Sabarimala Tour- A Holy Uphill Sacred Place

After 14 days fasting we are visiting Pampa River. From there we make “Irumudikettu” and will start climbing up to the hill.We need to climb upto 04 Hrs continuosly through the middle of dense forest. On the way there are lots of small temples to visit.
To see darshan we need to step-up 18 steps.You will be in big surprise when you see the Great Ayyappa.

Sabarimala

Sabarimala is a Hindu pilgrimage centre located at the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Western Ghat mountain ranges ofPathanamthitta District, Perunad grama panchayat in Kerala. It is one of the largest annual pilgrimages in the world, with an estimated over 100 million devotees visiting every year. Ayyappan's temple is situated amidst 18 hills. The temple is situated on a hilltop at an altitude of 1260 m (4,133 ft) above mean sea level, and is surrounded by mountains and dense forests. The dense forest, (Periyar Tiger Reserve), around the temple is known as Poomkavanam. Temples exist in each of the hills surrounding Sabarimala. While functional and intact temples exist at many places in the surrounding areas like Nilakkal Kalaketty, and Karimala remnants of old temples survive to this day on remaining hills.

The shrine at Sabarimala is an ancient temple of Ayyappan also known as sasta and Dharmasasta.[3] In the 12th century, Manikandan, a prince of Pandalam dynasty, meditated at Sabarimala temple and became one with the divine. Manikandan was an avatar of Ayyappan.
Sabarimala is linked to pilgrimage predominantly undertaken by Hindus. Sabarimala pilgrims can be identified easily, as they wear black or blue dress. They do not shave until the completion of the pilgrimage, and smear Vibhuti or sandal paste on their forehead.

In 1991, the Kerala High Court banned entry of women between ages above the age of 10 and below the age of 50 from offering worship at Sabarimala Shrine during any period of the year. Presently, the Supreme Court of India has taken a petition to review the judgement of High Court and allow entry of women. The Supreme Court hearings are in progress and no decision has yet been made.

Customs

Austerities or Vrutham starts on Vrichikam 1 (middle of November) which enables one to observe nearly 14-60 days of Vrutham before Makara Sankranti (middle of January) which is the most auspicious day at Sabarimala. This also helps devotees to observe a vrutham of 41 days before the Mandala Pooja. The devotees initiate the vrutham by wearing a Thulasimala or Rudrakshamala with mudra (mudra means the locket, in this case that of Lord Ayyappa). The mala (bead garland to which is attached a pendant of Lord Ayyappa)) is sanctified in a temple or in the pooja room before being worn. After the prayers, the devotee receives the mala from the temple from the temple priest or a Periya Swami or a Guru Swami. It is also permissible to wear this mala in your own pooja room. At the time of adorning the mala, the pilgrim should be made to understand the implications of the vrutham and the pilgrimage. Before accepting the mala, traditional dakshina (tribute to the Guru) is offered to the priest or Guru. After wearing the `mala', the pilgrim is addressed as `Ayyappan' till his mala is removed on completion of his pilgrimage. Eligible female pilgrims are addressed as Malikapurams.

Guruswamy is one who has undertaken 18 or more pilgrimages and climbed the Pathinettam Padi eighteen times. It must be remembered that in the old days, pilgrimage was undertaken once a year only. Eighteen pilgrimages meant 18 years of steady devotion and dedication. On the eighteenth visit, it was symbolic to take along a coconut sapling to be planted at Sannidhanam. Nowadays eighteen pilgrimages can be undertaken in just over a year. So we must re-define Guruswamy to say that it is someone who has undertaken the pilgrimage at least eighteen times, is a total devotee of Lord Ayyappa, and is learned and responsible enough to to convey the full significance of the pilgrimage to his followers. He should also be able to lead his group safely through the pilgrimage. Simple living, absolute cleanliness and holy thoughts are the mainstay of the vrutham. The mind and body are to be kept impeccably pure and absolute celibacy is practiced. The devotee is expected to behave in an austere and sober fashion during his vrutham. Total abstinence from all vices like alcohol, tobacco and non-vegetarian food is stipulated. Personal adornments, hair cutting, shaving, etc. are also taboo.

Devotee is expected wear black/blue/saffron clothes. Devotee is expected to pray daily in the mornings and evenings after taking bath. The prayer ritual can be performed by going to any temple or in one's own pooja room. Those devotees who are desirous of worshipping Lord Ayyappa on `Makara Vilakku' day (January 14) may continue their vrutham till that day. The vrutham continues till the pilgrim returns from his pilgrimage to Sabarimala and removes his `mala' after breaking a coconut and offering prayers. Without a proper Vrutham it is a sacrilege to visit the temple or climb the Holy 18 Steps. (The 18 Steps cannot be climbed if you are not carrying an `Irumudi Kettu'). A vrutham of at least 41 days must be undertaken so that necessary physical fitness and mental conditioning are achieved before the arduous trek. No pilgrim, except the Royal Family of Pandalam, is permitted to ascend the `Pathinettam Padi' without carrying a Irumudi on the head. Those without Irumudis can only enter the temple precincts through the side entrance. Prior to leaving home for Sabarimala, the Irumudi is filled at the temple or in ones own pooja room. The ceremony is conducted with the assistance of the periaswamy amidst chanting of 'Saranam Ayyappa'. Irumudi is carried on the head with due reverence. Irumudi Kettu is divided into two parts. The front pouch and the rear pouch. The front pouch, for identification, is marked with the symbol `OM'. The front portion is meant for stocking pooja articles such as coconuts filled with cow ghee, camphor, unboiled rice, plantain (kadali), aval (flattened rice), pori, sandal paste incense sticks, vibhuti (sacred ash), kumkum (vermilion), turmeric powder, jaggery, kalkkandom (candied sugar)and coins for dakshina.

The rear pouch of the Irumudi Kettu contains consumable edible items which are used by the pilgrim for his personal sustenance during the journey to Sabarimala and back. Minimal bedding like blankets or bed sheets can also be carried. These can be used as a cushion on the head. When the pilgrims leaves his home for Sabarimala, he breaks a coconut on a stone near his door step. A lit oil lamp is generally placed on this stone. Till the pilgrim returns home after the pilgrimage, one of the family members ritually lights this lamp at dusk, and allows it to remain lit for a couple of hours, in a gesture of prayer for the well being of the pilgrim and his safe return. When the pilgrim returns home, he breaks a coconut at the same spot to signify the end of the pilgrimage and then moves on to the pooja room to unload the `Irumudi and remove the mala which he had worn at the time of beginning the austerities. That signifies the last ritual of the pilgrimage.

Story behind Swami Ayyappan

The members of Pandya dynasty ousted by Thirumala Naicker the ruler of the erstwhile Pandya Empire spanning Madurai, Thirunelveli and Ramanathapuram lived in places like Valliyur, Tenkasi, Shengottah, Achankovil and Sivagiri. They had also established their supremacy in parts of Travancore, and some of them belonging to Chempazhanattu Kovil in Sivagiri were given the right to rule the country of Pandalam by the King of Travancore, some eight hundred years ago. King Rajashekara, the foster-father of Lord Ayyappan belonged to this dynasty. A just and precocious sovereign King Rajashekara was held by his subjects in high esteem. Under him, the region was witnessing a goldenage. But the king had one sorrow – he was childless and thus had no heir to inherit his throne. Both the hapless king and his queen prayed ceaselessly to Lord Shiva for a child.

Around the same time, a demon by the name of Mahishasura undertook severe penance (tapas) and consequently Lord Brahma was forced to grant his wish that nobody on earth could annihilate him. Emboldened by Brahma’s boon, Mahishasura commenced systematic destruction of people and pulverized tribes and communities. Terrorised and fearing his wrath, people fled to distant lands. Realizing that only a superhuman power could exterminate the wayward Mahishasura, the devas appealed to Goddess Durga, who killed him in a bloodybattle.

Determined to avenge her slain brother, Mahishi, the sister of Mahishasura secured a boon from Lord Brahma that no being except the offspring of Vishnu (Hari) & Shiva (Haran) could slay her. In due course of time, Mahishi went to Devaloka and began harassing the Devas who in turn implored Lord Vishnu to intervene. As the boon was that nobody except the son of Lord Shiva & Vishnu could kill Mahishi, Lord Vishnu assumed the female persona of Mohini who helped devas prize Amrit away from asuras; it was decided that the male child born out of the union of Mohini and Lord Shiva would be placed under the care of Lord Shiva’s childless devotee, King Rajashekhara of Pandalam. On one of his hunting trips to the forests near River Pampa, as King Rajashekara reclined on the banks of river mulling over the natural beauty of the surroundings and waterfalls, he heard an infant’s wails from the forest. Astounded, he followed the sounds and came upon a beautiful child furiously kicking its feet and arms. The king stood there, perplexed – he longed to take the child home to his palace.

Whilst King Rajashekhara beheld the divine child, a sadhu appeared from nowhere and instructed him to take the infant to his palace. Also the mendicant assured him that the child would mitigate his dynasty’s sufferings and that when the boy turned twelve, Rajashekhara would be aware of his divinity. As the child was wearing a gold chain, the sadhu directed the King to name him ‘Manikandan’ – one with a golden neck. Ecstatic, Rajashekhara took Manikandan home and narrated the happenings to his queen. They both felt that they had been blessed by LordShiva himself. All except the Diwan who had entertained hopes of becoming king after Rajashekhara, rejoiced in the royal couple’s happiness. As a child, Manikandan was very intelligent and precocious. He excelled in martial arts and shastras and surprised his guru with his brilliance and superhuman talents. Peace and prosperity reigned in Pandalam.

Eventually, Ayyappan’s guru concluded that the boy was no ordinary mortal but a divine being. Upon completing his studies, Manikandan went up to his teacher to offer guru dakshina and seek his blessings in turn. As he approached his spiritual master for ashirwaadams, the guru explained to Manikandan what he had already surmised about him, that he was a divine power destined for superhuman glory. The guru then beseeched him to bestow vision and speech upon his son who was blind and dumb. Manikandan placed his hands on the guru’s son and the boy immediately gained eyesight and speech. Requesting that this miracle be revealed to none, Manikandan returned to the royal quarters. Meanwhile the Queen had given birth to a male child who was named Raja Rajan. Sensing these miraculous turn of events were somehow inextricably linked to Manikandan, Rajasekara, decided to crown him King; he obviously considered Lord Ayyappan his eldest son.

Everbody with the exception of the King’s Diwan, rejoiced. This wily minister, who secretly nursed kingly ambitions, hated Manikandan and devised manifold plots, including poisoning of food to exterminate the divine avatar. Manikandan had a few narrow escapes, yet his body bore an injury that none could cure. Finally, Lord Shiva himself in the garb of a healer cured the young boy. His plans foiled, the Diwan told the Queen that it was highly improper for Manikandan to succeed Rajasekara, as her own son was alive. Since Arthasastra justifies any misdeed with a noble end, he instigated her to feign illness; he assured the Queen that he would make his physician proclaim that she could be cured only by the application of tigress’ milk.

Manikandan would be impelled to go to the forest where he would fall a prey to wild animals, or even if he returned home without accomplishing the task, Rajasekara’s love for him would be the same as before. Blinded by her devotion to her own son, the Queen vowed to help the Diwan and pretended as though she were suffering from a terrible headache. The King grew alarmed and summoned his physicians who were unable to revive the seemingly ailing Queen. Eventually the Diwan’s accomplice declared that she would be cured of the malady only if the milk of a lactating tigress were made available. Rajasekara proclaimed that he would hand over half his kingdom to anybody who could cure the hapless Queen.

The team of soldiers sent by Rajasekara with the sole purpose of getting the milk returned empty-handed. Manikandan offered to help, but the King would not heed his pleas to go to the forest, citing the boy’s tender age and impending coronation as reasons. Unperturbed, Manikandan requested his father to do him a favour. Rajasekara, ever the indulgent parent relented immediately; the boy seizing the opportunity pressed him to let him collect the milk.Manikandan stalled Rajasekara’s efforts to organize a band of brave men to accompany him into the forest; he argued that the tigress would leave silently upon seeing the crowd of soldiers. Reluctantly Rajasekara bid farewell to his favourite son and made him take food stocks and three-eyed coconuts, in honour of Lord Shiva.

The Panchabuthas of Lord Shiva closely followed Manikandan as he entered the forest. But on the way, he chanced to witness the atrocities of the demoness Mahishi in Devaloka. His sense of justice outraged, Manikandan hurled Mahishi onto the earth below; she fell on the banks of the Azhutha River.

This dance was witnessed by Lord Shiva and Mahavishnu from a place called Kalakatti (It is said that Leela, daughter of Kavalan, a Karamban, with a face of Mahishi and freed herself from the curse and obtained Moksha by the grace of Shri Dharma Sastha, which is described in Sabarimala Temple as Malikapurathu Amma, by which name she has a temple there) Following his confrontation with Mahishi, Manikandan entered the forest for tigress’ milk. He had a darshan of Lord Shiva who informed him that even though he had fulfilled the divine plan, he still had one major task to accomplish. Manikandan was reminded about his grief-stricken father and ailing mother; also he was assured of Lord Indran’s assistance in obtaining the much prized tigress’ milk. Manikandan made his way to the Royal palace on Lord Devendran, disguised as a tiger; they were accompanied by female devas in the guise of tigresses and male devas as tigers.

The people of Pandalam panicked upon seeing the boy and the tigers and hurriedly sought shelter. Soon after, the Sanyasi, who had first materialized before Rajasekara in the forest, when he heard a child’s wails appeared again and revealed Manikandan’s true identity to the wonder-struck Sovereign. The King grew silent and pensive, as Manikandan approached the palace gates with the tigers. The boy descended from the tiger’s back and informed the solemn King that he could get the milk from the tigresses and cure the Queen of the mysterious ailment. Unable to contain himself any longer, Rajasekara fell at the lad’s feet and begged for forgiveness, he had finally seen through his Queen’s pretence; her malady had ceased the moment Manikandan had left for the forest. On the day he returned from the forest, Manikandan turned twelve years old.

King Rajasekara decided to punish his Diwan as the latter was responsible for his son’s exile into the forest. Manikandan, however advised restraint; he held that all had unfolded in accordance with the divine order, through the will of God. Also he reminded his father that as he had accomplished the task for which he had created himself, he would return to Devaloka without fail. Before his departure, the lad told the King that he as he was pleased by the latter’s unflinching faith and devotion, he would grant him whatever boon Rajasekara requested for. Immediately, the King Rajasekara told him that they wanted to construct a temple in his memory and beseeched him to suggest a suitable place for the temple. Manikandan aimed an arrow which fell at a place called sabari, where in Sri Rama's era a Sanyasini called sabari observed Dhavam. Lord Manikandan told the King to build the temple in that place and then he disappeared.

Later, acting upon the advice of Saint Agasthya King Rajasekara laid the foundation stone of the temple at Sabarimala. Lord Manikandan, had stated emphatically that he would grace only those devotees who offer Darshan after observing fortyone days’ penance or vrtha that involves strict abstinence from family desires and tastes; the devotees are expected to adhere to a way of life akin to that of a brahmachari, constantly reflecting on the goodness of life. Whilst they make their way up the steep slopes of Sabarimala, they adorn themselves with three-eyed coconut and foodstuff/Aantha Garland in their heads, as the Bhagwan did when he went to the forest to fetch tigress milk, and bathed in River Pampa raising slogans of Saranam and climb the eighteen stairs.

King Rajasekara, in due course of time completed the construction of the shrine and the sacred eighteen stairs leading to the temple complex. As the King mulled over the seemingly perplexing task of placing Dharmasastha's idol in the temple for darshan, he was reminded of the words of the Lord himself - the River Pampa is a holy river as River Ganga, Sabarimala is as holy as Kasi - Dharmasastha sent Parasuraman, who resurrected the land of Kerala from the bottom of the ocean, to Sabarimala; it was he who carved the figure of Lord Ayyappa and installed it on the day of Makarasankranthi. Every year, millions converge upon Sabarimala irrespective of caste or creed, with garlands and irumudis, chant paeans to Lord Ayyappa, bathe in holy river Pampa, climb up the eighteen stairs, hoping to catch a glimpse of Lord Ayyappa, the Dharmasastha.

The Jewel Casket is carried on head from the ancestral residence of the royal family of Pandalam to the Shrine on the day. A Garuda, the Brahaman kite, follows this ornaments-carrying procession, hovering about in the sky, After these ornaments are worn on the Lord the bird circles the temple in the sky three times and disappears. Excited by this sight the devotees begin to chant "Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa". A Star never seen before in the sky appears on the day of Makarajyothi day before the sighting of the Jyoti. A Jyoti is seen for a little time on the hilltop showing the presence of Swami Ayyappan gracing his devotees.