Sabarimala, the world’s greatest annual pilgrimage center is located on a hilltop in Pathanamthitta district of South Indian state Kerala. A visit to this world-renowned secular shrine is grand enough to give you spiritual as well as physical ecstasy. It’s a journey to realize your soul
The abode of Lord Ayyappa (a Hindu God), Sabarimala Sree Dharma Sastha Temple, is the most visited pilgrimage center in Kerala. A signature of secular ethos, this Sastha temple is situated on a hilltop (about 3000 feet above sea level) called Sabarimala in Pathanamthitta district of South Indian state Kerala. Cutting the barriers of religion, caste, and creed the temple is open to all human beings. With an estimated 45–50 million followers visiting every year, the Sabarimala Temple is marked as the largest annual pilgrimage center in the world. The Sabarimala pilgrimage season is commonly called mandalakaalam
Once there was a powerful demoness called Mahishi, as per the Hindu mythology. Lord Ayyappan was destined to kill Mahishi, and he had to act. After killing the demoness, Ayyappan had a meditation at Sabarimala. The temple is situated amidst 18 hills surrounded by mountains and dense forests. Sub-temples exist at many places in the surrounding areas like Nilackal, Kalaketi, and Karimala, remnants of old temples survive to this day on remaining hills.
One can identify a Sabarimala pilgrim easily as they wear a black or blue dress. Women between the ages of 10 and 50 are not allowed to enter the temple since the story attributed to Ayyappa prohibits the entry of the women in the menstrual age group. This is because Ayyappan is a Brahmachari (Celibate). The temple is open for worship only during the days of Mandalapooja (approximately November 15 to December 26), Makaravilakku (January 14- “Makara Sankranti”) and Vishu (April 14), and the first six days of each Malayalam month.
Erumeli Sastha temple is another important meeting place in Sabarimala pilgrimage. Ayyappas goes to Sabarimala after worshipping at Erumeli and Vavarunada. Erumeli temple is located about 38 kilometers south of Kottayam.
The name Erumeli is extracted from “Eru AK Olli” (Killed the buffalo). The myth tells that Lord Sree Ayyappa Swami killed “Maharishi”, means buffalo in English and “Eruma” in Malayalam and hence the name extract “erumakolli”. All devotees going for Sabarimala Pilgrimage visit this place. There are two temples in this town of Lord Ayyappa and Famous Petta Thullal is there in November, December & January months.
East to Sannidhanam, there is another temple dedicated to the Vavar (a Sufi and friend of Lord Ayyappa) known as ‘Vavarunada’. It is highly acclaimed as a symbol of religious harmony. Vavar is considered as the companion of Ayyappa. It is believed that Vavar swami is at the masjid. Devotes goes to Cheriya Ambalam from masjid and then go to the Valiya Ambalam. The visit to Vavarunada and Valiyambalam is done in the form a dance known as Pettathulal. This is done by coloring self, holding wooden bows and arrows. The myth is that during the killing of Mahishi, the local tribals had helped Ayyapa Swamy and post the killing, they danced in joy. Pettathulal represents the joy amongst the people. At the end of the season, there is a festival called Pettathullal.
Makarasankranti Day is a very special day for Ayyappa devotees. The day is the 1st of Makara (a month of the Malayalam calendar) which will fall between January 14 and 16. The day is known for its miraculous events.
It all starts with transporting the jewels (Thiruvaabaranam) of the Lord from the Old Pandalam Palace to Sabarimala. A holy Garuda – an eagle – the vehicle of Lord Vishnu, circles above the precious jewels like a protector. This rare eagle is rarely seen in the midst of people for a long period of time, yet the auspicious bird follows the Thiruvaabaranam procession, finally circling above Sannidhanam at Sabarimala nine times as it pays its respects to Lord Ayyappan.
It is believed that during this time, there is not a single star in the sky except for a special Nakshatram. When the jewels are finally all adorned on the Lord, the Nakshatram in the sky miraculously disappears. Within moments after the Lord being adorned with the Thiruvabaranam, an effulgence (Divya Jyoti) appears in the opposite hills of Sabarimala, shining three times. This hill is called Ponnambalamedu.
Devotees can view the Divya Jyothi from nine places in and around Sannidhanam. They are Sannidhanam, Pandithavalam, Pulmedu, Saramkuthi, Neelimala, Marakootam, Hilltop, Chalakayam, and Attathodu.
The King of Pandalam found a baby lying on the banks of river Pampa. As the King had no heir to succeed, the child was considered as a God-given gift and was thus named Ayyappa. So the baby was brought up as a prince. One of the major events associated with the Makaravilakku festival is the procession of the Thiruvabharam (holy ornaments) of Lord Ayyappa from the Sastha temple at Pandalam.
The pilgrims have to follow a 41-day penance to clean their minds before going to Sabarimala. This begins with the wearing of a garland made of Rudraksha or Tulasi beads. The devotees should have to follow a vegetarian diet and should refrain from alcohol, and tobacco, engaging in sex, haircuts, and shaving. The journey to the temple is to be taken through difficult paths in the forest as the vehicles can go only up to Pampa.
The beautiful and popular Ayyappa song Harivarasanam is recited before closing the temple door every night. Harivarasanam song, which is sung at Sabarimala as a lullaby at night (Urakkupattu) was composed by Sri Kambangudi Kulathur Srinivasa Iyer. It is said that Srinivasa Iyer used to recite the composition, after the Athazha Puja, standing in front of the shrine of Ayyappa in the main temple. The composition has 352 letters, 108 words in 32 lines (8 stanzas).
The nearest town and railway station is Chengannur (12 km).
Other famous Sastha temples related to Mandalakalam are Kulathupuzha Sastha temple, Achancoil Sastha temple and Aryankavu Sastha temple.