Sri Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple is a very famous pilgrimage centre of South India. It is located at the Sahyadri mountains (Western Ghats) on the banks of River Pamba, in Kerala State. The temple is situated on a hilltop at an elevation of 4135 feet above sea level, and is surrounded by mountains and dense forests.
Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple is one of the most visited piligrim centres in the world with an estimated 4.5 - 5 crores devotees coming every year. The world's second largest annual pilgrimage (after Hajj in Mecca) is reported to be to Sabarimala.
According to legends, Dharmasastha born to Lord Shiva and Lord Mahavishnu who was in the disguise of Mohini, was ordered to take the form of a baby by Lord Shiva.
King Rajasekhara of Pandalam, who belonged to the Pandya dynasty, was a benevolent ruler, and his subjects were very happy. However, the king and his queen, were unhappy for not having a child. Lord Shiva blessed them with a child, whom they found in the forest as abandoned. He was called Manikandan, and his actual purpose of birth was to destroy the powerful demon Mahishi, which they were not aware of.
At the age of 12, Manikandan completed his task and Sabarimala is believed to be the place where Ayyappan meditated after killing her. Since then he was known as Lord Ayyappa. He is also also known as Dharmasastha.
According to legend, Parasurama Maharshi, retrieved Kerala from the sea by throwing his axe, and installed the idol of Ayyappa at Sabarimala to worship Lord Ayyappa.
Sabarimala Ayyappa temple atop the hill is reached by climbing 18 steps, covered in gold. These steps are called "pathinettam padi" and signify different aspects of human nature like intelligence, anger, the 5 senses, etc.
A pilgrim attending the Mandalapooja should observe austerities for 41 days. During this period, the pilgrim should abstain himself from non- vegetarian habits and cardinal pleasures, leading the life of a Brahmachari.
Women between the ages of 10-50 are not allowed to go on this pilgrimage. Recently Sabarimala was in news because of the Supreme Court rule, the Govt of Kerala was trying to allow all the women, including women of the reproductive age, much against the beliefs of people.
Irrespective of the religion, all are welcomed here, provided they follow the rules. Before reaching the main shrine of the temple, the pilgrims are required to worship a shrine at Vavaru nada, dedicated to a Muslim saint, who was a discipline of Lord Ayyappa.