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Sabarimala Travel Essentials


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"India's own Mecca"

Sabarimala Tourism

More than 30 million pilgrims visit the temple in Sabarimala annually, making it the largest in India and second largest in the world, after Hajj Pilgrimage of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Located inside the Periyar Tiger Reserve, in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala, Sabarimala is a temple town on the bank of the River Pampa.

Named after the mythological character, Sabarimala shelters the famous Ayyapa temple. The temple is also known as Dharma Sashta and is believed to be the son of Shiva and Mohini, the feminine incarnation of Lord Vishnu. People believe that Vishnu's incarnate, Parasurama, placed the Ayyappa Idol at the top of the mountain.

One can notice that the traditions of Sabarimala are a blend of Shaivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism and other Sramana traditions. Women of age 12-50 years, during an active menstrual cycle, weren't allowed inside the temple until the supreme court overturned the restriction on 28th September 2018.

The temple is situated amidst eighteen hills and dense forest surrounding the temple, which is known as Poongavanam. People trek up the mountains from Plapalli, proceeding to Aangaamuzhi, and then to Muzhiyaar and finally to Sabarigiri road. The temple is open on the first five days of each Malayalam month with it being most crowded during Mandalapooja, Makaravilakku or Makar Sankranti.

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The Shrine in the Hills

Located in the Western Ghats, Sabarimala is one of the busiest pilgrim centres in the world. Built on a hill inside the forests with the river Pampa flowing through, the Lord Ayyappa temple is popular not only for the legends associated with it but also due to its serene location. Though the shrine can be visited for a limited number of days in the year, Sabarimala remains a favourite for trekkers and devotees who enjoy the walk through the lush green forests and hill tracks to reach the temple.

The Temple - Dharma Sashta

The Ayyappa Temple is one of the very few Hindu temples in India that are open to all faiths and emphasizes on secularism and communal harmony. All men are seen equal before the Lord, irrespective of their caste, creed or race and hence all people visiting the temple refer to each other as "Ayyappa Swami".

The temple is considered to be laid out according to the Lord's wishes and hence one can see that Goddess Malikappurathamma is placed left to the main Sannidhanam and the Lord's aides, Vavar and Kadutha stand at the foot of the 18 Holy steps (Pathinettu Thrippadi) that leads to the main sanctum.

The temple was rebuilt after a massive fire in 1950 and stands on a plateau surrounded by mountains and valleys below. The sanctum sanctorum has a copper-plated roof with golden finials, two mandapams, the 'Kodimaram' or the flagstaff and the Belikalpura which houses the altar.

The Ayyappa idol which was initially carved out of stone is presently made out of Panchaloha, an amalgamation of five metals and stands one and a half feet tall.

Sabarimala Pilgrimage

The world-famous Sabarimala pilgrimage is undertaken by thousands of ardent devotees every year. A strict-41 day fast is observed before the pilgrimage, which is believed to be a cleanser for the mind, body and soul. The devotees follow a Lacto-vegetarian diet and practice celibacy and teetotalism.

They also do not cut their hair or nails during this period, allowing them to grow. Their attire is composed of simple black or saffron garments, and they wear a special mala or chain made of Rudraksha beads. The devotees are expected to lead an altruistic lifestyle by helping others and doing service in the name of their Lord Ayyappan.

After the fast period, the devotees follow the difficult path through Erumely to reach the Pamba river, or else they arrive by vehicles. They then begin their long climb from the Neeli Mala to Sabari Mala, the abode of Lord Ayyappan.

Women between the ages of 10 to 50 are not allowed on Sabarimala, following the 1991 ruling by the Kerala High Court. This is now up for contention yet again and has been receiving widespread coverage in the media over the last year.

Festivals in Sabarimala

Makara Vilakku is the most important festival that takes place in the Ayyappa Temple in Sabarimala. A seven-day festival, it begins on the day of Makara Sankranthi, when the sun is in the summer solstice. According to legends, it was on this day that the idol of Dharma Shasta was enshrined in the temple on this very day.

An important highlight of this festival is the Makarjyothi, a star that is worshipped by millions on the day of Makara Sankranthi. The festival of Makara Vilakku is concluded with a ritual called 'Guruthi' where an offering is made to the Gods and Goddesses of the wilderness. Nobody is allowed to stay in and around the premises of the temple after Guruthi.

The other festivals celebrated in the temple are Onam, Mandalapooja and Vishu Vilakku.

Legends- Why Women are Barred

While the entry of women into the Sabarimala Temple is still a burning issue, there are legends that tell us why women have been barred from the temple for ages.

1. Lord Ayyappa was born out of the union of Lord Shiva and Mohini, the feminine incarnation of Lord Vishnu. It is said that Lord Vishnu took this feminine form to mainly destroy a demon, Bhashmasura, who had acquired the elixir from the gods during the churning of the ocean.

When Lord Ayyappa was a minor, a lady-demon started creating havoc in the south and could only be defeated by the son of Lord Shiva and Mohini. After Lord Ayyappa defeated her, she turned into a beautiful woman and revealed that she was cursed to live the life of a demon.

She proposed to Lord Ayyappa who, without any second thoughts, refused. But as she persisted, he promised that he would marry her the day kanniswamis (new devotees) stopped visiting him at Sabarimala. The woman agreed to wait for him at the neighbouring temple and is worshipped today by many as Malikapurathamma.

In honour of her, it is said that Lord Ayyappa does not receive any menstruating women. The women, too, do not prefer visiting the temple as that would mean insulting Malikapurathamma's love and sacrifice.

2. Another legend treats Lord Ayyappa as a historical figure who was born in the royal family of Panthalam. He grew up to be one of the most loved and respected princes in the kingdom who cared for his people.

One day, an Arab commander by name Babar (Vavar) attacked the kingdom but was defeated by Ayyappa and since then, became his devout follower. Today, Vavr lives in the spirit in a shrine in Erumeli at a small distance from Sabarimala.

As the presiding deity of the Sabarimala Temple, Ayyappa vowed to answer each devotee's prayers who walks up to his shrine and hence shunned all worldly desires, including contact with women.

Restaurants and Local Food in Sabarimala

Along your pilgrimage journey you will find dainty little restaurants dotting the way serving essentials of Keralan Cuisine. However, while the temple and the spiritual experiences surrounding it are the centers of attraction, there is an absence of any significant food culture and hence it might best to carry your own food.
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Suggested Itinerary for Sabarimala

Day 1- Trek up to Lord Ayappa shrine and say your prayers in the early morning. Visit Malikauram Devi Temple.
Day 2- Visit the Vavar shrine.

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Sabarimala Photos

Sabarimala, Kerala
Sannidhanam Entrance, Sabarimala
Sabarimala Temple is Only Opened During Specific Time of the Year
Sabarimala Ayappa Swamy Temple is one of the Largest Pilgrimages in the World

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FAQs on Sabarimala

What is not so good about Sabarimala?

Women between 12-60 years of age not allowed in the temple.

What are the places near Sabarimala?

The top places near to Sabarimala are Munnar which is 72 km from Sabarimala, Alleppey which is located 70 km from Sabarimala, Thekkady which is located 21 km from Sabarimala, Idukki which is located 35 km from Sabarimala, Vagamon which is located 33 km from Sabarimala

What are the things to do in Sabarimala?

The top things to do in Sabarimala are Ayyappa Temple, Makaravilakku, Malikkappuram Devi Temple, Vavar Shrine, Pampa Ganapathy Temple, Erumeli. You can see all the places to visit in Sabarimala here

What is the best way to reach Sabarimala?

Sabarimala has no airport or railway station. The nearest international airports are at Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram while the nearest railway stations are at Kottayam, Ernakulam and Chenganur. The nearest bus stop is at Pampa.
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What is the local food in Sabarimala?

Along your pilgrimage journey you will find dainty little restaurants dotting the way serving essentials of Keralan Cuisine. However, while the temple and the spiritual experiences surrounding it are the centers of attraction, there is an absence of any significant food culture and hence it might best to carry your own food.
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What is the best time to visit Sabarimala?

Sabarimala enjoys a tropical climate and moderate temperature all throughout the year. The average maximum temperature is usually in the range of 20 to 37 degrees Celsius. Sabarimala experiences a maximum number of pilgrims during the months of November to February and April to September, ideally making it the best time to visit the sacred shrine.
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Who should visit Sabarimala?

Protecting the busiest pilgrimage shrine in India as well as the second busiest shrine in the world, Sabarimala is mostly visited by Hindu devotees. The lush green Western Ghats attracts a lot of trekkers in the region.

What is famous about Sabarimala?

Pleasant ambience, lush green forests.

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