18 Holy Steps
18 HOLY STEPS AT SSVT
SSVT is one of the few temples in the world with
sanctified Eighteen Holy Steps leading to the Ayyappa Shrine. Ayyappa devotees in North America, who are unable to go on
pilgrimage to Sabarimala, now have the unique opportunity of coming to Sri Siva Vishnu Temple and climbing
the Eighteen Holy Steps with Irumudi and have holy Darshan of
Lord Ayyappa. All devotees who observe the Vritham and carry the Irumudi can climb the
Many refer to the Ayyappa Shrine at SSVT as the 'Sabarimala of the West'. During the Mandalam Season, Ayyappa devotees from all over the US and Canada undertake the strict Vritham which culminates in climing the holy steps and having the Nirmalaya Dharshan of the Lord.
At SSVT Padi Puja is performed 2 times a years : on the first day of the
Ayyappa Mandalam Season (Mandala Arambam) and during the Temple
festival (Samvastara Mahotsavam). Each of the 18 steps are decorated with
bright colored cloth, flowers, coconuts, bananas and lamps. The priest recites
special prayers to the indiavidal steps one by one. The devotees
participate in this special puja by singing Bajans and PadiPattu (songs
describing the 18 steps). The culmination of the Padi Puja is an enthralling
sight - with all the lamps, the lit camphor and the flowers.
THE EIGTEEN HOLY STEPS
(Reprinted from Ayyappa Kumbabishekam Souvinier)
Sri Ayyappa Temple has 18 Holy Steps from the ground level to the sanctum
sanctorum where the deity resides. These steps are considered holy because they
are regarded as the extension of sanctum sanctorum.
The number 18 itself has great significance in Hindu philosophy. There are18
chapters in Bhagavad Gita; there are 18 Puranas; there are 18 battle techniques;
Kurukshethra battle lasted for 18 days; Four Vedas, 6 Sutras, 5 Senses and 3
deities add up to 18. There are different interpretations to the significance of
the 18 Holy Steps.
In one interpretation, the first seventeen steps symbolize the seventeen
Vasanas(human traits) and the eighteenth step, symbolizes the last stage of
evolution to the status of a Gnani.(An individual who has achieved the ultimate
state of enlightenment. The bad Vasanas have accumulated for generations and
have to be eradicated by a slow and steady process. The good Vasanas have to be
carefully cultivated. The combination of the elimination of the bad Vasanas and
the development of the good Vasanas enables one to attain the level of a Gnani.
To achieve the level of Gnani, one should have Internal Purification and
- Agnana (Ignorance) or Avidya(Illiteracy). In this
stage a person is equivalent to an animal. The only way to evolve from this
stage is by association with people better than oneself.
- False Prestige.
Every human being is different from the next, and maybe inferior or superior
to every other person in one way or another. However no one should have the
opinion that one is superior to anybody else. This is a bad vasana, which has
to be eliminated in the early stages of a person's evolution, which is why it
represents the second step.
- Dambh (pride).
Elimination of this bad vasana is the next stage, symbolizing the third step.
- Spite. Human
beings have a tendency to blame others for any and all misfortunes and harbor
ill will towards others as a result of this misconception. The sooner a person
can get rid of this vasana the better of he will be.
- Crookedness. is
the next vasana which has to be overcome. This trait is said to be developed
as a result of one's previous karma (deeds/misdeeds) and the only way to
attain freedom from this vasana is by worshipping God. Kama(sensuousness) is
the next vasana which has to be curbed by exercising extreme physical and
- Kroth(anger) is
a bad vasana and to surmount this tendency one should worship God and seek His
Grace and Guidance. Bhayam(fear or cowardice) is bad vasana which very
difficult to control. Absolute faith in the God Almighty can help to surmount
fear. Shokam(sorrow) is caused by the tendency of human beings to be attached
to worldly possessions and the weak minded are more susceptible to this
vasana. Spiritual development can destroy this vasana.
- Kshama(patience) is a good trait which can be
attained only by the Grace of the Lord Almighty and can be sustained by
continual worship of the Lord Almighty.
another good vasana. By simply practicing the philosophy that someone else's
need is greater than one's own, a person can attain this good vasana, which is
represented by the ninth step.
- Shanthi (calmness) is the sister vasana of kshama, which can be achieved by
satsanga(company of the good). Janapriathwam(to love all people alike) is
achievable through Agnana yoga(enlightenment).
- Akrodham(no anger) is very difficult to achieve and God's Grace can help one to
attain this stage Vairagyam. This vasana has two interpretations. It is the
absence of worldly desires or passions , indifference to the world ,
asceticism, or it could mean sincerity of purposes, in which case a person
would be successful in whatever activity he undertakes. In either case it is
good vasana to have.
- Nirlobha, which
is the ability to be able to do the right thing at the right time, to the
right degree, without overestimating or underestimating.
is a trait which should be cultivated to such an extent that one should be
willing to sacrifice one's owns needs to fulfill the needs of another. Charity
should not be exercised as a means to gain name and fame.
- Gnanam(Enlightenment) This final stage, symbolized by the
eighteenth step, is attained when one is in tune with Brahma.
18 Holy Peaks: Another belief is that the 18 steps
represents the Sabarimala and the 17 other peaks that surround Sabarimala.
- Mayilaadum medu
The 18 Holy steps are the holy pathways for the Jeevaatma to reach the
Paramaatma. Jeevaatma has to cross the 18 virtues to merge with paramaatma. The
Holy steps 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 represent the 5 Panjendriams: (Smell, Hearing,
Sight, Taste and Touch). The Holy steps 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 represent
the 8 Ashtaragas: Kamam, Krodham, Lobham, Moham, Madam, Matsaryam, Thanbha and
Asuya. The Holy steps 14, 15 and 16 represent 3 Gunas: Thamas, Rajas and Satva.
The Holy step 17 represents Vidya and the Holy step 18 represents Avidya. By
observing stringent vruthams (austerities), the Ayyappa devotees called Ayyappas
and Malikappurams, purify their body, mind and intellect and achieve the
ultimate sanctity to make pilgrimage to Sabarimala carrying on their head the
Irumudi containing the Pooja items, to climb the 18 holy steps and have the
Darsan of Lord Ayyappa.