Sabarimala is a major Hindu pilgrim centre in Pattanamthitta district of Kerala in the Western Ghat mountain ranges of India. Sabarimala Sri Dharmasastha Temple is the most famous and prominent among all the Sastha Temples. The area is in the Sahya hilly regions of Kerala bordering Tamilnadu. The temple is situated on a hilltop at an elevation of 1260 m above sea level and is surrounded by 18 hills and dense forest. Temples existed in each of the hills surrounding Sabarimala. While functional (and intact temples) exist at many places in surrounding areas like Nilackal, Kalaketi and Karimala, remnants of old temples are visible in the remaining hills.
The pilgrimage to Sabarimala is a singular example of a pilgrimage where pilgrims, without consideration of caste, creed, position or social status, go with one mind and one `mantra' dreaming constantly of the darshan of the presiding deity at the Holy 'Sannidhanam'.
The temple is dedicated to Ayyappan. Sabarimala is believed to be the place where Ayyappan meditated soon after killing the powerful demon, Mahishi. This temple is unique in many respects.
There is a place near the temple (east to Sannidhanam) dedicated to the Vavar (colloquial version of Babar), a Muslim who was the associate of Ayyappan, called "Vavarunada". This is an epitome of religious harmony. The temple is open for worship only during the days of Mandalapooja (November 15 to December 26), Makaravilakku (January 15) and Vishu (April 14), and the beginning of every month in the Malayalam calendar. The pilgrims have to follow the journey to the temple is to be taken through difficult terrain in the forest as the vehicles can go only up to Pampa.
Lord Ayyappan is worshipped in a number of shrines across India. The Sabarimala temple is dedicated to Ayyappan. Lord Ayyappan known also as Dharmasastha, Hariharan, Manikanta, Ayyanar and Bhoothnath.
There are various lores connected with Lord Ayyappan. These relates to discovery of the child at Pampa, Manikantan's youthful days in the Pandalam palace, bestowing the power of hearing and speaking upon the deaf and dumb son of His teacher as 'Gurudakshina', His friendship with Vavar (a Muslim), bringing the tiger's milk, accomplishing His divinely destined mission of annihilation of the demoness Mahishi, eliminating the forest-thug Udayanan,
bestowing immortality on Sabari and blessing His foster-father with immortality.
Manikantan was the incarnation of Lord Dharmasastha. Raja Rajasekhara was in his previous birth a rich and pious 'brahmin' by name Vijayan who was a very strong believer and devotee of Lord Dharmasastha. Such was Vijayan's 'bhakthi' towards the Lord that He blessed the brahmin by granting his wish to be born as his son in his next birth when the Lord would offer him 'moksha'.
The beginning of the temple festival at Sabarimala is symbolised by 'Kodiyettam' or hoisting of the flag on the temple flag post by the thantri during morning hours. This is done on 'Atham' day. The festival lasts for ten days. Ultsava Bali will be conducted from 2nd day onwards. Purification rites to cleanse and sanctify the temple are carried out a day prior to the commencement of the temple festival.
Aaratu signifies the end of the temple festival. On the 10th day of the festival i.e. on the Thiruvonam day is the Aarattu. The Lord who was reposing in peace at the Manimandapam is gently awakened through prayers and chanting at Brahmamuhurtham (around 3 am) and is ceremoniously taken to the Sreekovil or Sanctum Sanctorum.
The Sabarimala shrine is only open a few times each year : the Mandalam festival covering 41 days from November 15 to December 26; the Makaravilakku from January 1-14; Open all the five days of every Malayalam month. On Vishu, the day of the vernal equinox in April for 10 days; and during smaller festivals in May/June and August/September.
The shrine, unlike many in southern India is open to persons of all religious callings, and there are no caste restrictions during the pilgrimage. However, women - unless they are younger than six or older than sixty - are not allowed to come to Sabarimala. This is explained by referring to the celibacy of Ayappa and the concern that he might be lured away from his shrine by a woman his age (if certain readers find this somewhat sexist, they are informed that there are particular goddess shrines in south India which men are forbidden to enter). It is said that during the pilgrimage periods no tigers are found along the forest trails leading to Sabarimala. This is explained as resulting from Ayappa’s power over tigers. Other holy places associated with Ayappa are Kulattupuzha, Aryankavu, Accankovil and Kantamala.
How To Reach
The pilgrims can reach Kottayam & Chengannur by Railway (Broad gauage) and Punalur (Metre Gauage) and from there by bus to Pampa.
The pilgrims can reach Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi (Nedumbassery) by Air and from there reach Pampa by bus/car.
Sabarimala temple is located 120 km from Kottayam via Erumeli in . A 5 km trek from Pamba will take one to the Sannidhanam on top of the hill. Suggested Route : Kottayam-Erumeli-Ranni-Vadsserrikkara-Lahai-Pamba (128 km).