Glorious flight of eighteen steps
According to the tenets of Sanatana Dhama the number 'eighteen' is of much spiritual significance. It is the symbol of success. Climbing up the sacred steps leads to successful culmination of the pilgrimage. In the vernacular it is called, Satyamayya Ponnum Pathinettampadi' signifying that the sacred eighteen steps represent the ultimate Truth. Further, the eighteen steps stand for (‘Five Indriyas, Eight Ragas, Three Gunas and Vidya and Avidya'. Ayyappa Darshan is made possible only after scaling these eighteen steps. The implication is that God-realization is attained only after the aforesaid features of human life are stepped over.
Before placing his foot on the step, the devotee pays obeisance to it and breaks a coconut smashing on it. Breaking of the coconut is symbolic. The coconut is the symbol of three gunas - Satwa, Rajas and Tamas. The outer shell of the coconut stands for Tamas, the kernel for Rajas, and the sweet water inside for Satva. By breaking the coconut, the shell and the kernel are broken to several pieces and the water spreads over the step. This signifies that the inferior gunas of Tamas and Rajas are destroyed, the superior guna of Satva becomes one with the ultimate Truth. Having freed from the shackles of trigunas, the aspirant becomes eligible to climb the steps towards Etermal Bliss. The devotee puts his right foot on the first step and proceeds upwards concentrating the mind on the Lord.
On mounting up the eighteenth step, the Deity in meditative pose with patlabandha, a belt around the folded legs and chinnludra, the forefinger of the right hand touching the thumb and the stretched left arm resting on the knee-cap, welcomes devout devotees ready to confer on them innumerable boons. The devotees then circumambulate the temple, visiting the shrines of Lord Ganesha and Lord Karthikeya in the meanwhile. Then they rest for a few minutes, while formalities for the Abhisheka of the ghee filled in the coconut (pouring of the ghee over the idol) are done. After the ghee is emptied out of the coconut, a part of it is given to the devotee as 'Prasadam'. Needless to say, the quantity of ghee brought by millions and millions of devotees for abhisheka is immeasurably large. The ghee is deposited in a big reservoir built in the shape boat a boat. One piece of coconut out of which the ghee is emptied on the idol is flung into a pit of enormous size down at 'the foot of the hill in which fire blazes round the clock. Camphor also is seen burning continuously on a platform just near the temple.