What is Mandala Mritham
The mandala vritham prepares a devotee both physically and mentally for the journey. To that effect you’re required to observe the following during vritham (and there’s a reason for each one):
- Take bath in cold/ lukewarm water twice a day – you don’t get hot water in the forest! Pray/ meditate to Lord soon after bath (twice a day) – prepares you for the mental journey
- Don’t consume alcohol, tobacco, etc. – these are detrimental to the physical strength required (imagine you won’t be doing these if you were training for marathon either)
- Substitute one meal with only fruits (for breakfast / dinner), eat rice only one time a day (lunch/ dinner), eat chapathi (or something else) to round out the meals – this prepares you for the little food you get during the trek not wearing footwear – you need to walk barefoot for the 60kms over the rocks!
- Sleep on the floor without pillow – you don’t get beds in the forest!
- Observing most of the above in the United States may not be a problem. There are a few more that’s observed for a different reason:
- Wearing black/saffron/blue clothes along with thulasi mala (with Ayyappa’s pendant)
- Not clipping nails, cutting hair, shaving, etc.
Ayyappa is a bramachari and is in a meditation pose in Sabarimala – you don’t want to disturb him (hence girls above 10 years of age and women upto 50 years of age are not allowed to climb Sabarimala). That’s good for Ayyappan, but what about people like us who need to move around in a society consisting of wife, sisters, daughters, relatives, co-workers in the above age? Since maintaining celebacy is of utmost importance, people who are in vritham withdraw themselves from the above group in 2 ways (1) by making themselves “unattractive” by not cutting/ combing hair, growing beard, nails etc. (2) letting the women know to stay away from them by wearing black/ saffron/ blue clothes, wearing mala with Ayyappa pendant, etc.
But is it possible to observe these in US? We need to temper it to make it practical. We can’t go to work with unkempt hair or without footwear. It’s okay to cut hair, shave, wear footwear (I’ve seen some Ayyappas announce in their work about the Vritham and grow a beard!). Outside of work, observe the austerities where possible – wear the black/saffron/ blue clothes at home, don’t wear footwear at home (we don’t do this even otherwise), don’t shave during weekends, don’t go to parties or others’ houses (who are not observing vritham – they could cook meat in their home for e.g.), don’t eat at restaurants (if you’re not traveling), go to temple at least once a week, etc. The main requirement is for you to keep your mind pure by only thinking of God and work and nothing else.