Sabarimala Pilgrimage – Kettunira or Palli Kattu

This is the second part of the Sabarimala Pilgrimage series. This part covers the Kettu Nira or Palli Kattu process.

You can read the first part on Maladharana Process by clicking this link => Sabarimala Pilgrimage ā€“ Maladharana

Disclaimer: There is no one right way for any of the processes of Sabarimala Pilgrimage. What is indicated here is the practice followed as handed out by my Guruswamy (my father and then my brother) over the years. Please follow what your Guruswamy prescribes

Irumudi (literally meaning Iru = two and Mudi = Knot/Bundle) is the second most significant material process after Mala dharana (material process differentiated from Vrata Anushtanas, which is essential and mandatory spiritual practice explained in the first part). Before we come to the ingredients, the front compartment is called Munmudi (the bundle in the front) This has offerings for Lord Ayyappa and other Deities in Sannidhanam. The rear compartment called Pinmudi (the bundle at the rear) has the ingredients meant for Pilgrim’s use enroute. There is a practice at some place to carry offerings for Vavar in the middle portion.

Munmudi Circled in Red, Pinmudi in Yellow
Munmudi Circled in Red, Pinmudi in Yellow
Munmudi Circled in Red, Pinmudi in Yellow

Ingredients of Irumudi

  1. Mudra Coconut/Theniganakayi/Thenga
  2. Ghee
  3. Kaani Ponnu (a Coin as offering)
  4. Golden Thaali (Mangalsutra) and Golden Choori (Dagger). This is offered only by a Kanni Swami, first time Pilgrim, a custom that we follow, and not seen others doing this.
  5. Betel leaf and Nuts
  6. Defibred Coconut (with water) – 3 nos
  7. Turmeric Powder
  8. Kumkum Powder
  9. Sandal Powder
  10. Puffed Rice (aralu/malar) (We carry it powdered)
  11. Vibhuti Powder
  12. Camphor
  13. Agarbatti
  14. Rose Water
  15. Rice
  16. Honey
  17. Jaggery Block (Acchu Bella)
  18. Paddy grains
  19. Turmeric Stem
  20. Black Pepper
  21. Sugar Crystal (Kal-sakkare)
  22. Sweet Rice Ball (Akki Unde)

Item 1-5 is offered to Lord Ayyappa,

Item 6 (1 coconut for breaking at 18 Holy steps while ascending , 1 coconut for Malikapurattamma and 1 for breaking at 18 Holy steps before we leave Sannidhanam after all processes.

Item 7-10 is for Malikappuram

Item 11-13 is for performing and offering Karpoora Deepam.

Item 14 Rose water is sprinkled on tired Swamis which acts as a good refreshing wash

Item 15-17 Rice, Honey and Jaggery (in the earlier days this rice was used for cooking enroute. With enough eateries that have sprung up, this is offered to Temple Authorities for preparation of Payasam or Vellari Naivedyam)

Item 18-21 For offering to Vavar Swamy

Item 22 is Offered into the forest at Apacchi Medu (as a feed at the abode of Bhootas, guarding the shrine)

Mudra Coconut: Process of preparing it for Filling ghee. This is the Coconut that is defibred and cleaned, water removed and Ghee filled during the Irumudi Kattu process. Extremely important offering for Lord Ayyappa as this is the coconut into which we fill Ghee for performing Abhishekam to the moorthi of the Lord.

Defibring Coconut: In the left hand is cocunut soaked to soften. It is then scrubbed against rough surface like stone till the fibres are completed removed and smoothened. Result is seen in the right hand
Defibring Coconut. Soaked in water after defibring

From those days when we had to soak the Coconut in water and keep scraping the coconut on rough surface like flat stone for atleast 15-20 minutes. It is this simple and quick now

Defibred Coconut soaked in water

The defibred coconut easily develops crack if not soaked in water As seen in photo above, once defibring is done coconut is soaked in water well until it is ready for draining of water within.

Piercing one of the three eyes of the coconut
Draining the coconut water after piercing the eye
Once it is totally drained, it is kept upside down to ensue it is completely drained
Defibred and drained Coconut kept for ensure complete removal of water.

Mudra Coconut or Thenginakai or Thenga is now ready for filling of Ghee during the Irumudi process

Significance of Mudra Coconut Thenginakkayi or Thuppada Kayi or Nei Thenga

Coconut represents the Human body that needs to be maintained in highest levels of purity since the Lord is Shuddha Chaitanya. Each Mudra Coconut signifies Physically, mentally and spiritually cleansed devotee who himself is called Ayyappa throughout, signifying oneness with the Lord and Lord not differentiating the devotee from Himself. Defibring signifies removal of external or physical impurities. The draining of sweetened water symbolizes the cleansing of inner sensual pleasures. Thus the container, the Body is now ready to accept and get filled with Life Source.

Filling of Ghee into Mudra Coconut (Called Nirakkal)

Ghee in general is used in most rituals due to it’s inherent Satvik qualities. Ghee is believed to have got created when Prajapati, churned it with his hands, and used it to spawn his own offspring. In short, ghee is tied into the most fundamental life forces. Thus filling of Ghee into defibred and sweet water drained coconut signifies a Bhakta purified at all levels of Existence and also complete state of surrender to the Lord. In Sabarimala, the Ghee is removed from the coconut by carefully breaking it and offered to Lord Ayyappa for Abhishekam and the coconut is offered to the fires of Homa Kunda. Again this symbolises mortality and limits of physical body which is perishable, but cleansed inner self in the form of Ghee reaches and merges with the God.

Irumudi kettu Nira or the process

A basic puja is performed to Lord Ganesha and Ayyappa and other Deities and a Mangalarati is offered to the lamp in front of which the Kettu nira is performed. It is always done by the Pilgrim under the guidance of a Guruswamy, who plays a critical role in the entire process. While the Irumudi kettu is in process, Continuous Sharana Ghoshams are chanted by the team and all present there.

Mangalarathi to set the process in motion

Mangalarathi to set the process in motion

Generally, during a pilgrimage as a group, Irumudi kettu nira starts with the Kanni Swami (the first time Sabarimala Pilgrim, if there are many, youngest among them starts).

Guruswamy helping the Kanni Swamy to fill the Mudra Coconut with Ghee

For those who cannot make the Pilgrimage for any reason, they can take a vow to send the Ghee filled coconut through one of the pilgrims. As a rule a Kanni Swami cannot carry extra Mudra Coconut. In case any of his/her family members have taken a vow, someone else in the group will carry it in the Irumudi on their behalf

Mudra Coconut being filled as a part of the vow. This malikappuram, the author’s daughter has undertaken Sabarimala pilgrimage with 41 days Vrata 9 times, before she reached age of 10. She is now ready to wait till 50 years of age

In a designated sequence, each of the ingredients are filled into the Irumudi bag/sanchi and knotted by the Guruswamy into a shape that can be easily carried on the head of the pilgrim.

Filling of rice

Importance of offering rice in Irumudi.

In the olden days, in dense forests from Erumeli to Sabarimala, there were no means of food other than what is carried by the pilgrims. The entire family of the Bhakta offers a handful of rice into Irumudi (our practice, not sure if everyone else does that) and that is used enroute at camps to make fire and cook as their food. These days, the rice is exchanged in Sannidhanam for Vellari Naivedyam (White cooked rice) which is consumed as Prasada by the Devotee.

Once, all the ingredients are filled into the Irumudi sanchi, Guruswamy performs the kettu, or knotting

Handing over completed Irumudi Kettu for Viri

This completes the Irumudi Kettu Process. Last person to perform the Nira and Irumudi Kettu is Guruswamy himself and thereafter a mangalarati is performed to all the Irumudis that are arranged (called the Viri)

Arati to all Irumudi that are in the Viri

Once all the processes are over, Guruswamy in the same order of Filling (Nira) places the Irumudi of the Pilgrim on their head. The Pilgrim offers a Dakshina to the Guruswamy prior to this and the pilgrim departs from the venue backwards, in order not to show his back to them lamp.

Kettu Enthal or carrying of Irumudi
A coconut is broken on the stone as we set off from venue of Irumudi kettu
A coconut is broken on the stone as we set off from venue of Irumudi kettu

And the Vahana Puja is performed once all pilgrims have boarded and they set off on to the Pilgrimage with continuous Sharana Ghoshams

We also have a practice of lighting a lamp to the stone on which the Coconut is broken during departure, every morning and evening by the family members. All conditions, reverence that is accorded to the Swamis on Vrat is accorded to this stone. This stone represents the entire group of pilgrims that have embarked on pilgrimage and the pilgrimage is considered over once they return and break a coconut on the same stone.

Note: I have attempted to explain the entire process based on my experience and practices handed over to me by my Guruswamies. As I write this piece, I am on vrat for my 54th Pilgrimage with my Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji’s blessings and Lord Ayyappa’s grace, leading a group of 30 Pilgrims including 5 Kanni Swamis.

Please let me know if there are any errors, I would humbly accept them and make the corrections

Swami Sharanam