We started climbing chanting Swamiyai Saranam Ayyappa after doing namaskarams to Swami
Another interesting coincidence was that the van which was booked to go to the foothills of the sannidhanam had exactly 13 seats excluding the driver. On the way, all had breakfast at Ethumanoor. I had earlier resolved not to eat anything till I reach sannidhanam. I revealed my wish to Swami and sought his blessings to successfully undertake the pilgrimage.
In the van I was sitting near Vinod Bhaskar who was also going to Sabarimalai for the first time. There was yet another devotee like us who was sitting at the back of the van. Vinod and myself were discussing our pilgrimage in a very low voice. I told him that climbing the sacred eighteen steps is considered as most significant and since we do not have irumudi we may not be able to climb the sacred steps. This thought had been troubling me. I further added that if Swami wishes, He could ask us to keep our bags (dark blue bags were specially made for all of us to carry our personal belongings) on our heads and bless us to climb the sacred steps. I added that since we both were going for the first time, I was praying that Lord Ayyappa would understand our anxiety and heed to our prayers. We were singing devotional songs all the way. Swami suddenly told my husband that we have to take a jyothi (bronze lamp) with us to sannidhanam and that we should buy one on our way. Enroute at Erumeli, we got the lamp and proceeded to river Pamba. Since there was a huge crowd of pilgrims, the driver had a hard time getting a parking place.
To our great surprise, there was hardly ankle deep water in river Pamba and Swami suggested that we wash our feet, hands and face and sprinkle water on our head. We started climbing chanting Swamiyai Saranam Ayyappa after doing namaskarams to Swami. At Pampa Ganapathi peetam, Swami suggested that we just lift the doli (pallakku) in which he was to go up and then hand over the same to professional carriers. We proceeded up the malai with Swami. It was a rare experience trekking up the dense forest. It is only through Swami's grace that I was able to climb the hills in spite of suffering from painful corns in my feet. It was really an unforgettable experience. Since the temple had closed after the noon pooja, we had a light lunch and waited till we got accommodation. In the room after taking bath, just as we were getting ready to go to the temple, my husband and a couple of devotees went to buy twelve coconuts for breaking at the altar just before climbing the sacred steps, as per Swami's instructions. After pada namaskaram to Swami, we assembled to go to sannidhanam. Swami then said that he as Lord Ayyappa will be waiting atop the eighteen steps to receive us. He suggested that we place our bags on our head and climb the steps after breaking the coconut! He further said that there were some devotees who had come for the first time and were worried whether they would be able to climb the sacred steps. Wonders never cease!
Hearing these words of Swami both Vinod and myself were totally taken aback. We were overwhelmed with emotion as we realized that Swami knew our innermost thoughts and lovingly fulfilled our ardent prayers. Can words describe Swami's compassion and deep concern towards his devotees? We fell at Swami's lotus feet and thanked him.
There was a big crowd and we had to wait to climb the sacred steps. Swami waited atop the steps as Ayyappa and blessed all of us to climb the sacred steps. He wanted to place the bronze idol of Lord Ayyappa and the bronze lamp inside the sannidhanam and then take it back to the peetam. He asked a couple of devotees to meet the mel santhi (chief priest) and find out if that can be done. They enquired and found that no idol is allowed to be kept inside the sannidhanam. They said that the Devasom authorities will confiscate the idol if found with us. We briefed the chief priest about Swami and the peetam. However, he was not able to appreciate the divinity of Swami. Finally it was agreed to have flower abhishekam to Lord Ayyappa after deepa aradhanai in the evening. At this point of time, Swami showed the divya jyothi in his chest. Mel santhi and his deputies were taken aback. Their attitude towards Swami was turned inside out.
After deepa aradhanai, we were told to be ready for pushpabhishekam for Lord Ayyappa. In front of the sannadhi, Swami suddenly showed darshan with two damshtras (teeth) coming out on either side of his mouth. On seeing this the presiding priest rushed out with a flower garland, garlanded Swami and with great devotion, chanted "Amme kshamikkanam" (meaning Oh! Devi, please forgive). Chills ran down our spine as we watched the divine spectacle in awe. The priests fell at Swami's feet and apologized. Like any other normal human being, the priests could not understand Swami and appreciate his divinity initially since Swami looks like an ordinary man. After the pooja got over, the priests approached Swami and requested that he along with all of us witness a special darshan of Lord Ayyappa when abhishekam with different items would be done the next day early morning at five.
After having a wonderful darshan of Lord Ayyappa, we went to Malikappurathu Amma's sannidhanam. Swami gave me a lemon and asked me to give it to the priest inside the sannidhanam. Though there was a huge crowd, I could manage to go near the sannadhi and give the lemon to the priest. He kept that at the feet of Malikappurathu Amma and gave back the lemon along with turmeric powder as prasadam. We went around all the places and worshipped all the deities before returning to our room. Back in the room, we witnessed another hair raising incident. Swami materialized amrutham (nectar) from thin air and gave it to all of us. The experience was thrilling, to say the least!
Next day early morning when we reached the sannidhanam, Swami was given a warm welcome by the priests and the abhishekam to Lord Ayyappa commenced. We witnessed the entire ritual in blissful peace and prayer. After the deeparadhanai, the priest gave Swami some coins with which they had done kanakabhishekam to the Lord. Swami distributed the coins to all of us. It was a unique, unforgettable divine experience for all of us. None can even dream of having darshan of Lord Ayyappa at such close quarters and witness the abhishekam at a time when the temple was flooded with countless pilgrims. When I think of all the divine experiences, I still find it hard to believe. It all happened because of the divine grace of Swami. The experiences at Sabarimalai made a deep impression in all our minds.
Thus, through Swami's grace, we all could fulfill our dreams of a Sabarimalai pilgrimage. While returning, my husband wanted me to go through another route via Sabari peetam and neela malai along with couple of other devotees. Swami and the rest of the devotees returned through the same route which we took on the way up. It was very strenuous for me to climb down the hills (may be because of the absence of Swami). I took nearly four hours to climb down whereas the climb up took only two hours. Swami and the rest were waiting anxiously in the van for us. After reaching, I apologized to Swami. After chanting Swamiyai Saranam Ayyappa, we left Pampa and reached Tripunithura. As per Swami's instruction, all of us removed the chandana Ayyappan malai and handed it over to him. We then departed to our respective homes and Swami left the next day to the siddhar peetam.
The real wonder in the trip was that though millions of pilgrims throng to Sabarimalai year after year to get a mere glimpse of Lord Ayyappa for a few seconds, we were fortunate and gifted to be able to go to Sabarimalai along with Swami and have an unsurpassed divya darshan of Lord Ayyappa. Swami, as Lord Ayyappa incarnate, made our dreams come into reality.
Swamiyai Saranam Ayyappa