Thursday, January 12, 2012


Lord Sasta, also popularly known as Lord Ayyappa is known to be the offspring of Shiva and Vishnu (as Mohini, in his female form) and is widely worshipped in Kerala. The most famous and well known shrine of Lord Sasta is the Sabarimala (mountain) situated at Kerala, India. Every year millions of people visit this shrine and seek the blessings of the Lord.

On 14th January every year, the Makara (Capricorn) star is shone on the sky, and a flickering flame (jyoti) appears on top of the neighboring hill, Kantha malai, and is considered to be celestial divine light. Devotees see this light as Lord incarnate and millions of people wait patiently to witness this beautiful sight.

At Mumbai (earlier Bombay), the Lord Sastha festival, known as Sasta Preethi is celebrated at several places. One of these, which I am writing about in this post is the Nurani Sasta festival which is being celebrated at Mumbai for the last 88years. Nurani, primarily is a small village in Palakkad, Kerala where this festival is being celebrated for long. Many of the people from Nurani who descended in Mumbai for a livelihood have been celebrating this festival at Mumbai to ensure the tradition is maintained.

The Sasta festival started in a place called Parel, Mumbai where most of the people from Nurani initially stayed as bachelors. Years later when most of them shifted to another locality in Mumbai named Matunga, the festival was celebrated at various halls namely Napoo Hall, Rambaug, Bhajana Samaj and finally at Asthika Samaj where it is being celebrated even today. The function consists of hymns (bhajans) being sung in the praise of the Lord to invoke his blessings. People in large numbers from distant places come for the festival which is held on the last Saturday of December or the first Saturday of January every year. Loud chants of ‘Saranam Ayyappa’ and ‘Sasta Saranam’ are heard, thus hailing the Lord for his bounty. People present their offerings to the Lord in the form of milk, coconuts, fruits and flowers.

Till the year 1991, at the end of the rituals, devotees were given neyappam/payasam (sweet preparations) as blessings from the Lord. In 1991, in remembrance of Shyamalam, brother of Dr. NS Doraiswamy), it was decided by Dr. Doraiswamy to serve food to all the devotees who came for the function.
This practice of serving lunch continued thereafter and even today the managing committee continues the practice of serving the devotees with delicious food which is a three course South Indian serving consisting of Sambhar, Rasam, Curd accompanied by rice and other side dishes. Payasam made of rice and milk and sugar/ jaggery is the favourite of one and all and is generally gormandized in true south Indian style( where the entire palm is covered with this delicacy and straight it goes into the mouth).

What a gastronomical delight this is? Proof of the pudding is in the eating. Till 1990, the festival was celebrated on Saturday evenings and since 1991, it is being celebrated on Saturday mornings. Around four hundred to five hundred people come for the pooja to invoke the blessings and partake in the afternoon lunch. Afternoon siesta is a must after getting drunk with DELICIOUS MOUTH WATERING PAYASAM and CHATACHATAYAM.

Another significant aspect of the celebration is the melodious singing of the bhajans (hymns) and some of the devotees are so much taken over by these bhajans that their whole body starts shaking and they lose themselves totally gripped due to their deep devotion. It is said that Lord Sasta appears to them and they get totally captivated by the Lord’s divine presence in them. Typically, this phenomenon has been happening to the family members of Late Capt. Chellappa and Kutty Mama. This year, Mani and Dorai of these families were totally gripped by the divinity of the Lord.

As is the case, there are always stalwarts who are behind the success and continuance of this festival which has been in existence for eighty eight long years. The pioneers were Nana Mama, Cheecha Mama, Chidambara Ayya, Paiyyan Mama, Appathorai Mama, Kutty Mama, Capt. Chellappa, NSV Iyer, Neelakandan mama, Natesan mama, Dr. Dorai, Sivarama Mama, Akka Konthai Mama, Keerai Ambi Mama, Kali Raasu, Aamu, Dr. Anand, and the like. The present committee has stalwarts like Ramani, Dr. Bharat, Seshan, Kuttan to name a few and they have been shouldering the responsibility with great élan. Kudos to these stalwarts for making this happen. If some names are missed out, it is unintentional and totally due to my ignorance. I am apologetic for errors of omission and commission.

This year the function was held on 7th January. The function, Sasta Preethi, as it is known, was always held on the same day both at Nurani, Pallakad, and at Mumbai. This year, however, a change was made and it has been decided that the Sasta Preethi at Mumbai will be held a week after the same is conducted at Nurani to facilitate people at both places to attend the functions. The function was a grand success this year and around four hundred people had attended the same.

Parashu a.k.a. Bhajji and Rajaram brought in the requisite energy and enthusiasm with their very presence and rendition of bhajans that proved to be the icing on the cake. Bhajji requires special mention since he left a special mark on the function and ensured that all of us present fully participated. We need more folks like Bhajji who can bring in this ‘infectious enthusiasm.’

Overall it was a grand festival and a day to remember. All of us were the recipients of Lord Sasta’s blessings, and I am sure that it would have spurred all those present to ensure that this festivity of Lord Sasta grows from strength to strength each coming year. I request all Nurani ites to send their comments and add details I have missed. Thanks.



Debra Lynn Lazar said...

Absolutely fascinating! And, once again, I have a mad craving for Indian food (my favorite!). Peace and love, Debbie

Varsha Naik said...

Oh I love Ayyappa pooja celebrations...we have them at Garodia Nagar, a small "southie" place in Ghatkopar

Kannan THE Seaman said...

I can't forget the time in the late 60s when my grandfather N.S. Krishnan was gripped by the Lord and started shaking and bouncing. I thought he would have a fit. But the devotion by all is something to see. Totally all encompassing and peaceful, something you don't get these days - PEACE!