Sabarimala Temple is located at the Sabarimala hill in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Perinad Village in Pathanamthitta district in Kerala in India. The Sabarimala Temple is one of the biggest yearly pilgrimage locations in the globe. It has more than 10 to 15 million devotees visit the temple on a yearly basis. The Sabarimala Temple is dedicated to Lord Ayyappan, who is also called Dharma Sasta. Lord Ayyappan is believed to be the son of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu’s Mohini avatar.
In the temple of Sabarimala, the convergence of traditions of Shaivism, Vaishnavism, and other Śramaṇa are followed. The temple is located on a hilltop amidst 18 hills at an altitude of 1260 m (4,134 ft) above sea level. It is surrounded by thick forests and mountains. Temples are there in each of the hills encircling Sabarimala.
The Sabarimala temple is open for worship only during the days of Mandalapooja (approximately from 15 November to 26 December) every year and during Makara Sankranti or Makaravilakku, and Maha Thirumal Sankranti (14 April), and the first five days of each Malayalam month. The pilgrimage also involves a special ritual of prayer at the mosque of Vavar, a Muslim devotee of Ayappan.
Sabarimala Sree Dharma Sastha Temple is the temple’s full name. It is one of the most famous and popular among all the Sastha temples in Kerala. The temple is open to people who belong to different and all religions. It is believed that the pilgrims have to follow celibacy for 41 days before going to Sabarimala. This starts by wearing a special chain called Mala which is made of Tulasi or Rudraksha beads. During the 41 days of Vratham, the devotee strictly follows the Lacto-vegetarian diet, follows celibacy, tries to control his anger, does not cut his hair and nails, walks without slippers, and tries to help those around him in the best way possible. They are believed to take baths twice a day and recite mantras and shlokas and also visit local temples wearing plain black or blue colored traditional clothing.
The Prasad that is prepared at Sabarimala temple includes Appam and Aravana payasam. The Prasad is prepared using ghee, rice, sugar, and jaggery, among others. The song Harivarasanam is recited before the closure of the temple door each night. The prayer of Harivarasanam is composed by Kambangudi Kulathur Srinivasa Iyer in Sanskrit. The song’s composition has 352 letters, 108 words in 32 lines in 8 stanzas.
Devotees usually travel in groups singing the bhajans of Lord Ayyappan while reaching the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. Pilgrims take the standard forest routes as well as the one from Pamba which is less physically difficult to reach the temple. By rail, pilgrims can reach Kottayam and Chengannur and from there by road to Pampa. Pilgrims can also take the air route to reach Thiruvananthapuram or Kochi and from there by rail/road to Pampa. KSRTC has begun bus services to Coimbatore, Palani, and Thenkasi from Pampa for the comfort of Sabarimala pilgrims.