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Makaravilakku, Sabarimala Overview

Makaravilakku, an annual festival in Kerala, is celebrated on the day of Makar Sankranti which falls in January. This festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm on a remarkable level at the Sabarimala Temple in Gods Own Country, the South-Indian state of Kerala. The major attraction of the festival is the grand Thiruvabharanam procession which is the procession of the sacred ornaments of the Hindu God of Growth, Shri Ayappan. This procession is then followed by a religious congregation at the Sabarimala Shrine on the hilltop. One must visit this shrine to experience the divine vibe of Shri Ayappan and seek his blessings. It is estimated that approx one million believers come from all over the world to seek blessings on the auspicious day of Makaravilakku in Sabarimala.

One of the most important rituals of the Makarvilakku festival is the lighting of the lamp at Ponnambalamedu which is located 4 kilometres from the Sabarimala Ayappan Temple in the mountain ranges of the Western Ghats. It is referred as the Hill of the Golden Temple and lighting the lamp commemorates the religious festival of Makaravilakku in Sabarimala.

Makaravilakku marks the end of the Sabarimala pilgrimage which begins in mid-November, or the month of Vruchikam. Sabarimala pilgrimage is also considered as the second most important pilgrimage in India and people from all over the world flock the venue to witness the divine powers of Sri Ayappan.

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Legend of Makaravilakku

There are many legendary stories related to the origin of the festival of Makaravilakku. According to one of the legends, a demon named Mahishasura was defeated on the day of Makaravilakku by Ayyapan, and the location where Dharma Shastha Temple is located is where Sri Ayyapan meditated after defeating Mahishasura. The celebration of Makaravilakku festival commences after the Holy light - Makara Jyothi is witnessed. Some even say that the lamp was lit by the villagers who were harassed by Mahishasura.

According to another legend, Parasurama Maharshi threw an axe in the sea to lift the land of Kerala from the sea and installed an idol of Sri Aiyyapan at Sabarimala. When the idol was installed, Indra - the King of Devas, and Narada Maharishi lit a lamp on the hill of Ponnambalameddu.

Another legend states that Parasurama wanted his friend Bheesma to marry Amba but Bheesma wasn't convinced and that angered Parasurama. He hence declared way against Bheesma. The war is said to have been fought for years, and hence the Devas intervened to make Parasurama withdraw. Parasurama didn't want to listen to anybody and continued fighting Bheesma. Amba had lost all hope by that time and decided to send her life by jumping into the hot camphor fire.

Igniting the Holy Lamp at Ponnambalamedu

The holy lamp at Ponnambalamedu might seem like a miracle, a divine phenomenon if seen for the first time. The sheer presence of millions of devotees to see the lighting of the lamp will overwhelm you. The actual process of lighting this lamp needs a large amount of camphor that is placed at the bottom of hill Ponnambalamedu. Later on, using wet sacks, a bowl containing some camphor is ignited. This process is repeated thrice, and finally, the light is extinguished on the hilltop. The entire process is kept away from the public eye and is done under police security.

Rituals and Customs of Makaravilakku Festival

It is customary that the devotees strictly observe austerities for 41 days before Makaravilakku Festival. These include abstaining non-vegetarian food and carnal pleasures completely. The Sabarimala Pilgrimage begins in the month of Vruchikam in Mid-November every year and to complete the pilgrimage with utmost devotion, the pilgrims set out in groups under a leader. Each Pilgrim is supposed to carry Irumudi Kettu, which is a bundle of traditional offerings covered in a piece of cloth. On the last day of the pilgrimage, Makaravilakku is celebrated.

The Makaravilakku festival begins with a procession of the Thiruvabharanam, covering over 80 kilometres by foot. Thiruvabharanam, the sacred ornaments of Sri Ayappan are removed from safe custody and taken to the temple in a casket with a lot of enthusiasm and devotion. The idol is then adorned with these sacred jewels followed by a religious Pooja of Sri Ayappan.

A part of the rituals of the festival includes lighting the Ponnambalamedu. This lamp is lit in a temple on the night of Makara Sankranti when the Sirius star is visible in the sky. This temple is not open to the public and only the Travancore Devaswom Board and the tribal members are allowed to perform the pooja.  The lamp is lit using clarified butter (Ghee) and Camphor and the members encircle the lamp thrice after Deeparadhana to Sri Ayappan. This is the lamp that is visible from the Sabarimala Temple and is known as Makara Vilappu.

Interesting Facts About Makaravilakku Festival

When the Thiruvabharanam, the holy jewels of Sri Ayappa are taken out on a procession, an eagle (also considered as the Holy Garuda - Lord Vishnu's Vehicle) is seen circling in the sky like it is protecting the jewels. Many say it's a rare species of eagle and is hardly ever spotted in that area until the Makaravilakku Festival. It follows the procession, protecting the jewels and after the end of the procession, circles the Sannidhanam nine times like it is paying respect to Sri Ayappan.

For many years in the past, the lamp was considered as a miracle on the hilltop. However, after a few decades, it was known that the lamp is man-made and is lit by the Travancore Devaswom Board members.

Makaravilakku Festival Dates

Temple Opening Date and Time - 30th December 2017 at 5:00 PM

Temple Closing Date and Time - 20th January 2018 at 7:00 AM

Tips For Visiting Makaravilakku

1. Follow a conservative dress code. Do not wear revealing clothes.
2. This Shri Ayappa Temple in Sabarimala is open only from Mid-November to Mid-January. It remains closed for the rest of the year.
3. An age criterion is followed at the temple. Males of any age can enter the temple; however, females only under the age of 10 and over 50 can enter the temple.
4. It will get really crowded during the festival, so take care of your belongings.
5. Food facility is very good. Camera and video are allowed. Lockers or storage facility is also provided.

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