A Few Facts about ‘Ayyappa Puja’ Celebrations: My Experience in Hyderabad, India

 India is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. It is a pluralistic society that in no other countries can be found. Besides its many religions and sects, India is home to many castes, tribes, and linguistic groups. Religious minorities of all sects, including Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains, still account for a significant proportion of the population. All the festivals of different religions are observed with full gaiety in India. As per the Hindu religion, also known as ‘Sanatan dharma,’ many celebrations and Pujas are performed. The people in the world are aware of Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali, Dusshera/Durga Puja and other celebrations. In addition, many devotees, mainly from the southern part of India, visit 'Sabarimala Sree Dharma Sastha Temple', dedicated to Bhagawan Ayyappa/ Ayyappan, which is the most famous and prominent temple located in Kerala. The temple is situated on a hilltop (about 3,000 feet above sea level) named Sabarimala in Pathanamthitta district. There is a place near the temple, east of Sannidhanam (the abode of Bhagawan Ayyappa), dedicated to Vavar (a close friend of Bhagawan Ayyappa) which is called Vavaru Nada, an epitome of religious harmony.

Anyway, before going to Sabarimala, devotees/ pilgrims have to observe celibacy for 41 days. I wish to mention that those who observe for 41 days take ‘Mala,’ which means they must follow some rules and regulations. Further, instead of calling by the name of a person, addressed as ‘Swami. Once taking ‘Mala,’ the devotee has to observe certain principles. These inter alia are- sleeping on the ground, wearing a special blackish dress, moving bare-foot (no chappal, etc. wear), one-time food, i.e., lunch with rice and other vegetarian items, in the evening as tiffin other items not rice, of course, fruits can be taken anytime and no non-veg during this 41-day. All gents, irrespective of age are allowed to visit the Sabarimala temple, and girls before puberty can visit and take ‘Mala’. 

I am from the eastern part of India, but last three decades, I have been living in Hyderabad. After I retire from the Central Government Institute, Hyderabad, I am staying by purchasing a villa in the Suncity of Hyderabad, which is known as 'Libdom Villa Campus’ Raj Reddy Valley. This is spread over an area of 17 acres with all modern facilities. It is pertinent to mention that Libdom has been derived from two words – Liberty, 'Lib' and Freedom, 'Dom' and finally, the word is  “Libdom.” Around 190 families stay on the campus, representing a mini-India as people from different states live here. Also, people have different faiths, so all the festivals of different religions are celebrated with gaiety. 

On this campus, some people, from time to time, took ‘Mala' as part of Ayyappa puja to visit Sabarimala.

 In 2023, I had the opportunity to visit two families because, as a part of the visit to Sabarimala, they invited two different periods for Prasadam and lunch as a part of Puja celebrations. It is pertinent t to mention that inviting lunch as a part of puja celebrations to 'Swamis' and guests is not mandatory. According to economic capability, anyone can do it. Anyway, One was by Mahesh Reddy (49 years), who himself took ‘Mala,' and another was by Rudrasena Reddy (47 years), whose two sons, namely, Rishikesh Reddy (20 years) and Akhilesh Reddy (17 years), accepted 'Mala.' As a part of the puja celebration, both (Mahesh Reddy and Rudrasena Reddy) on different days invited my family members and me, along with 'many 'Swamis' and guests. From morning onwards, 'Bhajan -kirtan',(“singing to glorify God/Bhagawan), mainly focussing on Ayyappa, started followed by 'Aarati 'and other rituals'. After completing all the rituals, lunch, with many items (all vegetarians), was offered to the guests, and initially, 'Swamis' were served food; later, other guests were served lunch. I was told many 'Swamis,' instead of staying in their home, stay in temples day and night, and thus, they spend 41 days in temples where there are provisions for sleeping and cooking for all. They take common food and pass the timeby chanting 'bhajans' etc. 

I have presented brief facts based on primary and secondary sources so that readers can understand 'Ayyappa puja celebration'. 

Prof Shankar Chatterjee, Hyderabad