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Sabarimala Temple of Kerala, India

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About Sabarimala

Lord Ayappa's temple in Sabarimala is the most important temple in Kerala. Sabarimala is one of the most remote shrines in southern India devoted to the Hindu god Ayyappan, India's most revered deities. Situated at a height of about 3,000 ft, the shrine is one of Hinduism's most important pilgrimage centers. High up in the Sahyadri Mountains (western ghats), Sabarimala Sri Dharmasastha Temple is the most famous and prominent among all the Sastha Temples. Pilgrimage to this temple symbolises the journey to heaven. Pilgrimage to Sabarimala, is performed by a growing number of 3-4 million devotees every year during the important pilgrimage season from 1st Vrischikom to 6th Makaram M.E. (mid-November to mid-January) during which the temple is inundated with devotees from all across India. Other holy places associated with Ayappa are Kulattupuzha, Aryankavu, Accankovil, and Kantamala.

Mandalapooja (Nov.15th) and Makaravilakku (Jan.14th) are the two main events of the pilgrim season. The shrine is also open for first five days of every Malayalam month. Women in the age group 10-50 shall not go to Sabarimala. The shrine is open to persons of all religious callings, and there are no caste restrictions during the pilgrimage. The male pilgrims are called 'Ayyappan' and the female pilgrims are called 'Malikappuram'

The pilgrimage consists of "mandalakalam", an intense 41-day penance during which the devotees called Ayyappans discipline themselves and prepares themselves by wearing the rosary and do the pujas, chanting Ayyappa hymns and meditating everyday and live like a brahmachari (celibate monk). The men must vow to walk bare foot, not cut their nails and hair, sleep on the floor and practice absolute abstinence during the period of their penance. After the 41-day penance, Ayyappan's form groups and go to Sabarimala through the traditional and longer route of via Erumeli. From there pilgrims trek barefoot for 15 miles through dense forests to arrive at Pamba. It takes about two days. They pass through Nilakkal, famous for its ancient Siva temple constructed inside a pookavanam, a garden of flowers grown just for worship ceremony. Every year, tens of thousands of devotees arrive in Nilakkal, Chalakkayam and Pamba during this special festival season, starting on November 17. The distance from the base of the hill to the top takes about three days to cover and the most important part of the pilgrimage are the final 18 steps, which lead to the temple. From Pamba (4 km), the shrine is accessible only by foot. Arriving at Pamba devotees chanting the Ayyappa mantra, will across the river to reach the sannidhanam and then pass the saramkuthi aal, a sacred banyan tree followed to reach a valley dividing the mountains of Neelimala and Sabarimala. Then the devotees climb the famous 18 steps symbolizes one of the 18 Gods of the 18 surrounding hills to reach the final destination in front of the sanctum sanctorum, where a glimpse of Ayyappan icon, called "Panchaloha," or "five-metaled," is placed. The temple dome is covered with gold and the devotees break the coconuts before climbing the steps. The pilgrims will wait in line for hours, even days, to have one or two seconds in front of the image of Ayappa. After seeing the deity, many pilgrims will complete a vow called Shayana Pradikshanam which means "revolution with the Body."

Getting to Sabarimala

Sabarimala (0929 North 7706 East) is situated in the midst of 18 hills, in a bowl of land blessed with a small rivulet named `Urakuzhi Theertham'. The area is in the hilly regions east of Kerala bordering Tamilnadu. Elevation above mean sea level is approximately 1260 Metres/4135 Ft. Temples existed in each of the hills surrounding Sabarimala. While functional (and intact temples) exist at many places in surrounding areas like Nilackal, Kalaketi, Inchiparakotta and Karimala, remnants of old temples are visible in the remaining hills.

  • From the international airport of Thiruvananthapuram (erstwhile Trivandrum) (149 km from Erumeli), Sabarimala is located at 010 degrees/115 Kms. Similarly, from the international airport at Kochi (erstwhile Cochin) it is located at 118 degrees/106 Kms. These distances are `direct air distances.
  • The nearest train stations are Chengannur (62 km from Erumeli), Thiruvalla, Changanasseri and Kottayam
  • By Road - 72 km from Pathanamthitta town, 191 km from Thiruvananthapuram and 210 km from Kochi. From Thiruvananthpuram, Kottayam, Ernakulam or any of the other railheads, you can get a bus to Chalakayam, Vandiperiyar or Erumeli - the three starting points for the trek up to Sabarimala.
  • The Vandiperiyar route starts along the Kottayam Kumili road, about 13kms short of Sabarimala.
  • From Tamil Nadu: Shencottai - Punalur - Pathanamthi--170 Kms; Kumali - Vandiperiyar - Erumeli - Plappalli--180 Kms.; Nearest railway station: Thiruvalla (102 km); 191 Kms north of Thiruvananthapuram and 210 Kms from Kochi.

Accommodation in Sabarimala

  • Accommodation facilities are operated by the Travancore Devaswom Board as well as state-run PWD, the Forest Department, the Water Authority and a few other government departments have guesthouses, but nearly all are off-limits to anybody who doesn't qualify as a `VIP'.
  • Most pilgrims end up staying at the guesthouses of the Travancore Devaswom Board, at Pampa and Sannidhanam.
  • Room tariffs are between Rs 100 to 600 per night
  • Accommodation can be booked by writing to the Devaswom Commissioner, Travancore Devaswom Board, Nathankode, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India 695003 Phone +91-471-316963/310319/317983 Sabarimalai Phone Nos.: +91-473-592026/592028)

Contacts at Sabarimala

  • Pilgrim Centre (Tel: 91-473-5592042)
  • The Devaswom Manager (Tel:91-473-5592038 or 91-473-5593442 )
  • The Devaswom Commissioner (Tel: 91-473-5592004)
  • The Ayyappa Seva Sangam (Tel: 91-473-5592043 at Sabarimala and 91-473-5593409 at Pampa)
  • The Accommodation Officer, Maramoth Complex, Sabarimala, Kerala Phone +91-473-592049
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