The original 18 steps at Sabarimala - also know as "Pathinettu thripadikal", were granite blocks, five or six feet wide. However, they were so badly damaged by pilgrims who constantly broke coconuts on them that Travancore Devasom, the current governing body of the temple covered them with panchaloha after a lengthy Devaprashanam. The renovation work was completed in November, 1985 and now the holy steps are covered in gold.
Several myths persist regarding the significance of the Pathinettu thripadikal or the 18 holy steps, but almost all of them stress the importance of the number, 18. According to a popular belief, the first 5 steps signify the five indriyas or the senses (eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin), the following 8 the ragas (tatwa, kama, krodha, moha, lobha, madha, matsraya, and ahamkara), the next 3 the gunas (satwa, rajas and thamas) followed by vidya and avidya. Climbing these would take the devotee closer to self-realisation. The act of crossing the 18 steps is so sacred that nobody can mount them without undertaking the rigorous 41 day fast and carrying the irumudi. It is also widely assumed that the pathinettu padikal symbolize the 18 puranas; others believe that they connote the 18 weapons with which Lord Ayyappan obliterated evil.
An Ayyappa devotee crosses the Pathinettaam padi only twice during his sojourn on Sabarimala - for entering the temple and to go downhill. Before ascending or descending the steps, pilgrims break coconut as an offering to the steps. One needs to have the sacred Irumudi on head while going up or down the 18 steps and while descending the steps the devotees climb down backwards facing the sanctum sanctorum.