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Shubhyatra >> Kerala Yatra >> Sabarimala

SABARIMALA

Located : 210 km SE of Kochi and 235 km NE of Trivandrum
Dedicated To : Lord Ayyappa
Major Festival : Thiruvabharanam
When To Go : November 15-January 15

Sabarimala - Abode of the Country's Own God, Ayyappa !

Sabarimala Temple - Kerala
Sabarimala Temple - Kerala

It is for sure that Kerala has something more than its backwaters and ayurveda, more than its nurses and the bowl of rice, and even more than its colourful festivals and Kathakali dances that add a magnificent aroma to its air. And that is the country's own God, Ayyappa. What is more, all his devotees are called Ayyappas, probably endorsing their closeness with the supreme self. With black dhotis wrapped around their waists and with beards grown during 'vritham' (41 days of vegetarianism, celibacy, prayer and wearing of the Sabarimala rudraksh), they all look alike. Moreover, the echo of "Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa" along with hundreds of burning flames, surely portray a magnificent vista to behold.

Lord Ayyappa belongs exclusively to Kerala. The eye-catching 'god' in the Kerala Tourism Department's promotional slogan - God's own country - however doesnot manifest Ayyappa. Perched high up on the Sahyadri mountain ranges, Sabarimala Sri Dharmasastha Temple, is simultaneously the most famous and richest temple of Kerala.

Saranam Ayyappa - Surrender To Thy Feet

Mandalapooja (Nov.15th) and Makaravilakku (Jan.14th) are the two main events of the pilgrim season that attract thousands of devotees from all over the country. Legends prevail about Ayyappa's identities, 16 in all including the one in which he is believed to be incarnated as Buddha. The most common belief praises his birth as the union of Shiva and Vishnu, when the former was struck by the beauty of Vishnu and asks him to take the female form. Unlike certain Hindu temples, Sabarimala temple has no restrictions of caste or creed, and the pride of the place at the shrine is given to a Muslim deity to be heeded in God's secular vision. True individual action is called for as opposed to religious rites. The austerities include 41 days of vegetarianism, abstinence from sex and dressing in the sacred colours of blue (the celestial colour), ochre (of the renunciate) and black (of one who is dead to the world).

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Interestingly, on the day of 'Thiruvabharanam' (journey to the sacred site), every year two kites appear in the sky above the Pandalam Palace (the starting point) and are belived to be auspicious for the journey. Starting the journey on January 14th, the 'Thiruvabharanam' procession takes two days to reach the Sabarimala temple. You can plan your visit so as to coincide with this day that marks the appearance of a celestial light, called 'Makarajyothi'. Rationalists correlate the phenomenon to a sleight of hand by the Kerala Forest Department, but devotees believe the lights are 'aartis' performed by 'devas' and 'rishis' residing in heaven.

The Road To God

Devotees climbibg Path to Sabrimala Temple
Devotees climbibg Path to Sabrimala Temple - Kerala

It takes around 2 ½ hours through dense forests to reach Sabarimala. On top of that, committed pilgrims are expected to walk barefoot, as a test of their endurance. Before proceeding to the temple, take a bath in the Pampa river, also known as the Ganges of the South. As you walk towards the temple premises, you will be greeted with the pleasant aroma of camphor and incense. Police are at hand to ensure that stampedes are avoided and that you ascend the 18 steps - symbolising the 18 elements and so transcending them to the point where you handover a ghee-filled coconut and come face to face with Ayyappa. The significance of the coconut is open to interpretations, the most acceptable being that the shell is the devotee's body, the soft third eye of the coconut is his spiritual eye and the ghee his soul - all of which is surrendered at the Lord's feet. Bow in front of the Lord and take the prasadam (don't forget to offer some 'dakshina' at the entrance). Contour the temple 3 times before you move out with the shout of the temple employees - "move on, move on" - at the backdrop. Before stepping outside, turn back and shout "Swamiye saranam, saranam Ayyappa" (Oh Lord Ayyappa, I surrender to thee) alon with the euphony of the loudspeakers.

Drive Your Way

The Sabarimala Temple is in east Pathanamthitta District, a 2 ½ hour climb uphill from Pampa, where all the different pilgrimage routes converge. One can start at Erumeli in south-east Kottayam district. It is a 51 km walk from Erumeli to Pampa. Pilgrims to feble to walk can hire a dolly to go uphill. Pampa is 210 km south-east of Kochi and 235 km north-east of Trivandrum. Special trains are introduced from all over the country. KSRTC runs special bus services across the state to Pampa during the Sabarimala season (November 15-January 15). There are several options for accommodations at nominal cost, available both at Pampa and nearby Sannidhanam. It is better to go for an advance booking, because there is a huge rush during the festive season. As Ayyappa is a 'Nithya Brahmachari', women between the ages of 10 and 50 may not do the pilgrimage to Sabarimala. Cigarettes, beedis, 'paan', alcohol and carrying plastic is strictly prohibited, starting at Pampa and all the way up to Sabarimala.

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Devotees at  Sabarimala Temple

The Abode of The Lord
Plan a visit to Sabarimala, the abode of Lord Ayyappa, Kerala's own God. Trek through the 2 ½ km uphill terrain, take a bath in Pampa river, and climb the 18 stairs to reach the temple of Ayyappa. Enjoy the sights en route, all pictursque, unforgettable and moving - thousands from varied backgrounds, from near and far, all moving in unison to a single destination chanting "Swamiye Saranam"


The Celestial Fire of Power
Interestingly, on the day of 'Thiruvabharanam' (journey to the sacred site), every year a celestial light, called 'Makarajyothi' illuminates the faith of the devotees. Visit there to experience it. It is believed that the lights are 'aartis' performed by 'devas' and 'rishis' residing in heaven.


The Mind-blowing Fireworks
Make a wish under a thousand shooting stars - brilliant firework display that mark the end of Sabarimala in Kerala. And you'll never forget the thrilling experience. Who knows, Loed Ayyappa might fulfill your wish.


Men In Black
Carry your journey to Sabarimala with the Ayyappas. With black dhotis wrapped around their waists and with beards grown during 'vritham' (41 days of vegetarianism, celibacy, prayer and wearing of the Sabarimala rudraksh), they all look alike, but still create a magnificent scene to capture.


Sound of Devotion
Share your ears with the air that carries the euphony of the Panchvadyams (orchestra of five instruments). The traditional temple music surely elevates the festive spirit and leaves its listeners entranced.


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