ayyappan

Sabarimala is a Hindu pilgrimage center located in the Western Ghat mountain ranges of Pathanamthitta District, Perunad grama panchayat in Kerala. It is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world with an estimated 45–50 million devotees visiting every year.Sabarimala is believed to be the place where the Hindu God Ayyappan meditated after killing the powerful demoness, Mahishi. Ayyappan‘s temple is situated here amidst 18 hills. The temple is situated on a hilltop at an altitude of 468 m (1535 ft) 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.

Sabarimala is linked to Hindu pilgrimage, predominantly for men of all ages.You can identify a Sabarimala pilgrim easily as they wear black or blue dress.They do not shave till the completion of pilgrimage and smear Vibhuti or Sandal paste on their forehead.Women between the ages of 10 and 50 are not allowed to enter the temple, since the story attributed to Ayyappa prohibits the entry of the women in the menstrual age group. This is because Ayyappan is a Bramachari (Celibate). 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.

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 non-vegetarian food of any kind (except dairy) alcohol, and tobacco, engaging in sex, using foul language, hair-cuts and shaving. They are expected to bath twice and visit the local temples regularly and only wear plain black or blue coloured traditional clothing. Saffron colored dresses are worn by Sanysis (monks) who have renunciated material life. But, many devotees still continue to wear saffron colored clothes which are against vedic scriptures due to ignorance.

Hundreds of devotees still follow the traditional mountainous forest path (approximately 52 km) from Erumely, believed to be taken by Ayyappa himself. The part starts from Erumely to Aludha river, then crosses the Aludha mountain to reach Karivilam thodu. Now comes the sacred Karimala crossing, from there to Cheriyanavattom, Valliyanavattom and finally Pamba River. Then they have to climb neelimala and we enter into the ganesh bettam, shreeram betta padam.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. This path, now developed, with shops and medical aid by the sides, used to be a mere trail through dense forest.

Administration

The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), a government owned body, administers the temple. TDB has insured the Ayyappa’s shrine for a value of Rs 30 crore ($7 million) and also introduced a free-of-cost accident insurance project for pilgrims visiting the temple. The pilgrims’ insurance scheme offered up to Rs 1 lakh to the devotees suffering from injuries or death at a stretch of about 18 km from Nilakkal to uphill Sannidhanam where the temple is located. An estimated 5 crore (50 million) pilgrims visits the temple every year.

Sabarimala is the main income source of the board, with Rs.50 crore accruing to it from there during the previous pilgrimage season (Nov.2010-Jan.2011).  The monthly income from the rest of the temples in Kerala was Rs.57 crore.  The total income from sabarimala during the 2012 mandala- makaravilakku pilgrimage season stands at Rs 230 crore, an increase of 12 crore from the previous season

Priesthood

The head priesthood of the temple rotates among the members of the Thazhamon family of chengannur. presently, Kandararu Rajeevararuis the Thantri (Head Priest) of Sabarimala. The day to day rituals of the temple are carried out by the Melsanthi and his assistants. Every year two new melsanthies, one each for sabarimala and malikappuram temple are selected by draw of lots.

Prasadams

The prasadam at Sabarimala temple is Aravana payasam and Appam. These are prepared by using rice, ghee, sugar etc. The rice needed to prepare prasadam at Sabarimala is supplied by Chettikulangara Devi Temple, the second largest temple under Travancore devaswom board situated at Mavelikkara. The Chief Commissioner, Travancore Devaswom Board said that the board has appointed Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore as a consultant for providing technical guidance to ensure the quality of Aravana, Appam, and other prasadom preparations at Sabarimala.

Harivarasanam

Harivarasanam is recited before closing the temple door every night. Harivarasanam song, which is sung at Sabarimala as a lullaby at night (Urakkupattu) was composed by Sri Kambangudi 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).

Though there have been many versions of this song sung by many renowned vocalists, the temple plays the rendition by K. J. Yesudas, composed by the renowned music director G. Devarajan, which is in the ‘Madhyamavathi’ raga of Indian Karnatic music. Harivarasanam is written in Malayalam.

Recently P. Unni Krishnan has rendered Harivarasanam song in his 2011 release of devotional songs titled ‘AYYAN MALAI ENGAL MALAI’.

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 Red coloured Irumudi is used by a pilgrim on his first journey(Kanni Ayyappan) to Sabarimala, others use Navy Blue till third year and there on saffron coloured Irumudi.

Makara Vilakku

Lord Sri Rama and his brother Lakshmana met Sabari, a tribal devotee, at Sabarimala. Sabari offered the Lord fruits after tasting them. But the Lord accepted them gladly and whole-heartedly. The Lord then turned and saw a divine person doing tapas. He asked Sabari who it was. Sabari said it was Sasta. Rama walked towards Sasta and the latter stood up and welcomed the Prince of Ayodhya. The anniversary of this incident is celebrated on Makara Vilakku day. It is believed that on Makara Vilakku day, Lord Dharmasasta stops his tapas to bless his devotees.and also it will called makara shankranthi

Aham Brahmasmi and Tattvamasi

The important message given at the temple is the ultimate knowledge that each individual is a God unto himself/herself, 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. this mahavakya suggested by swami chinnmayananda(1916–1993) in end of 70′s

Illumination and Power

In this remote hill shrine the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) is shouldering the task of providing sufficient illumination in base camps, trekking paths and the Sannidhanam, the shrine spot. KSEB installs and maintains around 15000 electric lamps of various types here. Power is brought here through Kochu Pampa and Thriveni Substations. Through uninterrupted supply and well maintained lights KSEB has been able to maintain good reputation in the recent years.

History of the Ayyappa Temple

There is no clear evidence as to when the pilgrimage to Sabarimala began. After the installation of the temple, it was mostly unreachable for about three centuries. One of the kings in a later generation rediscovered the original path to reach Sabarimala. He had many followers with him, including the descendants of the Vavar family. They refreshed their resources at Erumely and this marked the beginning of the famous Petta Thullal at Erumely. They laid down their arms at the place today known as Saramkuthy. Those who are on their maiden visits to Sabarimala thrust arrows at this place. The temple was then renovated. In 1821 AD, the kingdom of Pandalam was added to Travancore. 48 major temples including the Sabarimala temple were also added to Travancore. The idol was erected in 1910. In 1950, unidentified persons destroyed the temple by breaking the ‘Sri-kovil’ and the main idol of worship, and set fire to the temple. The temple also conflagrated in 1971 and underwent a major revamping.

The history behind the worshipping methods

The customs of the pilgrims to Sabarimala are based on five worshipping methods; those of Shaivites, Shaktists and Vaishnavites. At first, there were three sections of devotees – the devotees of Shakti who used meat, liquor and drugs to worship their deity, the devotees of Vishnu who followed strict penance and continence, and the devotees of Shiva who partly followed these two methods. Another name of Ayyappa is Sastha. All these can be seen merged into the beliefs of pilgrims to Sabarimala. The chain the pilgrims wear comes from the Rudraksha chain of the Shaivites. The strict fasting, penance and continence is taken out of the beliefs of the Vaishnavites. The offering of tobacco to Kaduthaswamy can be considered to be taken from the Shaktists.

Pullumedu stampede

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.