Mandala Pooja celebrations continues for a period of 41 days. It begins from the first day of the Malayalam month of Vrishchikam [November-December]. This culminates on the eleventh day of Dhanu [December-January]. During this period, the devotees make pilgrimages to the famous shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala. As a tradition, those visiting Sabarimala also visit the temple at Guruvayur. Mandala Puja signifies 41 days of austerities. The main Mandala Puja is conducted on 41st day after the 1st of Vrichikam.
Rituals and Traditions:
Vrutham or austerities are the essential components of Mandal Puja. They are strictly followed by the orthodox and traditional people. Austerities prescribed are difficult. Especially for those who take pilgrimage to Sabarimala shrine on Mandala Puja or on Makara Sankranti.
Ideally, Vruthum last for 41 days when devotees must lead a simple and pious life. Vruthum begins from the day the devotee wears Tulasi or Rudraksha Mala with Lord Ayyappa’s locket. Vruthum continues till the devotee makes a pilgrimage to Sabarimala and removes the Mala. The devotee is referred to as ‘Ayyappan’ or ‘Swami’ while he has the Mala on. In this period, the devotee should keep his mind and body clean and pure. The devotee must restrain from indulging in worldly pleasures. The devotee must not smoke or consume alcohol and non-vegetarian food. The devotee must abstain from sex. The devotee must offer prayers twice in the day and should not hurt the feelings of others. It is believed that proper Vruthums help to cleanse the soul of a devotee. Also, pilgrimage without proper vruthums is not advisable. Girls and Women between the age of 1-9 and 50 above are also eligible for vruthum. They are known as ‘Malikapuram’ [The Shakti of Lord Ayyappa].
Mandalam comes to an end with ‘Kalabhaattam’ when a mixture is poured on the deity. The mixture consists of sandal paste, saffron, camphor and rose water. This mixture is offered annually by only the Zamorin Rajas who are privileged.
Celebrations at Guruvayur:
Several special ceremonies are organized at Guruvayur, even abhishekam with panchagavya, is held all day. Panchagavya is made of five products from cow including milk, curd, ghee, urine, and cow dung. People believed that panchagavya has cleansing properties. During Mandalam period, festivals include Guruvayur Ekadasi, Melpathur statue installation day, Narayaneeyam day and Kuchela day.