Season 4 of Sabarimalai started with a visit to the Bhagavathy Temple at Chottanikkara. It was here that I had first come face to face with what is popularly known as Vedi Vazhipadu. Vazhipadu loosely translates to a type of poojai or an archanai or a ritual. Vedi Vazhipadu is a ritual bursting of a fire cracker as a mark of prayer. The process starts with you registering you Vedic identification i.e., Name, Gotram, Nakshatram (Star) and Raasi ( Zodiac) at the counter, pay the fees and BOOOM! Somewhere in the background goes off the firecracker sponsored by you. To be honest, the word firecracker is too mild, it is more like a ton of TNT being blown to smithereens in the vicinity. It was late in the evening in Chottanikkara when I witnessed this ritual underway. The nearby trees were chirping with maybe thousands of cacophonous birds which were possibly calling it a day and retiring for a peaceful night. Imagine somebody blowing off a 100 kiloton bomb in your house while you are asleep? That is what it must have felt for the birds once the Vedi Vazhipaadu with someone’s name on it was put into action. A prayer which can cause so much distress to hapless birds is no prayer, it is cruelty. By the way it would come as no surprise to you that Vedi Vazhipaadu is a feature at Sabarimalai too, both at the trek route as well as the Sannidhanam. And just to helpfully jog your memory along, Sabarimalai is bang in the middle of the Periyar Tiger Reserve Forest! Why a firecracker to mark a prayer you ask? Beats me too! I mean I don’t see a fire cracker benefit anyone except maybe a few people in Sivakasi, assuming these are sourced from the Firecracker and Matchsticks Capital of India. I hope better sense prevails and this practice is done away with. Failing which I hope a PIL does it for us!
As you start the ascent of the Sabarimalai from Pampa, you climb a hill named Neelimalai. A popular song about this says, Neeli malai yettram, Sivabalanum yettriduvan! (Lord Siva’s son, Ayyappan, will help you climb Neeli malai, Welcome) Truer words have never been spoken or sung. Neeli malai is indeed a hard one to climb. The initial kilometre or so is a breeze. Post which the hill takes an incline sooooo steep that had it been a few more degrees vertically, I would have officially redesignated the trek as rock climbing! Climbing the Neeli malai though is the easier part of the exercise. You gasp for breath; you feel you are going to have a heart attack or the end is near. Don’t worry. The much touted second wind will see you through it. So will the healthy helpings of medicated water that is served along the trek. These of course are the times when you bless the hours you put on the treadmill in the friendly neighbourhood gym. But what no gym prepares you for is the Neelimalai yerakkam, the descent. The toes keep applying the brakes and the knees keep stepping on the accelerator simultaneously. After very step! Initially your knees listen to the toes albeit reluctantly but sooner rather than later, it rebels from the oppressive regime that the toes are and declares Poorna Swaraj, Total Independence! By the time you reach Pampa post your descent, your toes, feet and knees have more disagreements with each other than Tamilnadu has with Karnataka on Cauvery!
One of the interesting features of the visits to Sabarimalai is the presence of many pigs at the Sannidhanam, some of whom were of the four legged variety. From what I experienced during this visit, I must concede the four legged ones were far better behaved and disciplined than the two legged creatures. I was later informed that the four legged version that I saw were not actually pigs but wild boars. I apologised to them. However I found them less wilder than the two legged species, more hygienic than them too, whom I will continue to categorize as pigs! During my four seasons at Sabarimalai, I have arrived at a back of the envelop estimate of the behaviour pattern of the devotees to Sabarimalai on parameters ranging from their commitment to Swachch Sabarimalai and Pigs or Boars stakes. The toppers on both counts are the Kannadigas. The Malayalees get the Silver and the Bronze medal goes to the Tamils. I won’t embarrass the wooden spooners by revealing their identity. All I can say is that there aren’t many Naarth Indians floating around the Sabarimalai, this time of the year and hence not everything that is wrong with South India can be blamed on Amits! (This rating is strictly based on my personal experience. Devotees from the recently bifurcated state are free to disagree with me!)
If I found the Vedi Vazhipaadu quite disconcerting, I found another Vazhipadu very interesting. It is called Shatru Samharam Vazhipadu. One can translate it as ‘Prayer for the destruction of the enemy’! While I had seen this ritual happening at Sannidhanam during my previous visits too, I was forced to take a closer look at it this time around as the Junior insisted that he would like all his enemies vanquished by participating in this ritual! What enemies can a 11 year old have was a question that was brushed aside by him as he forced me to reach for the wallet to make my contribution for ‘Operation Shatru Samharam’! Post the usual Vedic Introduction, the ritual started. And believe me it was music to my and his ears! Take a look!