Sabarimala; the Ayyappa temple in the forests of Kerala
Have you heard of a Hindu temple in Kerala where worship is open to all religions? Most of you would be answering a ‘yes’ uttering Sabarimala as it’s becoming popular day by day. Because of its location on a hilltop amidst dense forests, Sabarimala may seem to be blessed with God’s presence as is told by its significant legend. Open once in a year during Mandala Kala (November-December), Makaravilakku (January 14), Chitra Vishu(April 14) and the first six days of Malayalam month, this Ayyappa temple is being visited by enormous pilgrims for ‘darshan’ from all parts of India.
About Sri Ayyappa
Sabarimala is a Hindu pilgrimage center located in the Western Ghat mountain ranges of Pathanamthitta District, Perunad Grama Panchayat in Kerala. The popular legend surrounding this temple is that the Hindu God Ayyappa did meditation here after killing the cruel demoness, Mahishi. The temple is situated amidst 18 hills at an altitude of 468 m (1535 ft) from sea level with several temples in its proximity. It is reported that Sabarimala is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world with an average of 70 million pilgrims visiting annually.
As Lord Ayyappa was a Brahmachari (celibate) throughout his life, men only are allowed to visit the temple. Young women and ladies are prohibited from entering its premises, though children and old aged are allowed. Men have to follow a strict 41 days penance before visiting Sabarimala. During this period, they should wear blue or black dress and a garland (made of Rudrakha or Tulasi beads), dab Vibhuti (a natural, sacred powder) in their forehead and should not shave. Also they’ve to lead a saintly life depriving all luxury and comforts of this material world.
Who can visit Sabarimala?
As Lord Ayyappa was a Brahmachari (celibate) throughout his life, men only are allowed to visit the temple. Young women and ladies are prohibited from entering its premises, though children and old aged are allowed. Men have to follow a strict 48 day penance before visiting Sabarimala leading a saintly life.
About Sabarimala pilgrimage
The forest trail to Sabarimala is bothersome and challenging. Vehicle transport is available up to Pampa only. Afterwards, pilgrims have to trek about 5kms up the hills to reach Sannidhanam (temple premises). Pilgrims can bring their offerings, usually ghee, in their Irumudi or Pallikkettu (a cloth bag they carry in their head) to hand over to the priest for doing the significant ritual Neyyabhishekam. This symbolizes the merging of Jeevatma with Parmatma. The Prasadam distributed to the pilgrims from Sabarimala is Aravana and Appam.
In the night, the song Harivarasanam in Sanskrit is recited for the divine sleep. The golden rendition of this verse by the acclaimed singer K.J.Yesudas is played for this.
A pilgrim has to look for the information on present geography and weather reports while visiting Sabarimala. There are several travel packages offered by Kerala Government for those who want to go on a pilgrimage. Kerala becomes flooded with Ayyappa pilgrims during the season of Mandala Kala.
Sabarimala, the serene Ayyappa temple in Kerala surrounded by dense hills and thick forests becomes revered on the day of Makara Sankranti every year. The transition of sun to the next zodiac sign in the constellation Capricorn (Makara) is termed as Makara Sankranti that is celebrated with great zest in Indian culture. After sunset, the star of light (jyothi) that appears in Sabarimala is widely believed as Lord Ayyappa himself who appears to bless his devotees.
The legend behind this belief is that Lord Sriram reached Sabarimala and visited Sabari, an ardent devotee of Sri Rama. When he turned back, he saw a holy man meditating on the hills nearby. It was Sastha (Lord Ayyappa) and Sri Rama walked towards him. Sastha was surprised to see Sri Rama standing beside him and he greeted him stopping his tapas. This day was Makara Sankranti.
Have you visited Sabarimala?
Harivarasanam song played in Sabarimala
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© 2014 Radhika Sreekanth