Sabarimala Temple of Lord Ayyappa
Hinduism is the oldest and the third largest religion in the world. There are a large number of Hindu pilgrim centres in India. One such major pilgrim centre is the Lord Ayyappa temple in the Kerala State.
Sabarimala temple of Kerala is a very ancient and important temple. The temple is situated on the slopes of western ghats in the southern part of Kerala. It is in the midst of thick forest and is surrounded by 18 hills. According to popular belief, the temple is 5000 years old. About five crore of devotees visit the temple every year. Just like other temples, this temple is not open on all the three sixty five days of the year. Normally the pilgrim season is mid November to mid January. On other occasions the worship is done for few days on first of every Malayalam month (middle of English month). One specialty of this temple is that ladies in the age group of 10 to 50 are not permitted to go to the temple.
The legend about this temple is as follows. It is believed that Kerala was uplifted from sea by sage Parasurama. He then installed Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala . Lord Ayyappa is said to be a joint personification of Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. Ayyappa , it is told meditated here after killing demoness Mahishi.
A very important feature of this temple is the oneness of different religious beliefs. It is perhaps the only one temple of the whole world with its doors open to all whatever be their religious beliefs. The pilgrims who are called ayyappans chant Swamiye sharana ayyappa. It is the mental peace and the spiritual relief that the pilgrims get after undertaking the pilgrimage that attracts lot of devotees to this temple. The devotees are expected to observe forty one days of vratham (penance). During this period, they have to take bath twice a day, wear blue or black dresses and refrain from having non- vegetarian items of meat, fish; alcohol and sex. They should wear garlands of rudraksha or tulasi (basil). However, now a days these practices are not followed in its full spirits. Pilgrims generally go in groups under a leader and each carry a cloth bundle called Irumudi Kettu containing traditional offerings.
The administration of the temple is done by Travancore Devaswam Board. It is an autonomous body and comprises a President and two other members.
There are different routes to reach the temple. The last stop of the motorable road is Pumpa. From Pumpa to sannidhanam (sanctum sanctorum) ,a distance of five kms has to be negotiated on foot. There are rest houses and hotels at the temple site but during peak period, it is difficult to get proper accommodation unless advance reservation is made.
Petta Thullal ( devotional dance):
Petta thullal performed by devotees at Erumali on way to the temple is an important traditional custom. According to belief, Petta thullal is a joyful dance performed on knowing that the terrible demoness Mahishi has been killed by Ayyappa and that it is the victory of virtue over evil. After the prayer and offerings, the pilgrims walk towards the mosque of Vavar nearby and receive sacred ash from the Muslim priest. This is actually a demonstration of religious harmony.