Sabarimala Sree Dharma Sastha Temple in Kerala, India, is dedicated to the worship of Ayyappan, believed to be the son of Shiva and Mohini. Situated atop a hill within the Periyar Tiger Reserve, the temple attracts millions of devotees annually during specific periods.
The temple opens for worship during Mandala Pooja, Makaravilakku, Maha Thirumal Sankranti, and the first five days of each Malayalam month. The pilgrimage involves a unique tradition of praying at the mosque of Vavar, a Muslim devotee of Ayyappan, showcasing the syncretism of religious traditions in India.
Origin and Legends
The origins and legends surrounding the Sabarimala Temple are deeply rooted in Hindu mythology and tradition. According to the Bhagavatam, the union of Shiva and Vishnu in Mohini form led to the birth of Shasta, also known as Hariharaputra. Ayyappa is believed to be an incarnation of Shasta.
The worship of Shasta is an integral part of South Indian history, with numerous temples dedicated to him worldwide. Five significant Shasta temples, including Sabarimala, are associated with Parashurama, an incarnation of Vishnu.
Each temple represents different stages of Ayyappa’s life, from childhood to his ascetic years, symbolizing his diverse roles and attributes. Kulathupuzha, Aryankavu, Achankovil, Sabarimala, and Ponnambalmedu temples respectively depict Ayyappa’s childhood, adolescence, family life, asceticism, and yogic state, enriching the lore and spirituality surrounding the Sabarimala Temple.
The Sabarimala Temple in Kerala, India, holds a rich history steeped in Hindu mythology and tradition. It is believed to be the abode of Lord Ayyappa, a revered deity born out of the union of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu.
Over the centuries, the temple evolved from a secluded shrine in the forest to a major pilgrimage site, attracting devotees from across the country. The pilgrimage season, known as “Mandala Kalam,” is marked by rigorous vows and culminates in the grand Makaravilakku festival.
Despite its cultural significance, the temple has faced contemporary challenges, notably the 2018 Supreme Court ruling lifting the ban on the entry of women of menstruating age, sparking debates on tradition and gender equality.
Efforts are underway to preserve the sanctity of the site while managing the increasing influx of pilgrims and safeguarding the delicate ecosystem of the Western Ghats. Sabarimala remains a symbol of communal harmony and spiritual unity, drawing millions of devotees seeking divine blessings and solace.
Architecture & Shrines in Sabarimala Temple
The Sabarimala Temple complex in Kerala features the Sannidhanam, situated on a raised plateau with a gold-plated roof and four golden finials atop, housing the sanctum sanctorum, two mandapams, and the balikalpura altar.
Accessible via the revered 18 sacred steps, which were covered with Panchaloha in 1985, the temple imposes a custom where pilgrims must carry an “Irumudikkettu” to ascend these steps, while the northern gate permits entry without it as per a 1991 Kerala High Court ruling.
Adjacent to the sanctum, shrines dedicated to Ayyappan’s half-brother Ganesha, as well as his trusted lieutenants Karuppu Sami and Kadutha Sami, are positioned. Maalikapurathamma’s temple, emphasized by Ayyappan’s specific instructions, stands nearby, with its idol covered in gold.
Other structures within the complex include the Nagaraja Shrine, Manimandapam marking Ayyappan’s mystical disappearance, and additional temples like Pampa Ganapathi, Nilakal Mahadeva, and Palliyarakkavu Devi, venerating deities associated with Ayyappan’s lineage and divine narrative.
Festivals and Religious Practices in Sabarimala Temple
The Sabarimala Temple in Kerala is steeped in rich religious practices and festivals that hold profound significance for devotees. The temple’s prasadam offerings include the renowned Aravana Payasam and Appam, overseen by the Travancore Devaswom Board to ensure quality.
The tradition of singing Harivarasanam, a Sanskrit lullaby dedicated to Ayyappa, originated in 1950 and is performed nightly before the temple’s closure. Neyyabhishekam, a ritual of pouring sacred ghee brought by pilgrims onto the idol of Ayyappan, symbolizes the merging of Jeevatma with Paramatma.
Makara Vilakku commemorates the meeting of Rama and Sabari, celebrated as Makar Sankranti, with devotees believing that Ayyappan blesses them on this day. The appearance of the Makarajyoti star marks the beginning of Makaravilakku festivities.
Additionally, the temple facade bears the philosophy of Tat Tvam Asi, signifying the pilgrimage’s deeper meaning of self-realization and acknowledging the divine within each devotee.