Sabarimala Sree Ayyappa
Temple is one of the most ancient and prominent Sastha temples in the country. The temple is situated on a hilltop (about 3000 feet above sea level) named Sabarimala in Pathanamthitta district, Kerala. Sabarimala Sri Dharmasastha Temple is one of the few Hindu temples in India that is open to all faiths.
.It is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world with an estimated 4–5 million devotees visiting every year. Sabarimala is believed to be the place where the Hindu God Ayyappan meditated after killing the powerful demoness, Mahishi. Ayyappan’s temple is situated here amidst 18 hills and is surrounded by mountains and dense forests. Temples exist in each of the hills surrounding Sabarimala. Sabarimala is linked to Hindu pilgrimage, predominantly for men of all ages. 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 Bramachari (Celibate).
The pilgrimage :
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. The devotees are expected to follow a ‘vratham’ (prior) to the pilgrimage. This begins with wearing of a special Mala (a garland made of Rudraksha or Tulasi beads). In general from then they are to refrain from non-vegetarian food of any kind (except dairy) alcohol, and tobacco, engaging in sex, using foul language, hair-cuts and shaving. They are expected to bath twice and visit the local temples regularly and only wear plain black or blue coloured traditional clothing.
Hundreds of devotees still follow the traditional mountainous forest path (approximately 52 km) from Erumely, believed to be taken by Ayyappa himself. The part starts from Erumely to Aludha river, then crosses the Aludha mountain to reach Karivilam thodu. Now comes the sacred Karimala crossing, from there to Cheriyanavattom, Valliyanavattom and finally Pamba River. Then they have to climb neelimala and we enter into the ganesh bettam, shreeram betta padam.Aranmula kottaram is one of the halt place of holy journey ‘thiruvabharana khosayatra’. But many people use vehicular traffic which can go till the Holy Pamba River by an alternate road. Thereafter, all the pilgrims have to follow a mountainous forest trekking path approximately four kilometers up a steep hill (Neeli Mala) to Sabarimala. This path, now developed, with shops and medical aid by the sides, used to be a mere trail through dense forest.
There is no clear evidence as to when the pilgrimage to Sabarimala began. After the installation of the temple, it was mostly unreachable for about three centuries. One of the kings in a later generation rediscovered the original path to reach Sabarimala. He had many followers with him, including the descendants of the Vavar family. They refreshed their resources at Erumely and this marked the beginning of the famous Petta Thullal at Erumely. They laid down their arms at the place today known as Saramkuthy. Those who are on their maiden visits to Sabarimala thrust arrows at this place. The temple was then renovated. In 1821 AD, the kingdom of Pandalam was added to Travancore. 48 major temples including the Sabarimala temple were also added to Travancore. The idol was erected in 1910. .In 1950, unidentified persons destroyed the temple by breaking the ‘Sri-kovil’ and the main idol of worship, and set fire to the temple. The temple also conflagrated in 1971 and underwent a major revamping.
Festivities at Sabarimala:
The pilgrimage season in Sabarimala commences from November 14 and extends to January 19 till Makara Vilakku. During this period, millions of Ayyappa aspirants converge on the tiny temple complex from all over India. Also the temple is open for brief spells during certain Malayali festivals like Onam and Vishu. All through the year, monthly poojas are offered at Sabarimala, usually during the first of week of every Malayalam month (which actually falls in the middle of each English month); the shrine is open for the first five days of every month.
The most important festival at the Ayyapppa temple on Sabarimala is Makara Vilakku. It is a seven-day festival, beginning on the day of Makara Sankranthi, the day when the sun is in summer solstice. According to legend, the idol of Dharma Shastha was enshrined in the temple on this day. The annual festivities of Makara Vilakku commemorate this sacred event.
The jewellery to adorn the idol during the celebrations is brought from Pandalam Palace in a ceremonial procession that starts from Valiya Koyikkal Sastha Temple at Pandalam, three days prior to Makara Sankranthi. The boxes containing the sacred jewels are borne by an oracle; the procession reaches Sabaripeettam in the evening on Makara Sankranthi and is led to the Sannidhanam to the accompaniment of lights and music. Incidentally, a kite appears in the sky at this very moment and hovers around the boxes, as if to safeguard the precious cache comprising a diamond diadem, gold bracelets and necklaces embedded with precious gems, Lord’s swords, silver arrows and images of elephant, horse and leopard fashioned out of gold.
Another highlight of this festival is the appearance of Makarajyothi that leaves an indelible impression on the millions who view it. The poojas and rituals associated with Makara Vilakku are performed on the Manimandapam (sacred platform) adjacent to the Devi’s shrine. A picture depicting Lord Ayyappan on the back of a tiger is placed on the podium.
Afterwards, Malikappurathamma is mounted on an elephant’s back and taken in a procession of torch bearers, drummers and buglers to Pathinettampadi (18 holy steps). The procession stops abruptly as the Vettavili (call for hunting) is given out and returns, circumambulating the main temple. Makara Vilakku ends with the ritual called ‘Guruthi’, offering made to appease the god and goddesses of the wilderness. None remains within the temple and its precincts after the ‘Guruthi’.
Other important festivals celebrated at the temple include Onam, Mandalapooja and Vishu Vilakku.
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. With the efforts of Swami Vimochanananda, it came to be accepted as the lullaby by the Thantri and melshanthi. The composition has 352 letters, 108 words in 32 lines (8 stanzas).Though there have been many versions of this song sung by many renowned vocalists, the temple plays the rendition by K. J. Yesudas, composed by the renowned music director G. Devarajan, which is in the ‘Madhyamavathi’ raga of Indian Karnatic music. Harivarasanam is written in Malayalam.
This significant ritual involves pouring sacred ghee brought by pilgrims in their Pallikettu or Irumudi (A two compartment bag made of handwoven cotton cloth used to bear the offerings for Sabarimala Temple by the devotees and carried on their heads)on the idol of Lord Ayyappa. It symbolically means the merging of Jeevatma with the Paramatma.While a Saffron coloured Irumudi is used by a pilgrim on his first journey(Kanni Ayyappan) to Sabarimala, others use black or Navy Blue coloured Irumudi.
The prasadam at Sabarimala temple is Aravana payasam and Appam. These are prepared by using rice, ghee, sugar etc. The rice needed to prepare prasadam at Sabarimala is supplied by Chettikulangara Devi Temple, the second largest temple under Travancore devaswom board situated at Mavelikkara.
Travel Information :
By air : Thiruvananthapuram International Airport (170 km) and Cochin International Airport, at Nedumbassery, Kochi (160 km) are the nearest airports.
By Train : Chengannur (90 km) is the nearest Railway station. Direct Bus services to Pathanamthitta and Pamba are operated from Chengannur Railway Station.
By Bus : KSRTC has started operating buses to Coimbatore, Palani and Thenkashi from Pampa for the convenience of the Sabarimala pilgrims. Besides, the Government of Tamil Nadu & Karnataka has been given the permission to operate buses to Pampa. A chain service exists between Pampa and Nilackal base camp.