Sabarimala - Ayyappan Temple
Sabarimala is one of the ancient Sastha temple in India and its open to all faiths, the only condition is a person who enters Sabarimala should take a strict 41 days of Vratham (austerity). People from all over India and even from aboard used to visit Sabarimala. It is situated in Kerala state in the district of Pathanamthitta at the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Western Ghat mountain ranges of the Perunad gram Panchayat. The temple is opened for Mandalapooja, Makaravilakku, Vishu and the first five days of Malayalam month. To enter Sabarimala pilgrim has to pass through the Pathinettaam Padi (holy 18 steps). This each steps represent desire one must conquer in order see Ayyapan. The pilgrim is addressed in general as Ayyappa or Swami to show that all are equal in the eye of the Lord. Women pilgrimage above 10 and below 50 are not allowed to enter because Ayyappan is a Brahmachari.
Travancore Devasam Board has changed the name of Sabarimala Sree Dharma Sastha Temple to Sabarimala Sree Ayyappanswamy Temple in a board meeting held at October 5th 2016.
The descendent of the Pandya dynasty belonging to Chempazhanattu Kovil, living in Sivagiri was given the right to rule over the Pandalam by the Travancore King. King Rajasekara was the direct descendent of this dynasty. He was a beloved ruler of the people, but the king was unhappy because he doesn’t have children. So he and the queen prayed to Lord Shiva to bless them with a kid. Once the King had gone to the jungle for hunting, he saw a kid abandoned in the forest. He takes the child happily to the queen, they will raise him for twelve years.
The child will be named as Manikandan because when the King found him in the forest there was a chain and a bell around his neck, a Saint had appeared and told him to name child Manikandan because of the Bell in the neck. The day comes when the king came to know, Manikandan is really an incarnation of the God. When it is time for Ayyappan to leave the kingdom, King will express his desire to build a temple for him so the Lord Ayyapan has aimed an arrow where it fell, King Rajasekara construct the temple in Lord’s name.
Before going to Sabarimala, the devotee has to wear a special chain following the 41 days Vratham. During this period they have to follow a strict vegetarian diet, daily visit the temple more over they should not involve in any non-violence. Another important aspect of pilgrimage is Irumudikettu, it’s a travelling kit which contains twin pocket, the Munmudi (the front portion) and Pinmudi (the rear pounch) and the middle opening. Munmudi contains the pooja articles and offerings to Lord Ayyappan and Pinmudi contain Pilgrim personal belongings. Without this Irumudikettu pilgrim is not allowed to step onto Pathinettaam Padi (the eighteen steps) at Sannidhanam.
Usually the journey to Sabarimala is done in a group and in that one person will be Guruswami who prepares the Irumudikkettu and place it to the devotee’s head. Irumudikettu has been divided into three colors; red color is taken by Kanni swami who is going first time; others use navy blue till their third year; thereafter it is saffron color. We can easily identify a person who is going to Sabarimala by their dress color because they usually wear black or saffron color and the special chain they wear on their neck. The traditional route to the temple covers Erumeli, Kalaketti, Azhutha, Karimala, Pampa and eventually Sabarimala.
The Prasadamin Sabarimala is Aravana Payasam and Appam. They are prepared using rice, ghee, sugar, Jaggery etc.
It is one of the main festivals, with lakhs of devotee gathered together. It is believed that Lord Rama and his brother met a tribal devotee named Sabari who offered a fruit to Rama after tasting it, but Lord accepted it. Then he saw a person doing Tapasya(deep meditation) so he enquired Sabari, was told he is Shasta. Rama walks towards him Shasta and he stood up to welcome the Prince of Ayodhya. Thus this day is celebrated as Makara Vilaku. It is believed that the Lord stops his Tapasya and will bless all the devotees on this day.
During this sacred event, the ornament which to be adorned by Lord Ayyapan is brought from the Padalam Palace ceremonially, which start 3 days prior to the day of Makara Vilaku. The ornament which reaches Sannidanam by evening at this time an eagle appears in the sky. Once the Lord Ayyappan deity is decorated with holy ornaments, the Makarajyothi appears upon the adjacent hilltop.
On this day a maximum number of devotees reach to Sannidanam to watch the holy sight. It becomes difficult for the police and the board to control the crowd Thus, many times it has ended up in chaos, leading to a stampede.
Sabarimala temple is not without any controversy. In Sabarimala, female devotees have certain age regulation that is age below 10 years and above 50 years are not allowed because the deity over there is a Brahmachari. There is a regulation given by the Kerala High Court in 1991, instructing the Temple Board to put a board stating the age regulation for females. There is a case which is on trial in the Supreme court which is in contrary to the rule implemented. Still, the final verdict is not yet given.
The interesting part is that the female devotees are divided in their opinions in this matter. One half is against, who are not ready to accept this regulation and the other half accept the age regulation, who says that they are ready to wait.
Environment, Preserving Steps
Each year, the number of pilgrims is increasing, as a result, the waste disposal is increasing as well. It has become a threat to the wildlife and forest surrounding it. In order to protect and conserve the environment, certain projects like Punyam Poonkavanam has been implemented. Some of the salient aspects of this project are:
- While taking bath in the Pamba river, we should not use soap or oil and also not to throw any clothes in Pamba.
- In Irumudikkettu should contain only bio-degradable materials, not plastic.
- The devotees have to spend at least one hour in the cleaning activities in Pamba, Sannidhaanam or the surrounding places.
- The Kerala police are doing an excellent job in Sannidanam to keep the crowd under control and help out the pilgrims as much as possible.
- The other department, Kerala State Electricity Board, who provides the lighting facility throughout the Pampa, entire route to Sannidanam, illuminating the within the premises as well as surrounding Sannidanam.