Pathinettam Padi (18 Holy Steps) and the Significance of the 18 Steps:
Before one views the Sanctum Sanctorum, one has to climb over eighteen sacred steps. These steps are now covered with `Panchaloham’ (a special composition of gold, silver, copper, iron and tin. Pilgrims initiate their ascent up the Pathinettam Padi by placing their right foot on the first step. The symbolism of these 18 steps is as follows:-
The first five steps symbolise the five human senses (Panchendriyas) i.e. visual (vision), auditory (hearing), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste) and tactile (touch). These signify the `mortal’ nature of one’s body.
The next eight steps symbolise the eight Ashtaragas viz, Kama, Krodha, Lobha, Moha, Madha, Maltsarya, Asooya, Dhumb (Love, Anger, Avarice, Lust, Pride, Unhealthy Competition, Jealousy and Boastfulness).
The next three steps stand for three Gunas or Thrigunas (nature-born qualities) i.e. Satva, ( perspicuity, discernment) , Rajas (activity, enjoyment) and Thamas (inactivity, stupor).
The last two steps represent Vidya (Knowledge) and Avidya (Ignorance).
The details given above represent the most prevalently accepted version of the significance of the Holy Pathinettam Padi. Other versions are:-
Ayyappa was a master of 18 weapons and the steps signify these.
Ayyappa before merging into the idol at the Sanctum Sanctorum, surrendered his 18 weapons, one at each step of Pathinettam Padi.
The steps represent the 18 hills existing in and around the region of Sabarimala.
Pathinettapadi (18 divine steps) to the sanctum sanctorium is divine in all aspects. Initially the 18 steps were made of granite. It was later covered with Panchaloha in the year 1985 to prevent it from deterioration. As per the tradition, ONLY those who undertake the penance for 41 days and those who carry the IRUMUDI on their head are allowed to use the steps.
Eighteen is considered as the code number to break into the soul of the Nature. The significance of 18 can be traced back to the Vedic age. The first Veda, believed to be protected by Lord Brahma himself, had 18 chapters. Later, Veda Vyasa divided it to create the four vedas: Rigveda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharava Veda. Each of these vedas had 18 chapters.Veda Vyasa also wrote 18 puranas and 18 upa-puranas. The Bhagavad Gita has 18 chapters and the Kurukshetra war lasted 18 days
There are many mythological stories associated with the holy Patinettampadi.
- Some believe the eighteen steps denotes the 18 puranas.
- Othere believe it represents the 18 mountains in the Sabarimala region: Ponnambalamedu, Gowdenmala, Nagamala, Sundaramala, Chittambalamala, Khalgimala, Mathangamala, Myladummala, Sreepadamala, Devarmala, Nilakkalmala, Thalapparamala, Neelimala, Karimala, Puthuserrymala, Kalakettimala, Inchipparamala and Sabarimala
- Others are of the belief that the first five steps denotes the indriyas (eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin). The next eight steps signifies the ragas (tatwa, kama, krodha,moha, lobha, madha, matsraya, and ahamkara. The next three steps signifies the gunas (satwa, rajas and thamas). The seventeenth and the eighteenth denotes vidhya and avidya (ignorance).
- The first three steps depict “Bhoomi, Agni, Vayoo & Akash”, 6 to 9 steps for Karmendriya, 10 to 15 for Jhanandriya, 16th for mind 17th Intelligence and 18th Jeevathma Bhava. Those who cross all these steps are believed to achieve “Punyadarshan”.
- Some say that 18 weapons with which Lord Ayyappa destroyed the evil denotes the 18 steps.
The steep steps are so important and holy that no one can climb them without fasting for 41 days and carrying the holy irrumudi on ones’ head.
Before ascending or descending the steps, pilgrims break coconut as an offering to the steps. One needs to have the sacre Irumudi on head while going up or down the 18 steps. While descending the steps the devotees climb down backwards facing the sanctum sanctorum.
One who climbs the Patinettampadi for 18 times shall plant coconut sapling in Sabarimala.
Built on a plateau about 40 feet high, the Ayyappan temple commands a lofty view of the mountains and valleys all around. The ancient temple has been rebuilt after a fire in 1950. Within the confines of the sanctum sanctorium with a copper-plated roof and four golden finials at the top, two mandapams, the belikalpura which houses the altar, the flag-staff replacing the earlier stone image of the deity, sits a beautiful idol of Ayyappa in panchaloha, an alloy of five metals, about one and a half feet tall.