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Sabarimala Shreekovil
Sabarimala Shreekovil
Sabarimala is located in Kerala
Location in Kerala
Coordinates9°26′15″N 77°04′50″E / 9.4375°N 77.0805°E / 9.4375; 77.0805Coordinates: 9°26′15″N 77°04′50″E / 9.4375°N 77.0805°E / 9.4375; 77.0805
Elevation480 m (1,575 ft)
SanctumAyyappa aka Dharma Sastha
Major festivalsMakaravilakku
ArchitectureKerala Temple architecture
Number of temples4
Date builtBefore 12th century

Sabarimala is a Hindu temple complex located at the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala, India, considered to be one of the holiest in Hinduism.[1] It is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world with an estimated 17–30 million devotees visiting every year.[2][3][4] Some estimates put the number of annual visitors as high as 50 million.[5] The temple is dedicated to the god Ayyappan also known as Dharma Sastha, who according to belief is the son of Shiva and Vishnu.[6] The traditions of Sabarimala are a confluence of Shaivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism, and other Śramaṇa traditions.[7]

The temple is situated on a hilltop amidst eighteen hills at an altitude of 480 m (1,574 ft) above sea level, and is surrounded by mountains and dense forests. The dense forest (Periyar Tiger Reserve) around the temple is known as Poongavanam. 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.

In response to a PIL filed in 1991, the Kerala High Court had observed the restriction of entry of women ( in the 10-50 age group ) to the temple was in accordance with the usage prevalent from time immemorial. In lieu of this, it had directed the Devaswom Board to uphold the customary traditions of the temple. However, on 28th September 2018, the Supreme Court of India, overturned the ban on the entry of women, declaring that the selective ban on women was unconstitutional and discriminatory. [8][9]

The temple is open for worship only during the days of Mandalapooja (approximately 15 November to 26 December),[10] Makaravilakku or "Makara Sankranti" (14 January) and Maha Vishuva Sankranti (14 April), and the first five days of each Malayalam month.


Aiyyanar with Poorna and Pushkala. From Historical Museum of Rajendra Chola, Gangaikondacholapuram, Perambalur District, Tamil Nadu, India.

The worship of Sastha forms part of the very ancient history of south India.[11] At Sabarimala, the deity is worshiped as Ayyappan and as Dharmashasta. The shrine of Sabarimala is an ancient temple. It is believed that the prince of Pandalam dynasty, an avatar of Ayyappan, meditated at Sabarimala temple and became one with the divine. The place where the prince meditated is the Manimandapam.

There are many Sastha temples in South India and across the globe.[12] As per the temple history, the Sastha temple at Sabarimala is one of the five Sastha temples founded by Lord Parasurama. The other Sastha temples in this group of five includes the Ayyappan Temples:[13][unreliable source?] at Kulathupuzha, where the Sastha appears as a Balaka or child; at Aryankavu where the Lord appears as a Brahmachari or young man; at Achankovil Shastha Temple, where the lord leads the Grihastha Ashrama life here and depicted along with his two wives – Purna and Pushkala[citation needed] at Sabarimala, where the lord is depicted in the Vanaprastha or form of renunciation; at Ponnambala Medu the Lord appears as a yogi and where the "makaravilaku' is lit.[14][unreliable source?]

After the installation of the temple, it was mostly unreachable for about three centuries. In the 12th century, a prince of Pandalam Dynasty, called Manikandan, rediscovered the original path to reach Sabarimala. He had many followers with him, including the descendants of the Vavar (a Muslim warrior whom Manikandan defeated) family. This Prince is considered an Avatar of Ayyappa, and is believed to have led a pack of Tigers to his Palace with Vavar and then later disappeared to the Sabarimala temple. The temple was then renovated[15].[unreliable source?]

In 1821, the kingdom of Pandalam was added to Travancore. 48 major temples including the Sabarimala temple were also added to Travancore. The idol was erected in 1910[16].[unreliable source?]

The temple[edit]

Sabarimala Picture gallery
Garba Gudi

The Sannidhanam (main temple) is built on a plateau about 40 feet high.[17][unreliable source?][18][unreliable source?]

The temple was rebuilt after arson and vandalism in 1950 thought to have been carried out by Christians according to the police investigation. No charges were brought.[19] and the earlier stone image of the deity was replaced by a panchaloha idol, about 1 and half feet, made from an alloy from five metals.

The temple consists of a sanctum sanctorum with a gold-plated roof and four golden finials at the top, two mandapams, the balikalpura which houses the altar. In 1969, the flag staff (dhwajam) was installed.[citation needed]

The shrine of Kannimoola ganapathi prathishta is south-west to The Sreekovil of the Sannidhanam. Devotees offer part of the broken coconut (Neythenga) to the fireplace (Azhi). Ganapathi homam is the main offering.[18][unreliable source?]

Nagarajav Shrine at Sabarimala

The shrine of the Lord of snakes, Nagarajav is placed adjacent to the malikappuram temple. Pilgrims after the Darsan of Lord Ayyappa and Kannimoola Ganapathi, make their darsan and give offerings to Nagarajav.

The Pathinettu thripadikal or the 18 sacred steps is the main stairway to the temple. As per the custom followed, no pilgrim without "Irumudikkettu" can ascend the 18 sacred steps. In 1985, the 18 steps were covered by panchaloka and later covered with gold. The stairway in northern gate is open for those who do not carry an "Irumudikkettu".[citation needed]

The temples of Lord Ayyappan's trusted lieutenants Karuppu Sami and Kadutha Swami are positioned as his guards at the foot of the holy 18 sacred steps.

The temple of Maalikapurathamma, whose importance is almost in par with Lord Ayyappa,[citation needed] is located few yards from Sannidhanam. It is believed that the Lord Ayyapan had specific instructions that he wanted Malikappurath Amma, on his left side. Prior to the fire disaster, there was only a Peeda Prathishta (holy seat) at Malikappuram. The idol of Malikappurath Amma was installed by Brahmasree Kandararu Maheswararu Thanthri. The Devi at Malikappuram holds a Sankh, Chakram and Varada Abhya Mudra. Now the idol is covered with a gold Golaka. The temple also was reconstructed in the last decade and now the conical roof and sopanam is covered with gold.[20][unreliable source?]

Manimandapam, is the place where Ayyappan Jeeva samadhi[Arya kerala jeevasamadhi].[20][unreliable source?]

The Sabarimala temple complex include Pampa Ganapathi temple, Nilakal Mahadeva temple and Palliyara Bhagavathi temple. The Nilakal Mahadeva temple and Palliyara Bhagavathi temple is as old as the Sastha temple and the deities are worshiped as the parents of Lord Ayyappa. Ganapathi temple at Pampa has Pampa Maha Ganapathi and Athi Ganapathi (lit. old ganapathy), sreekovil where the idol from the first Ganapathy temple is worshiped. Sabari Peedam has a temple of Sri Rama and Hanuman also.[citation needed]



The prasadam at Sabarimala temple is Aravana payasam and Appam. These are prepared by using rice, ghee, sugar, jaggery etc. The rice needed to prepare the prasadam at Sabarimala temple is supplied by Chettikulangara Devi Temple, the second largest temple under the Travancore Devaswom Board situated at Mavelikkara. The Chief Commissioner, Travancore Devaswom Board said that the board has appointed Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore as a consultant for providing technical guidance to ensure the quality of Aravana, Appam and other prasadam preparations at Sabarimala temple.[21]


Harivarasanam is recited before closing the temple door every night. The Harivarasanam prayer, which is sung at Sabarimala is a Urakkupattu. It is composed by Sri Kambangudi Kulathur Srinivasa Iyer in Sanskrit. It is said that Srinivasa Iyer used to recite the composition after the Athazha Puja, standing in front of the shrine of Ayyappa in the main temple. With the efforts of Swami Vimochanananda, it came to be accepted as the lullaby by the Tantri and Melshanthi. The composition has 352 letters, 108 words in 32 lines in 8 stanzas.[22][unreliable source?]

Though there have been many versions of this song sung by many renowned vocalists, the temple plays the rendition by K. J. Yesudas, composed by the renowned music director G. Devarajan, which is in the Madhyamavathi raga of Indian Carnatic music.[23][unreliable source?]


This significant ritual involves pouring sacred ghee brought by pilgrims in their Pallikettu or Irumudi (A two compartment bag made of handwoven cotton cloth used to carry the offerings for Sabarimala Temple carried on their heads) on the idol of Lord Ayyappa. It symbolically means the merging of Jeevatma with the Paramatma. While a red-colored irumudi is used by a pilgrim on his first journey as a Kanni Ayyappan to Sabarimala, others use navy blue till third year and thereafter saffron colored irumudi.

Makara Vilakku[edit]

Lord Rama and his brother Lakshmana met Sabari, a tribal devotee, at Sabarimala. Sabari offered the Lord fruits after tasting them. But the Lord accepted them gladly and whole-heartedly. The Lord then saw a divine person doing tapasya. He asked Sabari who it was. Sabari said it was Shasta. Rama walked towards him. Shasta stood up and welcomed the Prince of Ayodhya. The anniversary of this incident is celebrated on Makara Vilakku day. It is believed that on Makara Vilakku day, Lord Dharmashasta stops his tapasya to bless his devotees. The day is also called Makara Shankranthi.[citation needed]

Aham Brahmasmi and Tattvamasi[edit]

The important message written at the temple facade is one of the four Mahāvākyas of Advaita or the non-dualistic school of philosophy. Tat Tvam Asi, the 3rd of four Mahavakyas which in sanskrit translates to "Thou Art That" is the principle philosophy that governs the temple and pilgrimage. As the pilgrimage is symbolic for the journey to self-realization that all living beings possess the essence of Brahman, pilgrims refer to each other as Swami, acknowledging their divinity.[citation needed]

It means, in short, you are part of the Paramatma which is the quintessence of Advaita philosophy.[citation needed]

Aravana Payasam
Aravana Payasam

The history behind the worshipping methods[edit]

The customs of the pilgrims to Sabarimala are based on five worshipping methods; those of Shaivites, Shaktists and Vaishnavites. At first, there were three sections of devotees – the devotees of Shakti who used meat to worship their deity[citation needed], the devotees of Vishnu who followed strict penance and continence, and the devotees of Shiva who partly followed these two methods. Another name of Ayyappa is Sastha. All these can be seen merged into the beliefs of pilgrims to Sabarimala. The chain the pilgrims wear comes from the Rudraksha chain of the Shaivites. The strict fasting, penance and continence is taken out of the beliefs of the Vaishnavites. The offering of tobacco to Kaduthaswamy can be considered to be taken from the Shaktists.[citation needed]


A sign-board that indicates the direction to Sabarimala. The multilingual board is written in Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and English (in that order, from top to bottom)
Crowd management of pilgrims

The devotees are expected to follow a Vratham (41-day austerity period) prior to the pilgrimage.[24][unreliable source?][25][unreliable source?] This begins with wearing of a special Mala (a chain made of Rudraksha or Tulasi beads is commonly used, though still other types of chains are available.). During the 41 days of Vratham, the devotee who has taken the vow, is required to strictly follow the rules that include follow only a lacto-vegetarian diet (In India, vegetarianism is synonymous with lacto-vegetarianism), follow celibacy, follow teetotalism, not use any profanity and have to control the anger, allow the hair and nails to grow without cutting. They must try their maximum to help others, and see everything around them as lord Ayyappa. They are expected to bath twice in a day and visit the local temples regularly and only wear plain black or blue coluored traditional clothing.[citation needed]

Hundreds of devotees still follow the traditional mountainous forest path (approximately 61 km) from Erumely,12.8 km from Vandiperiyar and 8 km from Chalakayam, believed to be taken by Ayyappa himself. The Erumely route starts from Erumely to Aludha river, then crosses the Aludha mountain to reach Karivilam thodu. Now comes the sacred Karimala crossing, from there to Cheriyanavattom, Valliyanavattom and finally Pamba River. Then they have to climb Neelimala and enter into the Ganesha-Bettam, Shreerama-Betta Padam. Then comes the Aranmula kottaram, which is one of the stops of holy journey Thiruvabharana Ghoshayatra (the grand procession of the divine jewelery).[citation needed]

These days people use vehicles to reach the Pamba River by an alternate route. From Pamba, all the pilgrims begin trekking the steep mountain path of Neeli Mala till Sabari Mala. This route is now highly developed, with emergency shops and medical aid by the sides, and supporting aid is provided to the pilgrims while climbing the steep slope, which used to be a mere trail through dense jungle. The elderly pilgrims are lifted by men on bamboo chairs till the top, on being paid.[citation needed]


Before the Kerala High Court's 1991 verdict, women visited the temple even though in small numbers. Women pilgrims below the age of 50 would visit the temple to conduct the first rice-feeding ceremony of their children (Chorroonu) in the temple premises.[26]

In 1991, Justice K Paripoornan and Justice K Balanarayana Marar of the Kerala High Court in their ruling against the Travancore Devaswom Board, 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 stating that such restriction was in accordance with the usage prevalent from time immemorial.[27] In addition, the Justices of the High court directed the Government of Kerala, to use police force to ensure the order to ban entry of women to the temple was implemented and complied with.[27] On 28th September 2018 the Supreme Court of India, in a 4-1 majority decision, overturned the ban on women between the ages of 10 and 50 entering the temple .[28] The Chief Justice, Dipak Misra, stated that the selective ban on women was not an "essential part" of Hinduism, and instead a form of "religious patriarchy". Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud stated that the ban "stigamatises" and "stereotypes" women, while "placing the burden of men's celibacy" on them.[29]The lone women justice, Indu Malhotra noted in her dissenting judgement that “what constitutes an essential religious practice is for the religious community to decide” and not a matter that should be decided by the courts. She added that “notions of rationality cannot be invoked in matters of religion by courts”[30][31]

This led to protests at Nilakkal and Pamba base camps on 17 October 2018; when the temple was opened for the first time since the Supreme Court verdict came. Women journalists were assaulted by the protestors and camera equipment taken from them, with at least one vehicle damaged. Police and other people were also attacked. A number of women were among the protestors, checking cars to see if they contained women of menstruating age and helping with road blocks.[32][33] There were also reports about police damaging protesters motor bikes[34].

Two women of menstruating age attempted to enter the temple on 19 October 2018 but were blocked by protesters about 100 m away from the Sreekovil. After the Thantri issued a warning that he will close the sanctum sanctorum if they attempt to climb the 18 sacred steps, they returned without entering the main temple. [35]


Administration and legal duties is managed by Travancore Devasvom Board, an affiliate authority of Government of Kerala. Thazhamon Madom is the traditional priest family who has powers over the religious matters to be decided in Sabarimala Temple. Tantri is the highest priest and is the head of the temple. It's the duty of the family to decide on religious matters relating to Sabarimala shrine. Tantris are to be present in all ceremonial Poojas and functions to be held at temple premises and functions associated with temple. The installation of idols of the temple was also done by Tantri of this family.

Currently Brahmasri Kantararu Maheshwararu Tantri is the head priest of Sabarimala.

Environmental efforts[edit]

An information signage near Nadappanthal, Sabarimala, inviting all to join hands in making Sabarimala free from plastic and other wastes.

The waste disposed by the visitors to Sabarimala is threatening the wildlife of the region[36][37][38] and the evergreen forests.[39] Efforts are on to make Sabarimala free from pollution and waste. High Court of Kerala has directed that 'Irumudikkettu' should not contain plastic materials.[40] Projects like "Punyam Poonkavanam" has been initiated under the aegis of governmental departments.[41] Hindu organisations such as Art of Living and Mata Amritanandamayi Math has been regularly contributing to keep Sabarimala and its precincts clean.[42][43][44] While cleaning Pamba river Sabarimala Sanndidhaanam clean is their primary objective,[45] the broader vision is to spread the message of greenness and cleanliness beyond Sabarimala.

Some of the salient aspects of "Punyam Poonkavanam" project includes:[46]

  1. Not using soap and oil while bathing in the holy Pamba River. No throwing any material, including clothes in the holy river.
  2. To prepare irumudikkettu without using any plastic and using only bio-degradable materials.
  3. To devote at least one hour in cleanliness activities at Sabarimala Sannidhaanam, River Pamba and surroundings as part of the pilgrimage.


Doli service in Sabarimala

The nearest airports are Thiruvananthapuram International Airport (170 kilometres (110 mi)) and Cochin International Airport (160 kilometres (99 mi)). A heliport is situated in Perunad about (40 kilometres (25 mi)) from Pamba, which is also known as Sabarimala helipad.

Chengannur (82 kilometres (51 mi)), Kayamkulam Junction (102 kilometres (63 mi)), Sasthamkotta (100 kilometres (62 mi)), Punalur (100 kilometres (62 mi)), Kottayam (120 kilometres (75 mi)) and Kollam Junction (129 kilometres (80 mi)) are some of the closest accessible railway stations from Sabarimala.

The main trunk road of about 70 kilometres (43 mi) to Sabarimala is Pathanamthitta-Pamba, which passes through, Mannarakulanji, Vadasserikara, Perunad, Lahai & Nilakkal. Kerala State Road Transport Corporation operates regular daily bus services from Pathanamthitta, Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam and Kumili. Direct Bus services to Pathanamthitta, Erumeli and Pamba are operated from Chengannur railway station.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Religion and Women's Rights Clash, Violently, at a Shrine in India". The New York Times. 18 October 2018.
  2. ^ "Why millions throng Sabarimala shrine". DailyBhaskar. 2011-01-15. Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  3. ^ "Indo-Americans shocked at Sabarimala tragedy". Sify. Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  4. ^ "Record collection at Sabarimala". The Hindu. 2014-12-27.
  5. ^ "Women to enter Sabarimala temple today: Weird laws against women from all over the world". India Today. 2018-09-28.
  6. ^ "Legend of Sabarimala: Love story that kept women from Lord Ayyappa". India Today. 2018-09-28.
  7. ^ "The Buddhist Connection: Sabarimala and the Tibetans". Rediff. 1997-12-31.
  8. ^ Desk, The Hindu Net (2018-09-28). "Supreme Court upholds the right of women of all ages to worship at Sabarimala | Live updates". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  9. ^ "Women Of All Ages Can Enter Sabarimala Temple, Says Top Court, Ending Ban". Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  10. ^ "Sabarimala Temple Opening Dates 2018 to 2019 – Chennaivision". Chennaivision. 2018-01-01. Retrieved 2018-01-16.
  11. ^ Asian Mythologies|Yves Bonnefoy|University of Chicago Press, 15 May 1993
  12. ^ "Shrines for Sastha, in eight forms". The Hindu. Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  13. ^ "Ayyappa Samaaj of San Francisco Bay Area". Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  14. ^ "The Six Sastha Temples and the Shat Chakras". Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  15. ^ "Sabarimala Sree Dharma Sastha Temple". Retrieved 2018-08-30.
  16. ^ "Important Temples of South India – Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple". Retrieved 2018-08-30.
  17. ^ "Sannidhanam sabarimala meaning | Brief on sabarimala sannidhanam". Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  18. ^ a b "Sabarimala-The pilgrimage is a symbol of love, equality, and devotion". Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  19. ^ Jeffrey, Robin (1980). "What the Statues Tell: The Politics of Choosing Symbols in Trivandrum". Pacific Affairs. 53 (3): 494. doi:10.2307/2757305. JSTOR 2757305.
  20. ^ a b "Malikappurathamma Malikappuram Temple Sabarimala". Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  21. ^ "CFTRI to monitor quality of Sabarimala prasadom". 6 August 2012.
  22. ^ Harivarasanam History and meaning of harivarasanam.
  23. ^ "Download Harivarasanam Songs & Lyrics, KJ Yesudas Harivarasanam Song Lyrics". Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Sabarimala Temple Opening Dates 2018 to 2019". Dheivegam.
  26. ^ Gilles Tarabout (2015). "Religious Uncertainty, Astrology and the Courts in South India". In Berti, Daniella; Good, Anthony; Tarabout, Gilles. Of Doubt and Proof. Legal and Ritual Practices of Judgmen. Ashgate. pp. 70–71. ISBN 978-1-4724-3451-7. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  27. ^ a b Kerala High Court (5 April 1991) Bench: K Paripoornan, K B Marar; Source: [1] (accessed Sunday May 1, 2016)
  28. ^ "Women Of All Ages Can Enter Sabarimala Temple, Says Top Court, Ending Ban". Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  29. ^
  30. ^ "Sabarimala verdict: Justice Indu Malhotra dissents — Can't invoke rationality in religion". The Indian Express. 2018-09-29. Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  31. ^ "Sabarimala verdict: 5 key reasons why Justice Indu Malhotra differed with majority view - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  32. ^ "Sabarimala row: Devotees attack journalists, stop women from approaching temple". Hindustan Times. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  33. ^ "Sabarimala: Mobs attack women near India Hindu temple". BBC. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  34. ^ "Watch: Kerala Cops Vandalise Parked Vehicles Near Sabarimala". Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  35. ^ "Sabarimala protests: Women descend the hill without darshan following protests". The Hindu. Retrieved 19 October 2018.
  36. ^ "ശബരിമലയില്‍ ചത്ത മ്ലാവിന്റെ വയറ്റില്‍ കിലോക്കണക്കിന് പ്ലാസ്റ്റിക്ക്". Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  37. ^ "Going green? Kerala's Sabarimala temple rules against the use of plastics – Firstpost". Firstpost. 2016-01-15. Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  38. ^ "Kerala High Court seeks probe into deer death". Deccan Chronicle. 2016-01-07. Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  39. ^ "Sabarimala and Periyar eternal yet threatened". Times Of India Blogs. 2014-06-22. Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  40. ^ "'Irumudikkettu' should not contain plastic materials: HC". Mathrubhumi. Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  41. ^ Vijayan, P. "'Punyam Poonkavanam' to cleanse Sabarimala". Mathrubhumi. Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  42. ^ "sabarimala | Amala Bharatam അമലഭാരതം". Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  43. ^ "Sabarimala clean-up: 35,000 bags of garbage collected". Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  44. ^ Kuttoor, Radhakrishnan. "200 foreigners take part in cleaning drive at Sabarimala". The Hindu. Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  45. ^ Correspondent, Special. "Pampa to be included in Punyam Poonkavanam". The Hindu. Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  46. ^ "Welcome to Official Site of Punyam Poonkavanam". Retrieved 2016-12-02.

External links[edit]