he had been to Madurai. Thus was Swami present at Sabarimalai Sannidhanam with his ashtama siddhi though physically he was present in Mumbai. I could hardly believe that I was the fortunate one to be in the team of devotees accompanying Swami to Sabarimalai. I rushed to our prayer room and prostrated before God and thanked Swami for his grace. All those who were to accompany Swami to Sabarimalai assembled at the peetam on 13th April. Swami too arrived from Sharjah on 13th. Apart from Swami, there were eight male devotees and a female devotee (me) from Mumbai and three male devotees from Madras. Swami said he would be carrying the only irumudi with mudra thengai.
14th April was the Tamil new year day. The peetam was filled with devotees. Decorations were done for vishu kani in front of Ayyappa sannadhi. Swami materialized Balaji pendants and distributed to all present. He also materialized chandana (sandalwood) garlands with Ayyappa pendants for those who were to accompany him. As per the divine direction to him from Devi, we were to take with us the utsava murthi of Lord Ayyappa to sannidhanam. He had this idol placed in his pooja room, covered with a vasthram (cloth cloak) and proceeded to the Kalyana Bagavathi sannadhi. When Swami emerged from the sannadhi, all of us wondered how and why the vasthram over the idol was raised. Swami removed the vasthram and lo! there was another bigger Ayyappa idol with identical features of the smaller one. Swami then said that this idol is to be carried to sannidhanam. We left for Chothanikkarai and Swami was to join us there.
We reached Chothanikkarai Devi temple on the night of 15th April. On 16th morning, the kattu nirai was done inside the Chothanikkarai Devi temple. The executive officer of the temple brought a bronze lamp that was lit just before the kattu nirai started. Swami initiated the ritual and poured ghee using a silver cup (materialised during the just concluded Sivarathri festival at the peetam representing jyothir lingams from all over India) and asked all accompanying him to fill the coconut with ghee. There were 13 of us including Swami and the coconut got filled with 13 silver cups of ghee! After the mudra was over, Swami suddenly asked my husband to come forward and carry the irumudi. When we were to leave the temple, the executive officer suggested that we take the lamp along with us, but Swami declined.