He visits Sabarimala every week, but not to pray
For any devout Hindu in Kerala, a pilgrimage to the Sabarimala temple is a must, but not for Surendran, a local tribal. He has been visiting the temple every week since the past several years -- not for prayers but to collect rice offered by devotees.
Situated on the Western Ghats mountain ranges at an altitude of 914 metres above sea level, the Sabarimala temple is four kilometres uphill from Pamba in Pathanamthitta district, which is around 100 km from the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram.
The trek for pilgrims from the base camp is through dense forests.
"Yes, I come here practically every week but am yet to pray before the deity," Surendran told the media in a mix of Malayalam and Tamil.
Surendran, in his 30s, said the main purpose of his visit is to get some rice brought by the devotees as an offering to the deity.
Surendran lives with his mother in the dense forest surrounding the temple and the trip from his home to the temple takes around three hours.
The peak two-month season in Sabarimala begins on the first day of the Malayalam month of "Vrishickam", which began Nov 16.
During this season, Surendran is a happy man because thousands of pilgrims come to pay obeisance to the deity.
During the other months, the temple is open only for a few days.
Surendran is also popular among forest officials, who at times give him food when he visits the temple.
"The complete trip takes around five hours. So far, I have not been attacked by any wild animal. Maybe, it's because I am also living like them in the forests. I am not sure if the animals will behave the same way with any new visitor to the forest," he said.
Being a tribal, he has access to the forest produce. His only source of income is products like wild honey and frankincense (aromatic resin obtained from a tree).
Surendran collects the items from the forest and sells them at Attathodu, a small village near Pathanamthitta.
(Posted on 23-11-2013)