(The mountain of Sabari)
Amidst the virgin forest
wilderness of the Western Ghats lies the sacred mountain 'Sabarimala', a major
pilgrim centre in India. The landscape has vast unending stretches of forests,
rivers and plantations. Evergreen and moist deciduous forest cover half the
total district area. The holy Pamba river formed by the confluence of five
smaller rivers, descends from the Sabarimala. The sanctum sanctorum nestles 914
metres above sea level.
The pilgrimage to Sabarimala is a singular
example of a pilgrimage where pilgrims, without consideration of caste, creed,
position or social status, go with one mind and one `mantra' dreaming constantly
of the darshan of the presiding deity at the Holy Sannidhanam.
The temple is dedicated to Ayyappa. Sabarimala
is believed to be the place where Ayyapa meditated soon after killing the
powerful demon, Mahishi. This temple is unique in many respects. One is that the
temple is open to all irrespective of caste, creed or religion.
No woman devotee in the
fertility age group is allowed to proceed beyond Pamba. Devotees undertake
rigorous penance, ritualistic vows and fasts for 41 days before they visit the
temple. The main festivals are the Mandala pooja, the Makara vilakku in
December-January and the Vishu vilakku in April. Millions of devotees,
irrespective of caste, creed and colour, from all over the country, climb the 18
sacred steps to the sanctum sanctorum for a glimpse of Lord Ayyappa.
Inaccessible by road or rail,
one has to trek a distance of 4 km to reach the shrine. Transportation is
available only upto Pamba, which is 66 km from Pathanamthitta. Nearest
railway station: Chengannur, about 28 km from Pathanamthitta
When to go
The pilgrimages to Sabarimala begin by November
14 and last up to January 19. This is when the temple is inundated with devotees
from all across India, and everything from accommodation to flowers and coconuts
is at a premium.
Throughout the year, monthly poojas are held at
the temple, usually during the first week of each Malayalam month (approximately
around mid English month). The shrine is open only for the first five days of
every month and for the pilgrimage season, between mid-November and mid-January.
Millions of Ayyappa disciples visit the famous
temple of Lord Ayyappa every year from all around India. The main pilgrimage
season is from November to January. The temple is opened for brief periods at
the commencement of each Malayalam month and during certain important Malayali
festivals. Tourists and foreigners, as well as women between the ages of 10 and
50 (approximately age at puberty and menopause), are not officially allowed
entry to the main temple.
Women are not allowed to visit the Lord Ayyappa
Shrine. A number of feminist organizations have tried to persuade the Travancore
Devaswom Board to revoke this age-old tradition, but to no avail. Many reasons
are cited by the Board in support of the decree; these include the 41-day
penance imposed on pilgrims, the arduous trek up to the shrine, and the fact
that the Ayyappan worshipped at Sabarimala is supposed to be a celibate hermit
(bachelor). Be as it may, women between the ages of 10 and 50 cannot even enter
the forest around Sabarimala.