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Wednesday, April 6, 2011



Sabarimala is a Hindu pilgrimage center located in the Western Ghat mountain ranges of Pathanamthitta District in Kerala. The temple is open for worship only during the days of Mandalapooja (approximately November 15 to December 26), Makaravilakku (January 14- "Makara Sankranti") and Vishu (April 14), and the first six days of each Malayalam month.

Legend has it that the temple at Sabarimala was built by Parasurama, the warrior-sage who reclaimed the Land of Kerala from the sea. Sabarimala is one of the five 'panchashastha' temples erected by the powerful yogi to protect Kerala from destructive elements, the others being Kulathuppuzha, Aryankavu, Achankovil and Erumeli. At Kulathuppuzha, the Lord is worshipped as an infant boy, at Aryankavu as an adolescent on the verge of matrimony and at Achankovil, he is depicted as a 'grihasthashrami' with his wives, Poorna and Pushkala.

However, on Sabarimala Lord Ayyappan/Dharmashastha is a brahmachari in a state of eternal bliss or Samadhi, holding 'chinmudra'. So women between the ages of 10 and 50 are not allowed to enter the temple. It is said that the lord sought this solitary abode to meditate soon after vanquishing the demon, Mahishi in a ferocious battle. The sabarimala sannidhanam (temple) is open to devotees only during mandalapooja (November to January), makaravilakku , vishu and the beginning of every month in the malayalam calendar.Surrounded by lush tropical jungles and 18 hills, the shrine is over 1260m/4135ft above sea level. Sabarimala is part of Sahyadris (Western Ghats); remnants of ancient temples are visible in the adjoining hills and at Nilackal, Kalaketi and Karimala offerings are still made to the devis/devas. East of the sannidhanam is 'Vavarnada' which commemorates Vavar, a muslim associate of Lord Ayyappan.

The pilgrimage :The devotees are expected to follow a vratham (41-day penance) prior to the pilgrimage। This begins with wearing of a special Mala (a garland made of Rudraksha or Tulasi beads)। In general from then they are to refrain from meat, fish, alcohol, tobacco, using foul words, hair-cuts and shaving. They are expected to bath twice and visit the local temples regularly and only wear plain black, blue or saffron coloured traditional clothing.

Hundreds of devotees still follow the traditional mountainous forest path (approximately 45 km) from Erumely, believed to be taken by Ayyappa himself। The part starts from Erumely to Azhutha river, then crosses the Azhutha mountain to reach Kariyilam thodu. Now comes the sacred Karimala crossing, from there to Cheriyanavattom, Valiyanavattom and finally Pamba River. Aranmula kottaram is one of the halt place of holy journey 'thiruvabharana khosayatra'. But many people use vehicular traffic which can go till the Holy Pamba River by an alternate road. Thereafter, all the pilgrims have to follow a mountainous forest trekking path approximately four kilometers up a steep hill (Neeli Mala) to Sabarimala.

The Temple

The Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala is one of the few Hindu temples in India that is open to all faiths। Here all men, irrespective of class, creed or race are equal before Lord Ayyappan and seemingly, to drive home this fact, the pilgrims thronging the temple complex address one another as ‘Ayyappa Swami।’Legend has it that the Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala is laid out in accordance with the instructions of the Lord himself. Consequently, Malikappurathamma is on the left of the Sannidhanam, and the Lord’s aides, Vavar and Kadutha stand vigil at the foot of the ‘pathinettu thrippadi’ the most significant 18 steps in Hinduism, leading to the ‘sanctum sanctorum.’

As Lord Ayyappan was raised by the King of Pandalam as his son, the temple at Sabarimala is looked upon as part of the Raja’s domain। And pilgrims are expected to obtain his permission before proceeding to Sabarimala। One of the King’s representatives sits on a raised platform with the royal insignia at the base of Neelimala। The Ayyappa devotees offer him a token sum and receive vibhuthi in return. The 3km ascent up the Neelimala is the steepest and the most difficult in the whole pilgrimage.En route to Sabarimala, the pilgrims visit Erumeli Sree Dharma Shastha Temple to hold ‘Petta Thullal’ as well as Vavur’s mosque, also at Erumeli. To enter the temple complex at Sabarimala, the devotees have to climb the 18 steps or the ‘pathinettu padikal’;

The temple stands on a plateau, over 40 feet high and offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and the valleys below. The complex on Sabarimala comprises a sanctum sanctorum bearing a copper-plated roof with four golden finials at the top, two mandapams, the belikalpura housing the altar, and the ‘kodimaram’ or the flag staff. Ganapathi Kovil: Lord Ganapathi sits south-west of the main temple; the Ganapathi idol at Sabarimala is commonly referred to as Kannimula Ganapathi। And one of the special offerings to this deity is ‘Ganapathi homam।

Homakundam: In the bygone days, a large homakundam or a sacred pit burned constantly in front of the Sannidhanam. The flames were fed by the coconuts/neithenga thrown in by pilgrims, after offering the ghee within them to Lord Ayyappan. It is held that as the coconuts burn in the sacrificial fire, the pilgrims undergo a ritualistic cleansing, both of the spirit and the body. Owing to the deluge of devotees each year, the Homakundam has been moved to a spot beneath the temple.

Bhasmakkulam: The shrine of Malikappurathama is about 100 metres away from the Sannidhanam. Bhasmakkulam/ Ash tank is situated between these two holy spots. Pilgrims braving the arduous trip to Sabarimala take a tip in the sacred waters of this tank for spiritual purification and also in memory of Tapaswini Sabari who entered a pyre to end her mortal life.

Malikappurathamma: This small temple on a hillock houses the shrines of Devi (Malanada Bhagavathi) and Kaduthaswamy in addition to a trident and a lamp. Devotees offer special pujas and coconuts which contrary to common practice, are not broken, but just rolled onto the ground. The door of the shrine always remains closed and other offerings presented include betel leaves, turmeric powder, silk cloth, saffron and money. Kanikka, gun shots and lighted lamps are the offered by the worshipper to propitiate Malanada Bhagavathi.The shrines of Nagaraja (the king of snakes) and Nagayakshi (Snake goddess) are on the right side of the temple of Malikappurathamma. Special pujas involving sarppa paattu are offered here to appease the snakes and protect devotees from the harmful effects of snakebites.

Kaduthaswamy and Karuppaswamy stand at the bottom of the Pathinettampadi (18 steps) and are the guardians of the Sannidhanam. They are dwarapalakas, ensuring that the holy steps are not polluted by pilgrims who do not undergo the rigors of the 41-day abstinence and celibacy. Also they safeguard the pious from the dark spirits of the surrounding forests.It is held that Kadutha was a valiant warrior who helped Pandalamraja (Lord Ayyappan's foster father) beat his archenemy Udayanan. Soon afterwards, Kadutha accompanied the Raja to Sabarimala to reconstruct the Ayyappa temple and eventually grew so attached to the Lord that he spent his remaining days in the temple and the adjoining woods.Adjacent to the Pathinettupadi is the shrine of Vavurswami, who is believed to have been a close associate of Lord Ayyappan. Vavur was a Muslim and several versions of his association with Ayyappan persist. Originally a warrior, Vavur was defeated and subdued by Ayyappan; later he became of one of the closest confidants of the Lord. It is widely believed that Ayyappan himself instructed Pandalamraja to build a mosque for Vavur at Erumeli and a shrine at Sabarimala.

The Sacred 18 steps :

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.

Neyyabhishekam:This significant ritual involves pouring sacred ghee brought by pilgrims in their Pallikettu or Irumudi (A two compartment bag made of handwoven cotton cloth used to bear the offerings for Sabarimala Temple by the devotees and carried on their heads)on the idol of Lord Ayyappa. It symbolically means the merging of Jeevatma with the Paramatma.While a Saffron coloured Irumudi is used by a pilgrim on his first journey(Kanni Ayyappan) to Sabarimala, others use black or Navy Blue coloured Irumudi

Aham Brahmasmi and Tattvamasi The important message given at the temple is the ultimate knowledge that you are God, Tat Tvam Asi in Sanskrit meaning "That is you". Due to this pilgrims call each other Swami. Tat Tvam Asi, meaning "That Thou Art" is the message that is given out by the Lord. It means, in short, you are part of the Universal Soul (in Sanskrit "Paramatma") which is the quintessence of Advaita philosophy. It also means for reaching Paramatma or Universal Soul.

Prasadams:The prasadam at Sabarimala temple is Aravana payasam and Appam। These are prepared by using rice, ghee, sugar etc

Harivarasanam:Harivarasanam is recited before closing the temple door at night. Harivarasanam song, which is sung today at Sabarimala as a lullaby at night (Urakkupattu) was composed by Sri Kambakkudi Kulathur Srinivasa Iyer. It is said that Srinivasa Iyer used to recite the composition, after the Athazha Puja, standing in front of the shrine of Ayyappa in the main temple. With the efforts of Swami Vimochanananda, it came to be accepted as the lullaby by the Thantri and melshanthi. The composition has 352 letters, 108 words in 32 lines (8 stanzas).

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