30 November 2010

Ayyappan Temple Sabarimala - Kerala

Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa

Om Swamiye! Saranam Ayyappa! Om Hariha Sudhane! Saranam Ayyappa! Om Annadhana Prabhuve! Saranam Ayyappa! Om Dharma Saasthave! Saranam Ayyappa!

Swamy Ayyappa Temple, Sabarimala, Kerala

Sabarimala Ayyappa temple , the hill shrine in Kerala, the south end state of India was opened for the two- month old annual festival on November 15th. Millions of pilgrims across the world visit this shrine during this short period to offer their prayers. This is the one and only unique temple of this kind in the world. The uniqueness is that though the rituals are that of the ones attached to the Hindu religion the temple is open to people of all faiths. Apart from that in front of the temple in a small enclosure a Muslim mythical character is also worshiped by the pilgrims before they offer prayers at the sanctum sanctorum of Swami Ayyappa temple.

Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple is a renowned pilgrim centre atop the rugged hills of the Western Ghats. This holy shrine is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, situated in middle of the Reserve Forest area in Perinad village, Ranni Taluk, Pathanamthitta District, Kerala. Ayyappa temple is surrounded by valley with a green forest hills. Sabarimala is named after Shabari. For Shabari’s devotion and faith during her penance, Lord Rama who accepted her wish. Sabarimala is about 4135 feet above sea level is thronged by millions of devotees with prayers and chanting Ayyappa name with high volume. The pilgrimage to Sabarimala Sri Dharmasasta Temple is most famous and prominent among all the Sastha Temples.  This temple stands as an example for communal harmony.


Ayyappa devotees believed that “Parasurama Maharshi” from sea, troughed his axe, than the idol of Ayyappa was installed at Sabarimala. The devotees not only from southern India and also from different parts of the country and abroad visit here in the months of November and at the end of January. Temple is opens to people of all faiths and different non-hindus pilgrimages to this temple. The existence of the “Vavar Nada” is honor of a Muslim saint is near to the main Ayyappa Swamy temple by the side of Holy Pathinettampady at Sabarimala.  Pilgrims also offer prayers in the mosque at Vermeil. An significant aspect in Ayyappa pilgrimage is addressing each other as AYYAPPA  whether rich or poor, learned or illiterate, master or servant are all equal before LORD AYYAPPA.  

Pilgrims at the Pamba River
Pamba River is the spot on the way to Sabarimala Temple. Devotees take a holy bath and prayers here and move towards the Neelimala Hill. After a 7.5 kms walk up the Neelimala Hill is the holy Lord Ayyappan Temple.

In the front side for mounting to the main temple of Sree Dharma Shastha pilgrims reach the Pathinettampadi, the holy eighteen steps. This eighteen steps is permitted to climb, only who carry Irumudi Kettu. Other pilgrims must make their entry to the temple on the rare side only.
Irumudi Kattu
The pilgrimage begins in the month of November and ends in January. The temple attracts pilgrims not only from the southern states of India, but also from other parts of the country and abroad. The shrine gets thronged with devotees especially during the main pilgrim season from November to January. Mandala pooja [November16,2009] and Makaravilakku[Jan.14th] are the two main events of the pilgrim season. The temple stays closed during the rest of the year except for the first five days of every Malayalam month and during Vishu [April]. 
Certain customs are to be strictly observed if one has to undertake a pilgrimage to Sabarimala. A pilgrim attending the Mandalapooja should observe austerities for 41 days. During this period, the pilgrim should abstain himself from non vegetarian food and carnal pleasures. Pilgrims set out in groups under a leader, and each carry a cloth bundle called Irumudi kettu containing traditional offerings. Unlike certain Hindu temples, Sabarimala temple has no restrictions of caste or creed. The temple is open to males of all age groups and to women who have either passed their fertility age and those before reaching the stage of puberty. The easiest route is via Chalakkayam, by which one can reach the banks of the river Pamba by vehicle. Pamba is the main halting point on the way to Sabarimala. From here one has to trek 4 to 5 kms to reach the temple.

AYYAPPAN know as AYYAN who belonged to the Vellalar Kulam, was the army chief of the Pandalam royal family. He lived with his uncle Perisseri Pillai of Erumeli, Kottayam dist, Kerala. This was about ten generations ago.
Ayyan was instrumental in the defeat of Udayanan, who attacked Sabarimala and tried to demolish the ancient Sastha temple in the thick forest of present Pathanamthitta district.

Swamy Ayyappan
Meanwhile the Royal family of King Pandya had migrated from Tamilnadu about 800 years back. The King reconstructed the destroyed Sastha temple at Sabarimala with the help of Ayyan, Vavar, a Muslim youth from Kanjirappally, Kadutha, a Nair youth from Muzhukeer, Chenganoor, Alapuzha dist.
During a clash, Ayyappan got killed. His uncle,Perissery Pillai, constructed the KOCHAMPALAM - an old small Sastha temple - at Erumeli, opposite the VAVAR PALLY[(MOSQUE], constructed by Muslims in memory of Vavar swamy.
After the demise of Ayyappan people thought that he was the avathar of Lord Sasthaand began to worship him. Later Ayyappan and Sastha became synonymous.
Some say that Ayyappan was the son of a Brahmin but Nalankal Krishna Pillai in his book "Mahashekthrangalkkumunpil" states that Brahmins never had the name AYYAPPAN or AYYAN.
In the age old "Elavarsevampattu" it was clearly mentioned that Ayyan belonged to "Vellalar kulam, Near Erumeli, Kottayam, Kerala.There still exists a vellala house called Puthenveedu in Erumely. In the same compound there is a 300 year old, thatched, depleted, mud house, the house of Perissery Pillai, Ayyappan's uncle and the Vellal Chieftain of Erumeli. There even today one can see the ancient sword used by Ayyappan to kill the monstrous ERUMA- mahisham. The place where the "eruma" was killed became Erumakolly and later Erumeli.
Pilgrims at Sabarimala Temple
Sabarimala pilgrimers ,Ayyappans, conduct the Erumeli PETTAITHULLAL [Pettatullal is painting the face with colours and dancing with wooden weapons to make one look odd. The essence of this practice is to give up ones ego and surrender to Lord Ayyappa.] This is to commemmorate the killing of mahisham by Ayyan and is celelebrated during the month of December-January every year. "Ayyan / Ayyappan" Pillai is very common name among vellalas of Kottayam, Alapuzha, Pathanamthitta, Idukki and Ernakulam districts of Kerala. A number of Ayyappan kovils were constructed by Vellalas who migrated from Tamilnadu to Kerala e.g. Erumeli, Kanam etc.
Lakhs and lakhs of Tamilian Ayyappan devotees called the "Ayyappans" - come to Sabarimala every year to worship Tamil origin "VELLALAR KULA JHATHAN AYYAN AYYAPPAN".

The layout of the Ayyappa temple is believed to have originated from the specific instructions of the Lord himself, who wanted Malikappurathamma, on his left a few yards from Sannidhanam, and his trusted lieutenants Vavur and Kadutha to be positioned as his guards at the foot of the holy 18 steps. The pilgrims worship in this place also. This exemplifies the unique feature of the temple. The temple is open to all faiths. The divine qualities like equality, fraternity, tolerance, humanity etc.. are shining well in the pilgrims.
Ayyappa cult gives much importance for the secularism and communal harmony and has turned out to be a model for the whole world. Another significant aspect of the pilgrimage is that all the pilgrims whether rich or poor, learned or illiterate holding position or not master or servant are all equal before LORD AYYAPPA and all address each other as AYYAPPA.
The pilgrims on their sojourn to Sabarimala worship at Erumeli Sree Dharma Sastha Temple and conduct "Petta Thullal". They also worship in the mosque at Erumeli as a part of their pilgrimage.
According to legend, the temple of Sabarimala and the deity of Ayyappa have always been regarded as the Pandalam Raja's very own. So permission from the King has to be attained before proceeding to the temple. To make it easy for pilgrims to obtain the necessary permission, a representative of the king sits with all the royal insignia, on a raised platform at the base of the Neelimala Hill. The pilgrims offer a token amount (not necessary) to the royal representative, and receive vibhuti from him.
This marks the beginning of the steepest climb of the pilgrimage, the 3 km trek up the majestic Neelimala Hill, atop which sits Lord Ayyappa in all his glory. The pilgrims wind their way up the difficult trail in an unending stream, the hill reverberating with the constant chanting of thousands.
At the first sight of the Patinettampadi, the holy eighteen steps, a full throated cry goes up from the devotees, "Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa!" It is the realisation of a mission.
The shrine of Lord Ganapati: To the south-west of the main temple is the shrine of Lord Ganapati, known as Kannimula Ganapati. The special offering to this deity is Ganapati homan.
Homakunda: There used to be a large homakunda in front of the shrine, which burned constantly, fed by the coconut shells thrown by the devotees, after offering the ghee. As the coconut shells gets consumed by the fire, the sins of the devotees are believed to be cleansed. Due to the growing crowds in the temple, the homakunda has now been shifted to a location below the temple.
Bhasma Kulam: About a 100 metres away is the shrine of Malikappurathamma. En route to the shrine is the temple tank, Bhasma Kulam, in which hundreds of devotees take a holy bath in memory of the tapaswini Sabari who entered a fire to end her mortal life. It is after her that the peak is named Sabarimala.On account of the number of people who bathe in the tank, the water is frequently drained out and refilled with fresh water.
Malikappurathamma: Situated on a small hillock, the Malikappurathamma temple houses the shrines of the Devi and Kaduthaswamy. Devotees also worship a trident and lamp here, and offer coconuts. The coconuts are not broken, however, but are just rolled on the ground .
To the left of this temple are the shrines of the snake god and goddess, Nagaraja and Nagayakshi. Here, tribals beat on drums, play stringed instruments and sing sarppa pattu to protect devotees and their progeny from the harmful effects of snakebites.
Shrines of Kaduthaswamy and Karuppaswamy: At the foot of the Patinettampadi are the two shrines of Kaduthaswamy and Karuppaswamy, who stand like dwarapalakas or guardians of the holy steps, to ensure that they are not polluted by those who tread on them without fulfilling the rigid austerities required of them. They are also believed to protect the devotees from the evil spirits of the forests.
According to legend, Kadutha was a great warrior who helped the Pandalam king defeat the armies of Udayanan and other enemies. When the king came to Sabarimalai to reconstruct the temple, Kadutha came with him to protect him. Ultimately, he became so attached to Ayyappa that he decided to spend the rest of his days with his Lord.
Also near the Patinettampadi is the shrine of the Muslim Vavurswami. While there are several accounts of identity of Vavur, it is generally believed that he was a warrior who was defeated and subdued by Ayyappa, and later became a close associate. It is believed that Lord Ayyappa himself instructed the Pandalam king to build a mosque for Vavur at Erumeli and a shrine at Sabarimalai.

Renovations Done:
Golden 18 Steps: 

18 Golden Steps

Built on a plateau about 40 feet high, the Ayyappan temple commands a lofty view of the mountains and valeys all around.  The ancient temple has been rebuilt after a fire in 1950, consisting of a sanctum sanctorum with a copper-plated roof and four golden finials at the top, two mandapams, the belikalpura which houses the alter and the flag-staff.  Replacing the earlier stone image of the deity is a beautiful idol of Ayyappa in panchaloha, an alloy of five metals, aboout one and a half feet.  

The original granite steps were badly damaged due to continuous breaking of coconuts on the steps by pilgrims climbing the steps. The Devasom Board with the approval of Lord Ayyappan through a devaprasanam, covered the steps with panchaloka. The work was completed by 15th November 1985. Later on these steps were covered with gold.

Several myths persist regarding the significance of the Pathinettu thripadikal or the 18 holy steps, but almost all of them stress the importance of the number, 18. According to a popular belief, the first 5 steps signify the five indriyas or the senses [eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin], the following 8 the ragas [tatwa, kama, krodha, moha, lobha, madha, matsraya, and ahamkara], the next 3 the gunas [satwa, rajas and thamas] followed by vidya and avidya. Climbing these would take the devotee closer to self-realisation. The act of crossing the 18 steps is so sacred that nobody can mount them without undertaking the rigorous 41 day fast and carrying the irumudi. It is also widely assumed that the pathinettu padikal symbolize the 18 puranas; others believe that they connote the 18 weapons with which Lord Ayyappan obliterated evil. An Ayyappa devotee crosses the Pathinettaam padi only twice during his sojourn on Sabarimala - for entering the temple and to go downhill. Before ascending or descending the steps, pilgrims break coconut as an offering to the steps. One needs to have the sacred Irumudi on head while going up or down the 18 steps and while descending the steps the devotees climb down backwards facing the sanctum sanctorum.


The most important event at Sabarimala is the Makara Jyothi [usually on January 14th]. Thiruvabharanam or the sacred jewels of the Lord [presented by the Pandalam king] arrives at Sabarimala in three boxes. On the arrival of the jewel boxes the whole mountain reverberates to the chanting of 'Saranam Ayyappa' by millions of devotees gathered there to watch the event.

The Thiruvabharanam box - still the private property of the Pandalam royal family, starts its journey two days before Makara Jyothi day from Pandalam. The person who carries the box dances in a peculiar trance. Thiruvabharanam travels through Valiakoikkal Sastha temple at Pandalam, Ayiroor Puthia Kavu Temple, Perunattil temple, Vlakkai, Nilaikkal Siva temple, Vellachimala, Pamba and Sabari Peedam before reaching at Sannidhanam around 6.00 PM on the Makara Jyothi day. Every year a Garuda hovers and flies above the Thiruvabharanam boxes as if to guard them.

On reaching the Sannidhanam the Melshanthi and Thandhri receive the sacred jewels amidst the thundering echoes of Sarana ghosham.
The Thiruvabharanam box contains a diamond crown, golden bracelets, necklaces and a sword. The priests adorn the Lord with these and perform arathi.
At the same moment a brilliant light of amazing magnificence appears in the northeastern side to the temple at the opposite mountain in a place called Kantamala [the home of devas and rishis]. It is believed that this brilliant flame of light is the arathi performed by the rishis and the devas. This event marks the culmination of the pilgrimage to Sabarimala.

Makara Vilakku festival:

After the jyothi, that night Malikappurathuamma, mounted on an elephant comes in a procession to the Patinettampadi [18 steps ] and returns back to her abode. This is the beginning of the Makara Vilakku festival.This festival lasts for seven days. Many pilgrims stay back till this festival is over and Kuruthi pooja [offering of water mixed with chunnambu and turmeric powder to the forest deities] is performed.
Even some who leave Sabarimala after witnessing the Jothi observe fasting till the Makara Villaku and Kuruthi pooja is complete at Sabarimala.

MakaraVilakku Festival opens

Other festivals :

Onam, Mandalapooja, Pankuni Uthram [Lord’s Birthday] and Vishu are the other festivals celebrated at Sabarimala with pomp and glory.

Sabarimala Temple Visiting Period
The main pilgrimage season start from Mandala Pooja [November] and Makaravilakku [January] every year.  The temple closes for five days after Mandala Puja, to re-opening for the Makaravilakku Mahotsavam. During the Malayalam month of Chingam and Vishnu, Pilgrims also visit in large numbers to the temple for Onam. For Darshan Sabarimala Temple opens at 4:00 am and is closes between 1:30 pm to 5:30pm for afternoon puja. Again it is opened at 5:30 pm and closed at 11:00 pm, after Harivarasanam Song.

Route to Sabarimala

Routes to Sabarimala Temple
Mainly three routes to Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple – The Erumeli route from Tamilnadu travel via Kottayam – Kumali [KK] road is the most difficult one to cover about 61 km on foot through forest and hill track.  On reaching Vandiperiyar, they turn to Uppupara which is easy to walk of 6 kms to Sabarimala. The Chalakayam route is near Pampa River and the temple is only 8 kms to Sabarimala. The Chalakayam route is the easiest among all other routes.
Sabarimala Ayyappan

How to reach Sabarimala Temple in Kerala
For Sabarimala pilgrims to Kerala, the Southern Railways and State Bus Transport corporations operate special trains and buses for the convenience  of the  pilgrims,  between November and January pilgrimage season.
By Air
The  nearest airports to Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple, is 78km from Cochin International Airport at Nedumbassery, Ernakulam and 150km from Trivandrum International Airport at Thiruvananthapuram.
By Rail
Chengannur Railway Station, Thiruvalla Railway Station and Changanacherry Railway Station are the nearest railway stations to reach Sabarimala Temple.
 Adiyen therindum theriyaamalum seidha sakala kutrangalaiyum poruttu kaattu rakshittu arula vendum, Shree satyamaana ponnu patinettam padimel vaazhum en om Shree Harihara sutan kaliyugavaradan aananda chittan ayyan Ayyappa Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa!!

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