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The holy shrine, dedicated to Lord Ayyappa (One of the sons of Shiva) is 914 m above sea level amidst dense forests in the rugged terrains of the Western Ghats. Sabarimala Sri Dharmasastha Temple is the most famous and prominent among all the Sastha Temples. Devotees, mainly male can be spotted on the roads with bare foot and dressed in black, blue or ochre for the duration of their pilgrimage. 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.
Ayyappa or Manikanda as he is called is a concept derived
from a diety known in Kerala as Sastha and in Tamilnadu as Aiyanar. It
is believed that Sabarimal has been a holy place since time immemorial.
The place is associated with Sabari, a woman saint. She is said to have
lived here. There is a belief that, Rishyamukha mountain, a fortress of
Sugriva is on the opposite side of River Pampa. Another belief that, on
the banks of the river Pampa, there are footmarks on a rock, which are
believed to be Sri Rama's.
Women between the age group of 10-50 are not permitted for the Sabarimala pilgrimage. Pilgrims set out for Sabarimala usually in groups and under a Guru. Only pilgrims who have observed 'Vritham' (penance) and carry 'Irumudikkettu / Pallikkettu (which contains the traditional offerings filled with ghee, coconuts, camphor and rice) alone are allowed entry through the Holy 'Pathinettampadi' (18 Divine Steps) to the shrine. In addition pilgrims must take two baths daily, should avoid sexual pleasures, and only eat vegetarian food at home during this period. The steps depict elements, mind, intelligence etc. Those who crosses all these steps is believed to achieve 'Punyadarshan'. Before climbing the steps the devotees have to take a ritual bath in the holy river Pamba, which forgives one's sins and the devotees also break the coconuts before climbing the steps. "Neyyabhishekam" is the main offering.
The temple is opened only for the festival days and for
the first five days of every Malayalam month and also during Vishu (April)
and onam and closed during the rest of the year. It is believed that "Parasurama
Maharshi" who retrieve Kerala from the sea by throwing his axe, installed
the idol of Ayyappa at Sabarimala to worship Lord Ayyappa.
The main festivals of this temple are Mandalapooja (Nov.17th , November to mid January ,the period which is called as "Mandalakalam".) and Makaravilakku (Jan.14th). Makara Villaku is the bringing of deity's jewellery, Thirivabharanam from the Pandalam Palace, three days prior to Makara Sankranthi.
However, there are some controversies of diverse kinds related to Sabarimala; the case of women entry in the temple, Sabarimala Makaravilaku controversy (a celestial fire - a Jyothi with healing powers appears mysteriously in the Sabarimala forests on the Makara. On this day of 'Makaravilakku' lakhs of devotees gathered around the temple for the sight of 'Makarajyothi' ) are main among them.
Note : Cigeratte and Beedi smoking, Alcholic drinks and plastic goods are strictly prohibited at Pamba and Sabarimala. As Sabarimala Ayyappa is 'Nithya Brahmachari' (celibate)women between the 10-50 age group are not allowed to enter Sabarimala. Such women who try to enter Sabarimala will be prevented by authorities.
Only pilgrims who have obsered Vrutham alone are allowed entry through the holly Pathinettampadi. They have to carry Irumudikettu (Pallikettu)also.