The eighteen sacred steps leading to the Ayyappa temple in Sabrimala is called Pathinettam padi. There is a lot of significance attached to these eighteen steps and different texts have different opinions on this matter. We try to present some of the widely accepted beliefs about the significance of the sacred eighteen steps.
The number eighteen has an important place in Hindu tradition. The first Veda which was delivered by Lord Brahma is said to have 18 chapters which was later divided to create four vedas by Sage Veda Vyasa. The four vedas Rigveda, YajurVeda, Sama veda and Atharva veda each had 18 chapters. Veda Vyasa also wrote 18 puranas and eighteen upapuranas about this. Also the Bhagavad Gita has 18 chapter and the war of kurukshetra was fought for 18 days.
The eighteen steps at Sabrimala is believed to represent the 18 puranas.
It is also said to represent the 18 mountains in the Sabrimala region which are Ponnambalamedu, Gowdenmala, nagamala, sundaramala, Chittambalamala, Khalgimala, Mathangamala, Myladummala, Sreepadamala, Devarmala, Nilakkalmala, Thalapparamala, Neelimala, Karimala,Puthuserrymala, Kalakettimala, Inchipparamala and Sabrimala.
It is also believed that Lord Ayyappa had 18 weapons with which he destroyed evil and these steps denote the 18 weapons that he used.
It is also believed that these steps represent the elements of Bhoomi, Agni, Vayu , karmendriyas, Gnanendriyaas and Jeevathma Bhava.
Hence Ayyappa devotees who wear the Ayyappa Mala and take the deeksha are allowed to climb the eighteen holy steps leading to the main temple. It is said that the devotee would get the blessings of all the elements in the world by merely climbing these sacred eighteen steps at Sabrimala Ayyappa Temple.