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 – 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

Sabarimala Pilgrimage – Maladharana

This is the first part of the series on Sabarimala Pilgrimage, Maladharana process and vrata anushtanas

You can read the Second part of the series on Sabarimala Piligrimage by clicking this link => Kettunira or Pallikattu

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

Maladharana begins the entire process – A Guruswami would put a Mala (Tulsi or Rudraksha beaded Chain) to the Devotee on 1st day of the Vrischika masa (this year, 2019 it is on 17th November). Generally a simple procedure carried out in a Temple. The devotee would first take blessings of his parents and elders by offering them a Dakshina (Betel Leaf with Nuts, and a Coin with the top of the leaf pointing towards the recipient) touching their feet, individually. Nothing of the Dakshina once given to a person should be use again for others.

Mala can be worn either in the Puja room at home or in the family temple or in some temples close by or even in Bhajan Mandali/Mathas that are set up during the season.  If it is worn on 1st day of Vrishchika Maasa there are no restrictions on timings or day of the week, but avoiding Rahul Kala is advisable. If it is some other day due to any reasons,  it is advisable that Mala is not worn on one’s Janma Nakshatra. Puja is performed to the Mala after Shuddheekarana and placed at the feet of the deity and then worn.

Puja to the Divine
Seeking Blessings of my Guru
Mala Puja
Mala Dhaarane

The following is chanted 18 times while wearing Mala

Jnanamudraam Shaastramudraam
Gurumudraam Namaamyaham
Vanmudraam Shuddhamudraam
Rudramudraam Namaamyaham
Shaantamudraam Satyamudraam
Vratamudraam Namaamyaham
Shabaryaashrama Satyaena
Mudraampaatu Sadaapimaem
Gurudakshinayaa Poorvam
Tasyaanugrahaena Kaaranae
Sharanaagata Mudraakhyam
Tanmudraam Dhaarayamyaham
Shabaryaachala Mudraayai
Namastubhyam Namo Namaha

It is customary to directly go home, if Maladharana is performed anywhere outside home (like in Temple or Bhajana Mandali/Mathas). Visiting hospitals, hotels or homes where any death has happened is to avoided. No Funeral rites can be performed or participated in, while you have worn Mala. Avoid sleeping during the day time. Bhasma (Vibhooti) is applied on the forehead in the morning after wetting the same.

The Mala is never removed at any cost, until the Pilgrimage is completed. You would now be referred to as Swami and you would address all other adult males (whether Swami or not) as Swami, women as Malikappuram and children as Manikanta.

Swamis would wear black clothes (blue, saffron are other options) Avoid any kind of Cosmetics or other such adornments. You will lead a very frugal life as a Swami in terms of material needs and even food. You will not Shave or cut your nails

You would strictly practice Celibacy (Bramhacharya) & total refrain from any kind of Sexual activity (even mentally) during the entire Vrata period. You will eat only Vegetarian Food and generally have regular meal only once a day and snacks for the other

You start your day with a bath (preferably cold water to get used to it and as a help during pilgrimage) and perform a Puja before you undertake any other activity. Food has to be cooked after bath and consumed thereafter. In case any family member cooks for you, ensure they do after their bath

When you return home, you will bathe again and perform your puja in the evening. It is advisable to join other Swamis for a Bhajan session in a Mandali or in any Temple (I assure you, this is one of the best experiences of the whole process)

Shasta Puja and Deeparadhane in a Devotees Home
Shasta and the Holy 18 steps – Tastefully decorated

Lalji Nagar Ayyappa Temple, Bengaluru
Ayyappa Bhajan by our Team in Lalji Nagar Ayyappa Temple, Bengaluru
Ayyappa Bhajan by our Team in Lalji Nagar Ayyappa Temple, Bengaluru
Ayyappa Bhajan by our Team in Lalji Nagar Ayyappa Temple, Bengaluru

While it is not really mandatory to do these, in order to withstand the rigours of the Pilgrimage and get our body (and mind) get used to it :- Avoid wearing footwear (as the holy Sabarimala is trekked barefoot), Sleep on the mat/floor and if possible cook your own food.
(SPECIAL NOTE: Work is Worship. If you work in hazardous aread or in factories, you may not be able to enter the premise without your safety gears, including footwears.  Please do wear all safety gears including uniform to avoid any injuries, which would in fact jeopardise your Pilgrimage. Any tradition and rules for this is to establish a comfort level to gear up to rigours of the Pilgrimage and today Sabarimala is far improved in terms of infrastructure, you get accomodation, the trek path is made well)

Penance or Vratam should be Manasa, Vacha and Karmana – Establish purity in Thoughts, Speech and Actions. Every single act of ours as Swami, should be Purity and Sacredness personified.

It is essential that we undertake a penance for 41 days prior to Irumudi rituals (Kettunira). Without Irumudi, you will not be allowed to do the most important and significant part of Pilgrimage – Going up 18 Holy Steps. Why leave that blissful Experience

During the entire process, we avoid even visual contact of ladies menstruating in order to prevent any harm to them. (Due to Sadhana and Vrata a Swami exudes high energy which may adversely affect ladies during those days) EMPHASIS – NOT DUE TO IMPURITY

During the entire period of Vratam, Swamis shall refrain from Alcohol, tobacco or any such intoxicants. Mental Strengthening & control is the very purpose of Vratam. Everyone would be treated respectfully and be worthy of the reverence accorded to the Swamis by others

Please inform all the devotees, restriction on Women Entry has nothing to do with Impurity at all, it is only due to the Naishtika Bramhachari nature of the Deity here, in #Sabarimala No other temples of Ayyappa this such restriction

Credits: Some contents extracted from an article by Sri PCS Menon that appeared  in October 2019 Edition of Sree Ayyappan Magazine, published by Akhila Bharatha Ayyappa Seva Sangam.

However, please go by what your Guruswamy prescribes.