Kerala is a land of temples. And Sabarimala is one of the best known pilgrim destinations in Kerala. Situated high up in the Sabari hills of Sahyadri at a height of about 914 m above sea level (Western Ghats), it is a hill shrine amid luxuriant forest. This shrine dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, popularly worshipped as Swami Ayyappan is visited by millions every year and is the most famous and prominent among all the Sastha temples. Sabarimala is believed to be the place where Lord Ayyappa meditated after killing the powerful demoness, Mahishi.
Sabarimala is a popular pilgrim centre in India. Located towards the east of Pathanamthitta district in Kerala, the Sabari hills are part of the world famous Periyar Tiger Reserve.
The annual pilgrim season to this hill shrine begins in the month of November and ends in January. The temple attracts pilgrims not only from Kerala, but from other parts of India and also foreign nationals. From the Sabari hills rise the chanting of thousands of pilgrims during the annual pilgrim season from November to January.
MandalaPoojaandMakaravilakku are the two main events during the pilgrim season. The temple at Sabarimala stays closed during the rest of the year except for the first five days of every Malayalam month and during the auspicious day of Vishu as per the Malayalam calendar. The sighting of Makaravilakku, the divine light that appears on the hillside of Ponnambalamedu, a nearby hill, located opposite the temple, on a particular day during the Makaravilakku season is considered very auspicious.
Pilgrims before proceeding to Sabarimala has to follow strict codes of lifestyle A pilgrim attending the Mandalapooja should observe austerities for 41 days. During this period, the pilgrim should abstain himself from non-vegetarian food and carnal pleasures.
When the time comes to proceed, pilgrims usually proceed in groups led by a person, who takes the place of guru swamy (a veteran pilgrim to Sabarimala). Each pilgrim proceeding to Sabarimala will carry traditional offerings in a cloth bundle, which is called as irumudi kettu.
Unlike certain Hindu temples, Sabarimala temple has no restrictions of caste or creed. The temple is open to males of all age groups and to women who are not in their fertility age.
The temple at Sabarimala can be accessed via many traditional routes. For those who enjoy a bit of trekking as part of this pilgrim trip can reach the shrine from Erumeli, which is located about 56 km southeast of Kottayam town. Traditionally, at Erumeli, prayers are offered by the pilgrims at the Lord Dharmasastha temple and also at the nearby mosque dedicated to Vavar Swamy.Vavar, a Muslim was a great warrior and intimate friend of Lord Ayyappa. An important ritual at Erumeli is petta thullal, in which pilgrims dance holding wooden branches. The trek to the hill shrine via Erumeli is physically demanding. Pilgrims will have to trek about 45 km before they reach Pamba, from where it is about 5 km to the shrine.
And for those who are least interested to bear the hardships of trekking, they may reach Pamba via Chalakkayam by vehicle. Pamba is the main halting point on the way to Sabarimala.
Pilgrims on reaching River Pamba take bath in its waters, which is considered holy. It is followed by prayers and offerings on the river bank, before they proceed to climb the Neelimala hill to reach the temple. After offering prayers at the Ganapati Temple at Pamba, the pilgrims climb the Neelimala hill, chanting the heroics of Lord Ayyappa and praising His divine powers and love toward His devotees.
As one climbs the Neelimala, one would pass through the Appachi Medu followed by Sabari Peetam, where the woman saint Sabari, who sat in meditation during the period of Lord Rama. Here, pilgrims pay their obeisance to the saint before proceeding to the temple of Lord Ayyappa.
Proceeding from the Sabari Peetam one would reach Saramkuthi. The word saram in Malayalam means arrow and kuthi means pierced. Here, a pilgrim going to Sabarimala for the first time, known as a kanni ayyappan, leaves the wooden arrows that he had picked from Erumeli.
From Saramkuthi, after about a 15-minute walk, one reaches the Pathinettampadi or the holy 18 steps. The steps covered in gold are a magnificent sight and pilgrims praise Lord Ayyappa in chorus while climbing the eighteen steps with the irumudi kettu - the cloth bundle containing offerings for Lord Ayyappa, which they carry on their heads.
Upon reaching the sanctum sanctorum, pilgrims would have their offerings placed before Lord Ayyappa, pray and seek His blessings.
The pilgrimage to Sabarimala is unique. Millions turn up at this hill shrine in Kerala every year.
The Sabari hills are home to some of the luxuriant forests, grasslands and a variety of wildlife.
Nearest railway station: Thiruvalla, about 102 km
Nearest airport: Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, about 180 km