Sabarimala

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 100 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 15 November to 26 December), Makaravilakku (14 January- "Makara Sankranti") and Vishu (14 April), and the first six days of each Malayalam month.

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-cut, shaving and even trimming the nails. They are expected to bath twice in a day and visit the local temples regularly and only wear plain black or blue colored 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 becomes a part of vedic culture which connects the whole Hindus worldwide.

Hundreds of devotees still follow the traditional mountainous forest path (approximately 52 km) from Erumely, believed to be taken by Ayyappa himself. The route 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, shreerama betta padam. Then comes theAranmula kottaram, which is one of the halt place of holy journey 'thiruvabharana ghoshayatra'.

These days people use vehicles to reach till the Holy Pamba River by an alternate road. From Pamba, all the pilgrims begin trekking the steep mountain path of Neeli Mala till Sabari Mala. This route is now highly developed, with emergency shops and medical aid by the sides, and supporting aid is provided to the pilgrims while climbing the steep slope, which used to be a mere trail through dense jungle. The elderly pilgrims are lifted by men on bamboo chairs till the top, on being paid.

Prasadams
The prasadam at Sabarimala temple is Aravana payasam and Appam. These are prepared by using rice, ghee, sugar, jaggery etc. The rice needed to prepare the prasadam at Sabarimala temple 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 prasadam preparations at Sabarimala temple.

Harivarasanam
Harivarasanam is recited before closing the temple door every night. The Harivarasanam song, which is sung at Sabarimala is a lullaby(Urakkupattu)is 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 Carnatic music. Harivarasanam is written in Sanskrit.

Recently P. Unnikrishnan 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 carry the offerings for Sabarimala Temple 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 thereafter 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 is called makara shankranthi Note: there are many places with similar story of Sabari, no authentication of either exist.

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(19161993) in end of 70s.

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, a fire broke out which destroyed the entire temple and had to be reconstructed. According to the official enquiry report submitted by the Deputy Inspector General of Police, K. Kesava Menon, some Christian fundamentalists committed the arson. The temple also conflagrated in 1971 and underwent a major revamping.

The temple at Sabarimala is also linked to Buddhism prevailed all over India. The sitting posture and resemblance of the prayer 'Sharanam vili' to "Buddham Sharanam / Sangam Sharanam" points to the Buddhist past. Buddhist hermits always prefer to stay in interior jungles for solitary contemplation to attain Nirvana. Interestingly, the word 'Ayya' is a Buddhist Pali word means Lord/God. Early period there was a trade route passed through the high ranges between Kerala and Pandian kingdom.

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 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.

Pullimedu 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.