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Thoughts on Discipline in the Rigorous Sabarimala Pilgrimage

An Ayyappa devotee undertaking the pilgrimage to Sabarimala Temple has to observe several austerities for 41 days – a mandatory cleansing of the body and mind. M S Neelakantan writes in expressbuzz about the discipline involved in the pilgrimage, how secularism is not taught but practiced at Sabarimala and why the pilgrimage is tough for women.

The pilgrimage to Sabarimala brings home some military management lessons that are taught theoretically for a fee in the B-schools.

Sleeping on the bare floor with just a bed sheet, cooking his own meals, cleaning up the vessels along with washing his costume — the black dhoti and the black angavastram. No shaving and no haircut transforms this man. Instilling the importance of personal hygiene and discipline is the practice of waking up early morning to have a cold water bath with one in the evening in the months of December and January is not welcome but has to be done as is walking barefoot; the body and mind learn to accept hardship coming out of the comfort zone of luxuries. A virtual ‘boot camp’ experience.

This regimen brings home to the man the hardships his wife has to face in being a home-maker transforming the male chauvinist into a responsible partner, father. This is the ethos of this mandatory practice.

Secularism is not taught but practised since the ‘Ayyappan’ irrespective of his religion has to carry the customary offerings for Vavar swami — The Lord’s Muslim lieutenant’s worship following which the Ayyappan may proceed to his objective. There again he has to wait in a queue to await his chance to climb the 18 steps of the temple reached after negotiating hills, forests and the Pampa river. In all, a ‘commando course’ for the non–faujis.

Sleeping in the open in the forests, walking the hills, sans toilet facilities with the wild animals nearby is no place for a woman.