Sabari Mala — The metamorphosis in the years

A question that stormed into my mind on returning from the trip.

I don’t remember the number of climbs I’ve finished to the holy peak so I can’t really boast about it, but every time I’ve been to Sabari Mala, there’s been a good darshan, and a change brought in terms of making the trek an easier one.

I remember when I walked the hill for the first time (the technical term is kannisamy), I underestimated the task heavily, ended up pausing at every yard of the climb and underwent a crisis inside; the first half of the hill was a road of stones and ascending hair pin bends (called neelimalai) and the second half was a pretty flat road but filled with pointed and tiny bits of rocks. It was pretty exhausting for me as a first timer and brought me the acute pains in the calf muscles and the knee that lasted for a few days. Nevertheless, I managed to finish the trek, owing to my father’s reverse psychology technique in motivating me (he continuously I-thought-you-were-better-than-this-ed and i-was-better-than-you-at-this-age-ed me, worked like a charm) and my brother’s physical support (in carrying the irumudi up for me, bless him).

I was invited by my father the next year for the trip, which I agreed to readily (the trip wasn’t just the trek, it meant a great social network and the heavenly Palakkad food, which I was and still am in love with) and this time I was mentally prepared for whatever I was to encounter. As began the league of surprises; this time it was the cementing of the latter half of the path that was full of rocks. The ascent became much easier and I managed to reach the peak in about half the time I took last time.

The subsequent trips brought in the news of the increasing dolleys (people who carry incapable pilgrims to the summit), the rise of tractors and dolleys to ferry pilgrims’ luggage, the bio toilets set up in the hill way, and more recently it was the plastic-free environment of a more hygienic Sabari Mala. (I couldn’t get a single water bottle in the temple campus, there were dispensers set up at every meter)

I must say that my most recent walk was hassle-free and very less tiring, and I never had an after-trek effect of any sort. My trip mates said that it was the transition of me into a more experienced climber in the years, but I was pretty sure that it was only one of the reasons.

Now let’s come out of my diary and explore something. The fact that the exponential increase in the pilgrims number in the years does have its roots in the transformation of the trek into a much simpler one and the many services and facilities provided to them. The question that ran into my mind on the way home was this — is making the Sabari Mala journey easier a healthy step towards bringing in more pilgrims, or does it weaken its image of being once a godly task, and one that required a tremendous amount of devotion and survival skills?

Sure, there have been commendable measures in terms of making the temple up the mountain a safer and more habitable territory, and this can be the governing board’s reaction move towards the increasing footfall. The initiative towards roping in more visitors is well appreciated, but only as long as the real experience of the hill trek is not tarnished.

Maybe we can wait for time to answer this or hear from Lord Ayyappa Himself when he appears to bless us this Makara Sankranti.

(Image courtesy: MyTempleApp)