Padi puja is a unique ritual at Sabarimala where the Tantri performs the ritualistic puja to all the eighteen steps individually.
Actually the padi puja is not the puja to the physical 18 steps but the puja is for the 18 deities who preside over each of the eighteen steps.
The devatas of 18m padi are very secretly maintained and not revealed to anyone. But every year during mandala season, news papers like Maalai Malar start a comedy show by putting the list of devatas of 18 padi (of their own) like Rahu, Ketu, Ranganathan (?? !!) etc.. We can view this entertainment show every year.
Since the list was a secret I was very reluctant in sharing it with anyone... Then I remembered an incident from my own life where a Deva Rahasya was once revealed to me by a Siddha Purusha and when I asked whether I can share this, he very gladly accepted saying it must reach the Bhakta Lokam.!
So I decided to apply the same rule here and with a conviction that, even if one true devotee is happy reading my Bhakta Paripala's glory, Iam sure my Guru who revealed this secret, will forgive me for mentioning it.
Each step has a presiding deity. Each of this devata has a separate dhyana swaroopa, moola mantram and puja method. The details of the Dhyana and the Sankalpa of the 18 deities are below:
(Iam not giving the dhyana sloka and moola mantra here... Certain things Ive made only a hint... So read between the lines to have a better understanding)
On the whole we consider Satya Dharma on either side of the 18 stepms and mentally offer salutations to them using their moola mantra for the 18 steps
Step 1 Naga Yakshi
Nagayakshi is one of the paripara devatas of Sastha and she is stationed at many of his temples like Kulathupuzhai, Achan kovil etc
Onnam Thruppadiye Sharanam Ayyappa
Step 2 Mahisha Mardhini
Mahishamardhini is Durga Swaroopini an infacther advent took place before Swami's Manikanta incarnation and she annihilated Mahisha and Manikanta destroyed his Sister Mahishi
Rendam Thruppadiye Sharanam Ayyappa
Step 3 Annapoorna
Sastha is Annadhana Prabhu and is very happy in the pious deed of feeding all his devotees - always. A Sastha devotee is never in want of food - throughout his life time.
Moonam Thruppadiye Sharanam Ayyappa
Step 4 Kaali
Kali is the Goddess of time and change representing both the creative and destructive aspects of Nature. S
he helps those who strive for knowledge of self.
Naalam Thruppadiye Sharanam Ayyappa
Step 5 Krushna Kaali
Krishna Kali is one such deity with whom devotees have a very loving and intimate bond, in spite of her fearful appearance. She is known for destroying ignorance.
Ancham Thruppadiye Sharanam Ayyappa
Step 6 Shakti Bairavi
Shakti Bhairavi is the ugra swaroopini of Shakti and she is known more to the devotees as the famous Yakshi - who is seated in the court of Lord Sastha
Aaraam Thruppadiye Sharanam Ayyappa
Step 7 Kaarthaveeryarjuna
Kaartha Veeryaarjuna is an Amsha of Sudharshana Chakra. He got Satha Upasana from his Guru Datta and obtained many great powers and rose to a level of God
Ezhaam Thruppadiye Sharanam Ayyappa
Step 8 Krushnaabhan
Krishnabhan is more popularly known as Karuppan. He is the cheif of all the Bhootaganas of Sastha's Bhootha sena. He is seen in almost every Sastha temple in Tamilnadu and few age old temples of Kerala.
Ettam Thruppadiye Sharanam Ayyappa
Step 9 Hidimba
Hidimba is one of the chief warrior but also the preceptor born in the clan of Asuras. He is seated as the guardian deity of the ninth step.
Onpadham Thruppadiye Sharanam Ayyappa
Step 10 Vethala
Vethala is considered to be the head of Ghost and Goblins and in an amsha of Bhairava. Sastha is Bhoothanatha who controls these Ghosts and hence Vethala is one among his parivara.
Pathaam Thruppadiye Sharanam Ayyappa
Step 11 Naagaraja
Nagaraja is the king of the Serpants. In general Anantha is considered to be the King of the Naga Kingdom and he is stationed at the eleventh step here to destroy the Sarpa doshas of the devotees
Pathinonnam Thruppadiye Sharanam Ayyappa
Step 12 Renuka
Renuka is the Mother of Parasurama who was killed and later resurrected by Parasurama. After the death of Jamadagni, Revana Siddha gave her Sasthru Deeksha at Padavedu and she is stationed here.
Pantrendam Thruppadiye Sharanam Ayyappa
Step 13 Swapna Varahi
Swapna Varahi is a form of Vartali who gets pleased with the devotees and comes and guides the devotees through dreams.
Pathimoonam Thruppadiye Sharanam Ayyappa
Step 14 Pratyangira
Pratyangira is Ugra Swaroopini who is very much forceful in action and her primary duty is to protect the upasakas of Para Devata
Pathinalam Thruppadiye Sharanam Ayyappa
Step 15 Bhooma Devi
Bhoomadevi is the consort of the Varaha Moorthi. She is Dharma Swaroopini and represents Kshama- forgiveness. Holding a paddy sheaf in her hand, She also indicates prosperity
Pathinancham Thruppadiye Sharanam Ayyappa
Step 16 Aghora
The following there are Astra Devatas. Ever ready for prayoga against the evil. Agora is one of the Astra of Shiva which he created to destroy the Tripurasuras. It can grants worldly good and salvation to the soul.
Pathinaram Thruppadiye Sharanam Ayyappa
Step 17 Pashupatha
Pashupata is Shiva's personal asta and a most forceful one. It can even be discharged by eyes, words or mind. Its capable of destroying anything and can even stop creation.
Pathinezham Thruppadiye Sharanam Ayyappa
Step 18 Mrutyunjaya
Mrutyunjaya is yet another Astra which gives eternal state to the aspirant. This is not just to live a healthy life and get rid of ailments. This conquers mrutyu - the permanent state of existence; Thats knowing the self; being self; Thats Thathwamasi.
Pathinettam Thruppadiye Sharanam Ayyappa
And IMHO Padipuja is again unique to Sabarimala and I dont know how far its right to repeat it at other places. This is because - the 18 steps are installed at Sabarimala as a Prathishta by Deva Sankalpam. We dont know exactly on what sankalpam these steps were installed and hence you cant repeat it elsewhere. (and Since the 18 steps are guarded by these devatas you need proper Vrutham to qualify yourself to please the devatas of each step and step your foot on the padhinettam padi)
At all other places the 18 steps are built (and not installed as a prathishta) and so the question of doing padipuja does not arise. (Today we see padipuja at many places - especially at Andhra and I saw a padi puja done for temporary 18 steps built with bamboo sticks !!! )