he main offering to the deity Swaami Ayyappan, after observing the 41 day austerities, is the ghee filled coconut that is carried on one’s head in an offering called an “Irumudi”, which means a bundle tied with two knots and which has two compartments. Here it is clearly appreciated how philosophy reinforces ritualism where an external dramatization of the internal attunement of the mind-intellect equipment to reach the Lotus feet of Lord Ayyappaa.
In the first compartment is a ghee-filled coconut and in the second is the devotee’s personal items and food. The personal belongings of the individual represents past karma that is used up in this lifetime before merging with God. Irumudi symbolically represents the body and soul of the devotee. The ghee filled coconut represents one’s divine self which is offered in the form of “abishegam “that is bathing the deity with the ghee extracted from the coconut. This symbolically represents the individual soul merging with the supreme soul, that is the Bhaktan (devotee) and Bhagavaan (God) become one. The husk of the coconut, representing the body, is discarded in fire just like the body is cremated after death.
The carrying of the Irumudi on the head is significant in that it is in the head, which houses the mind, intellect and ego, wherein true change or transformation occurs. The ultimate aim of spiritual activity is to create a refined individual with new divine vision which leads to a fulfilled life of peace, success, joy, immortality and eternal bliss, making our inner life “more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal and truly more human”.
As the devotee carries this offering on the head the ghee-filled coconut compartment rests on the forebrain area (anterior part of the head) which is associated with intelligence and the development of the intellect (the ability to discriminate between right and wrong, good and bad, etc). The second compartment with the devotee’s personal belongings lies in contact with the cerebellum of the individual, which is situated in the posterior aspect of the head. This area in the brain is associated with physical balance and this contact with the Irumudi symbolically represents the yearning of the devotee to strive for perfect balance in all spheres of living. This balance between the material and spiritual aspects will bring tranquility, peace, harmony, joy and bliss.
The austerities and pilgrimage inculcates devotion (bhakthi), equality of all man before God and, tolerance. Devotees that carry an Irumudi chant the celebrated three words “Swaamiyeh Saranam Ayyappaa” which means “at your holy feet Lord Ayyappaa is my refuge”. The devotees sing soul inspiring divine songs that express their willingness to undergo hardships and difficulties with joy in order to attain God realization.
The pilgrim treks through tall mountains and dense forests full of wild animals and suffers the physical strain of the walk through difficult territory. The pilgrimage to this forest temple, the dangers and delights of the adventurous and arduous trek represent the trials and tribulations, pains and pleasure, happiness and hardship, the admixture that makes up our worldly existence. The vision of the deity at the end of this journey represents our final purpose and destination which is God Realization. The external pilgrimage is the outer mode of the inner process. When the pilgrim has intense faith and devotion, his every step towards the shrine removes the inner obstacles from the inward path and draws his soul nearer and nearer to the blessed abode of the Lord within.
All devotees bath in the holy enchanting Pambaa River before ascending the hill. This represents the culmination of the spiritual cleansing and the birth of a new divine individual who has only the thoughts of the vision of the ultimate reality represented by the Deity, Lord Ayyappaa, in their minds.