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Sabarimala Temple, Kerala

Sabarimala Temple KeralaSabarimala is a renowned pilgrim centre atop the rugged hills of the Western Ghats. This holy shrine is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa. The sanctum sanctoram nestles 914 m above sea level, amidst the virgin forest wilderness of the Western Ghats. The Village of Sabarimala is named after Shabari who did severe penance in order to meet Rama who granted her wish for her devotion and faith during her penance. Sabarimala Sri Dharmasastha Temple is the most famous and prominent among all the Sastha Temples. It is believed that "Parasurama Maharshi" who uplifted Kerala from the sea by throwing his axe, installed the idol of Ayyappa at Sabarimala to worship Lord Ayyappa. 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. The unique feature of the Temple is that it opens to people of all faiths and many non-hindus conduct pilgrimages to this temple. The secular aspect of the temple is best exemplified by the existence of the "Vavar Nada" in honour of a Muslim saint at the close proximity to the main temple (Ayyappa Swami Temple) at Sabarimala by the side of Holy Pathinettampady. The pilgrims worship in this place also. The pilgrims on their sojourn to Sabarimala worship at Erumeli Sree Dharma Sastha Temple and conduct "Petta Thullal". They also worship in the mosque at Erumeli as a part of their pilgrimage. Ayyappa cult gives much importance for the secularism and communal harmony and has turn out to be a model for the whole world. Another significant aspect of the pilgrimage is that all the pilgrims whether rich or poor, learned or illiterate holding position or not master or servant are all equal before LORD AYYAPPA and all address each other as AYYAPPA. The divine qualities like equality, fraternity, tolerance, humanity etc.. are shining well in the pilgrims.

Temple of Sabarimala in KeralaTHE GLORIOUS SANNIDHANAM
According to legend, the temple of Sabarimala and the deity of Ayyappa have always been regarded as the Pandalam Raja’s very own, and it is not considered proper to proceed to the temple without the king’s knowledge and permission. To make it easy for pilgrims to obtain the necessary permission, a representative of the king sits even today, with all the royal insignia, on a raised platform at the base of the Neelimala Hill. The pilgrims offer a token amount to the royal representative, and receive vibhuti from him.This marks the beginning of the steepest climb of the pilgrimage, the 3 km trek up the majestic Neelimala Hill, atop which sits Lord Ayyappa in all his glory. The pilgrims wind their way up the difficult trail in an unending stream, the hill reverberating with the constant chanting of thousands. At the first sight of the Patinettampadi, the holy eighteen steps, a full throated cry goes up from the devotees, “Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa!” It is the realisation of a mission.Built on a plateau about 40 feet high, the Ayyappan temple commands a lofty view of the mountains and valleys all around. The ancient temple has been rebuilt after a fire in 1950, consisting of a sanctum sanctorum with a copper-plated roof and four golden finials at the top, two mandapams, the belikalpura which houses the altar, and the flag-staff. Replacing the earlier stone image of the deity is a beautiful idol of Ayyappa in panchaloha, an alloy of five metals, about one and a half feet tall.

There are several explanations regarding the significance of the Patinettampadi, but in all of them, the emphasis is on the number 18. One popular belief is that the first 5 steps signify the five indriyas or senses, the next 8 the ragas, the next 3 the gunas, followed by vidya and avidya. Crossing these would take the devotee closer to self-realisation.Finally, at the eighteenth step, the devotee is at last face to face with the image of the Lord Ayyappa, or Dharma Sasta. A circumambulation brings him right in front of the sanctum sanctorum, and the pilgrim is filled with a sense of accomplishment and utter peace. But there is one more thing to be done – the ghee abhisheka, or bathing of the idol in ghee, which marks the culmination of the pilgrimage. The ghee-filled coconut which the pilgrim has carried in the front section of his irumudi is broken, and the ghee is offered to the deity. Another important abhisheka is of vibhuti, which is also brought by the devotee in his irumudi.

To the south-west of the main temple is the shrine of Lord Ganapati, known as Kannimula Ganapati. The special offering to this deity is Ganapati homan; and there used to be a large homakunda in front of the shrine, which burned constantly, fed by the coconut shells thrown by the devotees, after offering the ghee. As the coconut shells are consumed by the fire, the sins of the devotees are believed to be cleansed. Due to the growing crowds in the temple, the homakunda has now been shifted to a location below the temple. About a 100 metres away is the shrine of Malikappurathamma. En route to the shrine is the temple tank, Bhasma Kulam, in which hundreds of devotees take a holy bath in memory of the tapaswini Sabari who entered a fire to end her mortal life. It is after her that the peak is named Sabarimala. On account of the number of people who bathe in the tank, the water is frequently drained out and refilled with fresh water.

Situated on a small hillock, the Malikappurathamma temple houses the shrines of the Devi and Kaduthaswamy. Devotees also worship a trident and lamp here, and offer coconuts. The coconuts are not broken, however, but are just rolled on the ground around the temple. To the left of this temple are the shrines of the snake god and goddess, Nagaraja and Nagayakshi. Here, tribals beat on drums, play stringed instruments and sing sarppa pattu to protect devotees and their progeny from the harmful effects of snakebites. At the foot of the Patinettampadi are the two shrines of Kaduthaswamy and Karuppaswamy, who stand like dwarapalakas or guardians of the holy steps, to ensure that they are not polluted by those who tread on them without fulfilling the rigid austerities required of them. They are also believed to protect the devotees from the evil spirits of the forests. According to legend, Kadutha was a great warrior who helped the Pandalam king defeat the armies of Udayanan and other enemies. When the king came to Sabarimalai to reconstruct the temple, Kadutha came with him to protect him. Ultimately, he became so attached to Ayyappa that he decided to spend the rest of his days with his Lord.

Also near the Patinettampadi is the shrine of the Muslim Vavurswami. While there are several accounts of identity of Vavur, it is generally believed that he was a warrior who was defeated and subdued by Ayyappa, and later became a close associate. It is believed that Lord Ayyappa himself instructed the Pandalam king to build a mosque for Vavur at Erumuli and a shrine at Sabarimalai. The Vavur deity is believed to be as old as the original deity of Ayyappa himself, and records show that the shrine was renovated sometime in 1905. Here, the poojas are conducted by a Muslim priest. There is no distinguishable idol, but a carved stone slab that represents the deity. A green silken cloth is hung across one wall, and there is also an old sword. The special offering here is green pepper. Many devotees also bring a goat to offer to Vavurswami, mainly in the belief that pilgrims accompanied by a goat will reach the temple safely. These goats are later auctioned by the temple authorities. The layout of the Ayyappa temple is believed to have originated from the specific instructions of the Lord himself, who wanted Malikappurathamma, on his left a few yards from Sannidhanam, and his trusted lieutenants Vavur and Kadutha to be positioned as his guards at the foot of the holy 18 steps.

THE GREAT MAKARA JYOTHI
The most anticipated event at Sabarimala is the Makara Jothi (usually on January 14th). Thiruvabaranam or the sacred jewels of the Lord (presented by Padalam King) arrives at Sabarimala in three boxes. On the arrival of the jewel boxes the whole mountain reverberates to the chanting of 'Saranam Ayyappa' by millions of devotees gathered there to watch the event.
The Thiruvabaranam box - still the private property of the Pandalam royal family, starts it journey two days before Makara Jothi day from Pandalam. The person who carries the box dances in a trance that can be believed only by who witnesses it. Thiruvabaranam travels through Valiakoikkal Sastha temple at Pandalam, Ayiroor Puthia Kavu Temple, Perunattil temple, Vlakkai, Nilaikkal Siva temple, Vellachimala, Pamba and Sabari Peedam before reaching at Sannidhanam around 6.00 PM on the Makara Jothi day. Every year a Garuda hovers and flies above the Thiruvabaranam boxes as if to guard them.On reaching the Sannidhanam the Melshanthi and Thandhri receive the sacred jewels amidst of thundering echoes of Sarana ghosham. The Thiruvabaranam box contains a diamond crown, golden bracelets, necklaces and a sword. The priests adorn the Lord with these and perform arathi. At the same moment a brilliant light of amazing magnificence appears in the northeastern side to the temple at opposite mountain in a place called Kantamala (the home of devas and rishis). It is believed that this brilliant flame of light is the arathi performed by the rishis and the devas. This event marks the culmination of the pilgrimage to Sabarimala.

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