By any standards, pilgrimage to Sabarimala is not easy task, especially for people like me who are used to luxuries of modern lifestyle. It is just the ardent devotion that helps a person to commence on arduous journey, year after year. Strength of devotion is the only word that I can think of, for explaining my own personal experience related to pilgrimage. I still marvel as to how could I have travelled, by foot, a distance from Erumeli to Sannidanam, which is reported to be about 60 kms, in about 12 hours time! The fact is, experiences, which might otherwise be perceived as hard, fail to dissuade pilgrims.
In the true format of pilgrimage, it is preceded by 41 days of vrata. This helps to prepare devotee to undertake the pilgrimage in terms of physical health, mind control, and spiritual orientation. During this time, devotees adopt practices of Bhakti Yoga like as part of Sravana, Kirtana, Smarana, Paada Sevana, Archana and Vandana. These help pilgrim to keep his mind focused on devotion, away from its usual digressions. Keeping himself in service of others, it also helps him identify himself as a servant (Daasya) and friend (Sakhya) of others (every living being)
Commencement of is marked by a ritual called ‘kettunira’. During Kettunira, coconut is filled with ghee with utmost devotion. This coconut is now called ‘mudra’, which roughly translate to mean ‘symbol. This coconut is a symbol of self, cleared of its routine digressions and focused on God. This is taken in a bag called Irumudi, along with other things required for worship as well as to undertake the journey
Pilgrimage is undertaken as a team, everyone helping one another and spending time in utmost devotion. Hard uphill journey is made easier with the help of team members, and members from other team who volunteers to help. When it gets so hard that we just cannot continue, yet continues, we experience the power of ‘Aatmanivedana’ through the invisible, all-powerful hands. Reaching Sannidanam above holy 18 steps is a special experience in which ego dissolves in the divine glow of self-realization