The Pandalam Royal family has traditional rights over Sabarimala temple because of the foregoing events. One such privilege is keeping in safe custody the ‘thiruvabharanam’ or the divine and sacred ornaments of Lord Ayappa. The precious and holy jewelry to adorn the Lord during the celebrations of ‘Makaravilakku’, the grand finale of the pilgrimage period, is brought from Pandalam Palace in a ceremonial procession early morning on the 28th Dhanu (around 12th January), three days prior to ‘Makarasankranthi’, to the Valiya Koikal Sastha Temple at Pandalam.

The sacred jewels are kept in three wooden boxes and consist of a diamond diadem, gold bracelets, necklaces embedded with precious gems, swords, silver arrows and images of elephant, horse and leopard, all fashioned out of gold. The ornaments are then viewed and worshipped by a large number of devotees, who render offerings to them. The occasion is believed to be highly auspicious and beneficial. The procession then starts from Valiya Koikkal Sastha Temple in the afternoon of the same day.

The eldest member of the erstwhile Pandalam Royal family (known even now as Pandalam Raja or Valiya Thamburan!) leads the procession. Devotees in large numbers throng the temple and all along the procession routes to have a glimpse of the sacred boxes. Special poojas are conducted, ‘prasad’ distributed and ‘vibhuti’ offered to all, including those who carry the heavy boxes (they too observe strict austerities), The Raja then blesses the procession and, as a mark of delegation of his authority, hands over the ceremonial sword to his representative or envoy to escort the thiruvabharanam to Sabarimal Temple. The persons who carry the boxes then go round the temple three times before beginning their journey on foot to Sabarimala.

The excitement and fervour of the multitudes of people, the loud chanting of “Swamiye Ayappo”, the exploding of fireworks and the illumination -all take an onlooker to a world beyond himself. The magnificent occasion is further made unforgettable and surcharged with spiritual loftiness when the devotees looking up witness the hovering of the ?krishnapparunthu?(kite) far above in the sky as if Heavens themselves keep a watch on the goings on below and is considered to be a sure mark of Divine intervention.

Devotees believe that Lord Vishnu, riding on his vehicle Garuda, accompanies the “thiruvabharanam” from Pandalam to Sabarimala. It is indeed amazing that when the procession reaches Sabarimala, the kite is again sighted majestically hovering high up in the sky, which reinforces their belief. The people who witness all these amazing spectacles feel transported to a realm far above the mundane, material plane. The procession led by the royal personage, who is taken in a palanquin, then goes to Kaipuzha Palace in the northern bank of the River Achenkoil to seek the blessings of the eldest woman member of the erstwhile Pandalam Royal family and also offer prayers in the palace temple. From there onwards, the royal representative escorts the procession on foot. The royal entourage halts at Ayroor Puthiyakavu Devi temple for the night. All along the way and at the temple, devotees in large numbers accord receptions and pay their respects. The procession proceeds then in the same manner the next day and reaches Laha (Forest estate), where it halts for the second night. It again proceeds the next day along the traditional forest route and reaches Valiyanavattom (Pampa).

From there the Thiruvabharanam procession moves towards Saramkuthi and reaches Sabarimala in the evening of Makarasankranthi day (1st of Makaram). It is led to the Sannidhanam to the accompaniment of thunderous chantings of the huge crowd of Ayappa devotees and lights and devotional music. The doors of the Sanctum Santorum are closed and the Deity is adorned with these ornaments. The millions of devotees with bated breath now wait for the doors to open to have darshan of their Deity in His resplendent glory wearing these ornaments and shedding divine light. When the doors finally open, the divine frenzy reaches a crescendo and the sponataneous cry ?Swamiye Ayyappa: rent the air.

The Deeparadhana begins and soon another miracle takes place. A jyoti, a celestial star, appears on the eastern horizon and the multitude witness this rare phenomenon as yet another divine intervention. Contentment and fulfillment writ large on their faces, the devotees have nothing more to aspire for. They now prepare for their return journey, physically, mentally and spiritually refreshed and energized. Their only silent, but fervent, appeal to Lord Ayyappa is to bless them with a chance to make yet another pilgrimage to His abode next year.

After the Makaravilakku, the Sabarimala temple is closed for the season on the morning of 7th Makaram. The return procession of the Thiruvabharanam commences now. It takes the same route as it took on its onward journey and is again led by the representative of the King of Pandalam. The first overnight halt is at Laha Estate. The second day the procession reaches Perunadhu temple. (This temple was constructed by the Pandalam King and it was while staying here the King supervised the construction of the Sabarimala temple in days of yore.) The devotees continue to throng the procession both enroute as well as at the halting stations to have darshan of the holy boxes and to accord reception to it. On 9th Makaram, the procession reaches Aranmula Palace and halts for the night. The next day it reaches Pandalam and thus ends its eventful journey for the year.

It is evident that many events connected with ?Makaravilakku?, especially the “Thiruvabharanam” procession and “Makarajyoti” are unique and spiritually elevating experiences. Blessed indeed is he who is able to experience these divine spectacles even once!

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