Sabarimala stands as a prominent Hindu pilgrimage destination situated within the Periyar Tiger Reserve amid the Western Ghat mountain ranges in the Pathanamthitta District of Kerala. Positioned in the Perunad grama panchayat, it hosts one of the most significant annual pilgrimages globally, drawing an estimated over 100 million devotees each year.
The sacred site at Sabarimala is an age-old temple dedicated to Ayyappan, also revered as Sasta and Dharmasasta. In the 12th century, Manikandan, a prince from the Pandalam dynasty, engaged in profound meditation at the Sabarimala temple, ultimately merging with the divine. Manikandan is recognized as an incarnation of Ayyappan.
The temple allows worship on specific occasions, including Mandalapooja (around November 15 to December 26), Makaravilakku or “Makara Sankranti” (January 14), Maha Vishuva Sankranti (April 14), and the initial five days of every Malayalam month.
The Sabarimala Sree Dharma Sastha Temple, dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, holds a position of utmost distinction among all the Sastha temples in the state of Kerala.
Perched atop a hill known as Sabarimala, rising approximately 3,000 feet above sea level in the Pathanamthitta district, this temple boasts a unique location. What sets it apart further is its inclusivity, welcoming individuals from all religious backgrounds. In proximity to the temple, towards the east of Sannidhanam (the divine abode of Lord Ayyappa), one finds Vavaru Nada, a sacred site dedicated to Vavar, a close friend of Lord Ayyappa, symbolizing religious harmony.
Sabarimala’s distinctiveness doesn’t end there; it is not accessible year-round. Worship and pilgrimage are allowed only during specific periods, which include the days of Mandalapooja, Makaravilakku, Vishu, and the first day of every Malayalam month.
Pilgrims embarking on this sacred journey are expected to maintain celibacy for a period of 41 days beforehand. They can choose to traverse the traditional forest routes or opt for the relatively less physically demanding path from Pamba to reach the temple.
Sabarimala is a renowned Hindu pilgrimage center and temple located in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala, India. It is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, a revered deity in South Indian Hinduism, and attracts millions of devotees from all over the country and abroad.
Key features and significance of Sabarimala:
- Lord Ayyappa Temple: The Sabarimala Temple is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, believed to be the son of Lord Shiva and Mohini, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. Lord Ayyappa is worshipped as a celibate ascetic, and the temple is one of the few Hindu temples in India where entry is restricted to men between the ages of 12 and 60 years. Women who have reached the age of menstruation are traditionally not allowed to enter the temple.
- Mandalam-Makaravilakku Season: The temple opens for devotees during specific periods, mainly during the Mandalam-Makaravilakku season, which extends from mid-November to mid-January. The pilgrimage season is divided into two main parts: the Mandalam season and the Makaravilakku festival.
- 41-Day Vratham: Devotees who wish to visit Sabarimala undertake a 41-day vow or “vratham” before the pilgrimage. During this period, they observe strict austerity, follow a vegetarian diet, abstain from worldly pleasures, practice celibacy, and engage in prayers and other spiritual activities.
- Arduous Trek: The Sabarimala Temple is situated atop a hill, and devotees have to undertake a challenging trek of approximately 4 to 5 kilometers through dense forests and steep paths to reach the temple. The journey is considered a test of devotion and endurance.
- Makaravilakku Festival: The Makaravilakku festival, celebrated on January 14th, is the main event of the pilgrimage season. On this day, a celestial light, known as the “Makara Jyoti,” is believed to appear on the horizon of the Ponnambalamedu hill, and devotees consider witnessing this divine light as an auspicious and blessed experience.
- Communal Harmony: Sabarimala is known for its inclusivity and the spirit of communal harmony. Devotees from all walks of life, irrespective of caste, creed, or religion, visit the temple seeking Lord Ayyappa’s blessings.
- Traditions and Customs: Sabarimala has its unique customs and rituals. The pilgrimage involves wearing black attire, carrying an “Irumudi” (a two-compartment cloth bag containing offerings for Lord Ayyappa), and climbing the holy 18 steps to reach the sanctum sanctorum.
The pilgrimage to Sabarimala is considered a transformative and spiritually fulfilling experience for devotees. It is a celebration of faith, devotion, and self-discipline. The temple’s cultural and religious significance has made it a symbol of Kerala’s diverse heritage and a prominent pilgrimage destination in India.