Sabarimala is a beautiful mountain in Kerala, India famous for the Ayyappa temple which attracts 50 million visitors every year. Sabarimala mountain is situated inside the evergreen forests of Periyar Tiger Reserve on Western Ghat mountain ranges. It is 4133 ft above sea level.
The temple is dedicated Lord Dharmashastha or popularly known as Ayyappan. Sabarimala allows pilgrims of all religions but women between 10 and 50 were not allowed (this was struck by India's Supreme Court), and it is still considered very taboo today. This is because Ayyappa prohibits the entry of the women in the menstrual age group as Ayyappan is a naishtika Bramhachari (celibate).
Conditions for pilgrimage
Pilgrims are required to adopt an ascetic lifestyle before climbing the hill, including abstention from drinking, smoking, and tobacco for a period of 41 days before climbing the hill rock; abstention from consuming any non-vegetarian food or any kind of food that contains roots of plants. Food must be consumed only after bathing and praying, and in limited quantities. Pilgrims are also to refrain from sex, shaving, having a haircut and using luxuries such as perfumes, scents, silk clothes and shoes.
Devotees wear blue, black or saffron-coloured costumes. All pilgrims carry an Irrumudi-Kettu, which is a bag containing a coconut filled with ghee, puja materials, rice and banana which will be folded into two halves and carried on one's head. All devotees must chant "Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa" (which means Ayyappa is my saviour) as a token of devotion. Every other person when met at Sabarimala is referred to as Ayyappa and must not be called by his or her name.
Thiruvananthapuram, 170 km and Nedumbassery, 160km are the nearest airports. The nearest railway stations are Chengannur 82 km, Tiruvalla 92 km, Kottayam 120km and Kollam 129 km. The main trunk road to Sabarimala is Pathanamthitta - Pamba, which passes through, Mannarakulanji, Vadasserikara, Perunad, Laha, Nilackal > Pampa (70 km). Direct buses are also available from Ernakulam and Kumili. On special days, when the temple is opened for Poojas, KSRTC operates more services to all major towns of Kerala and neighboring states.
The temple is situated on a hilltop at an altitude of 468 m above mean sea level, and is surrounded by mountains and dense forests. Temples exist in each of the hills surrounding Sabarimala. While functional and intact temples exist at many places in the surrounding areas like Nilackal, Kalaketi, and Karimala, remnants of old temples survive to this day on remaining hills. Devotees must climb the mountains range to reach the temple. For this, pilgrims trek 4.5 km route into dense forest path, leaving all vehicles at Nilakkal parking station. For handicapped pilgrims, doli service (palanquins) are available. The main temple is better known as Sannidhanam (Sacred Abode), constructed on top of a raised platform. 18 golden steps lead to temple shrine, each step considered sacred with reference to each Hindu Veda and other scriptures. 2 temples are located at ground floor, one dedicated to Lord Ganesh and another for Goddess. A giant fire pit is situated on left side 18 golden steps, where devotees need to burn their coconuts as a token burning their sins.
Time to visit
The temple is open for 41 days from November 16th or 17th (1st day of Vrishicka Month of Malayalam Calendar) and goes till mid of January. The grand festivities of Makara Sankrathi marks the end of Mandala pilgrimage. Apart from this pilgrimage season, the temple opens for all 1st and 2nd day for Malayalam Month. For tourists, the second option is more ideal than Mandala pilgrimage, considering the heavy rush.
Main pujas and offerings
The main pujas are on opening and closing days of Mandalam Pilgrimage as well as on Makara Sankrathi day, which attended by maximum number of pilgrims. The 10 day annual festival also coincide with Mandalam pilgrimage. Apart from special day pujas, 4 pujas are considered highly sacred which is conducted on daily basis. The Usha Puja (Morning Puja), Ucha Puja (Afternoon Puja), Abishekam (pouring libations) and Padi Puja (special pujas conducted on 18 holy steps at closure of temple in night). The temple is also famous for lighting maximum camphors as a token of devotion.
The main offering sacred to lord is Abishekams. Neyyu-Abishekams (Ghee Pouring) is highly sacred and ghee brought by all devotees in their Irumudi Kettus will be used to do. Likewise in evenings Pushabishekam (Flower pourings) as well as Bhasma Absihekam (ash pourings) will be conducted, which all be distributed among devotees. Another common offerings are Appam (a sweet dumplings) as well as Aravana (a thick sweet black dessert made of jaggery) which most of devotees buy.
In addition to the spiritual experience, Sabarimala is situated in the very heart of evergreen forest in a very mountainous terrain. So all the attractions of a forest are available to you at Sabarimala.
- Trekking up the Mountain. Start from Plapalli, proceed to Aangaamuzhi. and then to Muzhiyaar and finally to Sabarigiri road.
Free food is distributed among devotees during all pilgrimage seasons, by various organizations and governmental agency.
The following food items are also provided by the government agencies on payment of cash.
- Andhra Style Meals. White rice with spiced pickles, pachadis, podis and appadam. ₹50
- Aravana Appam. Small dark brown dumplings available only at Sabarimala. ₹25.00 for a packet.
- Aravana Payasam. Temple dessert prepared with rice, ghee and jaggery. ₹80 for a tin.
- Kerala style lunch. Brown rice with Sambar, Rasam, Moru, Thoran, Aviyal and Pickle. ₹48.00
- Masala Dosai. A fermented crepe made from rice batter, black lentils, potato and onions. ₹35
- Vegetable Biriyani.. Rice cooked with vegetables, spices and ghee. ₹45
Alcohol is strictly prohibited.
- Milma Jersy Milk. ₹22.00
- Milma Sambharam. buttermilk. ₹10
- Porridge, Lentils & Pickle. ₹27.00
Facilities provided for devotees can be insufficient for tourists as the devotees are expected to lead a simple and ascetic life during the pilgrimage period. They have to walk without shoes and sleep without mattresses and such austerities can be difficult for ordinary tourists used to creature comforts.
- Forest Dormitory, ☏ . ₹80.
- Palazhi Guest House, ☏ . ₹350.
- Poorna, Pushkala Hall, ☏ . ₹1,275.
- Shiva Shakthi Guest House, ☏ . ₹975.
- Thriveni Hotel, Pamba.
On Friday 14 January 2011, a human stampede occurred just outside the pilgrimage, after a vehicle fell down on the small pathway. Around 100 people were reported dead, with roughly 100 more injured. The accident happened in Pulmedu, around 25 kilometers by road from the forest shrine in Idukki District.