An ode to Kumbakonam

A Pilgrimage to Sabarimala (1)

On one of our visits to the Kumbeswara Temple (the famous temple after which Kumbakonam is named), I saw a few men, dressed typically in black, shouting “Swamiye Aiyyappo, Aiyyappo Swamiye” in unison. They were huddled up together on the floor and one elderly man was tying some things in a cotton cloth bag. I hadn’t seen this before but at once, I knew what was going on. I had heard several times from my mother the descriptions of what I was seeing. These were devotees of the Hindu God Aiyyappan and were going to Sabarimala (a mountain in Kerala, on top of which is the most famous and significant Aiyyappan temple in the country). My mother’s father was a devout follower of Aiyyappan and has undertaken this journey to Sabarimala for 40 continuous years while he lived. Her brothers have also been on this journey many times.  So instead of asking Google about it, I decided to ask my mother to narrate all she knows. Today, I feature her on the blog as she narrates a custom she holds very close to her heart and has seen from close quarters over the first three decades of her life. Here is what she has to say…

“Pilgrims undertake this journey in groups. Each group is led by a GuruSwamy, someone with most experience of having gone to the pilgrimage. He is in charge of the other pilgrims and offers guidance in all matters. In many ways, he can be called the leader of the group. All major decisions are made by him and it is he, who performs the necessary customs marking the beginning and end of this pilgrimage.

On a side note, this is a unique kind of pilgrimage in that it is not restricted by religion. Devotees of any faith and religion are allowed to go on this pilgrimage to worship Lord Aiyyappan.

To undertake this pilgrimage to Sabarimala, the mountain in Kerala, the devotees need to observe a fast of either 48 or 60 days. On the first day of the Tamil month of Karthigai is when the devotees wear the mala i.e. they wear a beaded chain around their neck made out of a thick stem of Tulsi (Holy Basil). Devotees are typically all men as women between the age of 10 and 60 are not allowed to go on this pilgrimage, which is an arduous journey.

Once the devotee wears the mala, he is expected to observe a fast for 48 or 60 days, as I said before. The rules of the fast are rather lineant in that they eat twice a day, once in the morning and once early evening (after a bath and a visit to the temple before each meal) as long as the food is freshly cooked, vegetarian and doesn’t contain certain elements like onion and garlic. The devotees are also expected to practice celibacy during this entire period…”


In the next post, my mother describes the events that lead to the pilgrimage and how the devotees prepare themselves for the long journey ahead.


16 thoughts on “A Pilgrimage to Sabarimala (1)”

    1. Many thanks for your nomination, I’m very humbled 🙂 I will definitely check out your post!
      The next post on this series is out soon. I’m going you are enjoying it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Rituals are puzzling to outsiders, but also interesting. Just curious, are you a devotee? (Not sure what it means to be one, but it sounds as though it’s something only older men do)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Albert, I am barely religious! I qualify probably as an agnostic on some levels. I see in myself that I have faith, but I don’t think religion is my cup of tea.
      So no, I am not a devotee. Though I have seen these things around me in India, I find them just as puzzling as you but they interest me a lot. I am always curious to know about the different practices.
      On my visit to Kumbakonam when I saw these things, I thought of them as very ‘interesting’ and so they made it to the blog 🙂


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