Western Ghats, Kerala
914 m above Sea Level
Sabarimala Temple Festival
This holy shrine, devoted to Lord Ayyappa is a renowned pilgrim centre atop the rugged hills of the Western Ghats. The sanctum sanctorum nestles 914 m above sea level, amidst the virgin forest wilderness of the Western Ghats.
The main pilgrimage is undertaken between November and January. Regardless of caste, creed, colour, they wear black dhotis and carry on their heads, bundles containing traditional offerings like coconut filled with ghee, camphor and rice.
The Sabarimala Temple festival is celebrated in honour of Lord Ayyapan who is revered by all in India. There are two main pujas called the Mandal Puja and the Makara Sankranti Puja, which are celebrated from November to Middle of January in Kerala, during which time the devotees perform austerities and penance.
The Main Festival
Sabarimala is one of the most important Hindu temples of Kerala. The Sabarimala Temple festival is celebrated in honour of Lord Ayyapan who is revered by all in India.
There are two main pujas called the Mandal Puja and the Makara Sankranti Puja, which are celebrated from November to Middle of January in Kerala, during which time the devotees perform austerities and penance.
Devotees undergo rigorous penance and austere living before starting on the pilgrimage. Devotees wear black 'dhotis' and are bare-chested as they prepare for the pilgrimage to Sabarimala.
The temple is at the top of the Neeli hills and the devotees have to climb the treacherous route carrying their meagre provision in a bundle called "Iru Mudi" meaning in "two folds".
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. The temple dome is covered with gold and the devotees break the coconuts before climbing the steps.
An Unmatched Instance of Religious Tolerance
Opposite the main temple complex, there is a smaller temple for the Muslim god called Wavar, who is an ally of Lord Ayyapa.
Signifying religious tolerance and harmony of the olden days, the devotees pay obeisance to Lord Wavar, on their way to the main temple. After the devotees complete their pujas and offerings, they return to the base of the hill and return to their homes.
The people making the pilgrimage for the first time are known as "Kanni Swamys" and the person leading the group is known as 'Guru Swamy' or the lead person of a team who is incharge of all the rituals.
Devotees take a ritual bath, while climbing up the hill in the holy river Pamba, which is believed to absolve one's sins.
Restricted Entry at the Festival Time
Only young girls who have not attained womanhood and old women who have reached menopause are allowed to worship at this time.
The men must vow to walk bare foot, not cut their nails and hair, sleep on the floor and practise absolute abstinence during the period of their penance.
How to Get There
Transportation is available up to Pamba, from where one has to travel a distance of 5 kms on foot. Devotees undertake rigorous penance, ritualistic vows and fasts before they visit the temple.