Sabarimala Sree Ayyappa Swamy Temple is a renowned pilgrimage shrine dedicated to the Hindu deity Lord Ayyappa. This prominent temple is located on the virgin Sabari Hills in the southern most Indian state of Kerala. The area is surrounded by 18 hills at the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Western Ghat mountain ranges. Sabarimala Temple is celebrated as one of the largest annual pilgrimages in the world, with an estimated over 100 million devotees visiting every year.
Ayyappan is the son of Harihara, a fused representation of Vishnu (Hari) and Shiva (Hara). Therefore, Ayyappan is revered by both Vaishnavites and Shaivites as a form of the Supreme God. He was born of Hari and Hara, with Hari assuming the form of a female (Mohini). Lord Ayyappan is generally depicted in a yogic posture.
The hill shrine with eighteen steps was previously known as Dharma Sastha Temple. The Travancore Devaswom Board, which governs the holy shrine, has recently issued an order changing the name of the temple to Sabarimala Sree Ayyappa Swamy Temple. They have cited the reason that centuries ago, Ayyappa Swamy had merged into the Dharma Shastha in Sabarimala after completing his mission. From then on, the Dharma Sastha Temple in Sabarimala became Ayyappa Swamy Temple. This has made Sabarimala Temple the only temple in the world where Sree Ayyappa Swamy presides. Travancore Devaswom Board has many other Dharmasastha temples under its management.Source
The deity in Sabarimala appears in the Vanaprastha (or renunciation) form. The beautiful idol is made of Panchaloha (a five metal alloy). Ayyappan appears as a yogi in the Ponnambalamedu, a holy summit of the hill located at a distance of 4 kilometres from the Sabarimala Ayyappan temple, where the much celebrated annual Makaravilakku event is conducted.
Legend behind The Temple
Raja Rajasekhara, the King of Pandalam, had no children. Once during his hunting expeditions he found a beautiful baby with a radiant face near the Pampa River. He had a gemstone around his neck, and hence the king named him Manikandan. The name literally means “person with jewel around the neck”.
Manikandan was the human incarnation of Lord Ayyappa. The pious king adopted the baby as his son. The king and the queen were staunch devotees of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu respectively. Manikandan grew in the palace and was knowledgeable in academic wisdom and martial arts. After a while, the queen gave birth to a son. But the king regarded Manikandan as his successor.
The minister of the king was against Manikandan becoming the Yuvaraja, and hence he plotted a plan to abort his coronation event. He managed to brainwash the queen to side with him. On the day of Manikandan’s coronation as the prince, the queen pretended to be suffering from unbearable stomach ache. None of the doctors could heal her. As per the minister’s plan, a fake practitioner suggested “the milk of a tigress” as the cure of the queen’s illness.
The king requested all the brave souls to bring the milk of a tigress from the jungle. But none from his kingdom was dared to do that. Manikandan showed his willingness to get tigress’ milk from the jungle. King’s persuasions could not stop him. The king feared that he may not be able to come back alive.
Manikandan Kills Mahishi
Manikandan, who is none other than a divine incarnation, entered the jungle and met with demoness Mahishi. His divine duty as a human personification was to kill this witch, who secured a boon from Lord Brahma that no being except the offspring of Vishnu (Hari) & Shiva (Haran) could slay her.
Manikandan killed her, and released a beautiful woman who had been cursed to become Mahishi. The young and beautiful woman asked Manikandan to marry her. But he could not accept her hand as he was a celibate. He promised her that she would be shrined next to him and would be visited by numerous pilgrims. She is now worshiped as Maalikapurathamma, who is none other than Lok matha/Athi sakthi/ vaishnodevi/ the supreme power of universe. Her shrine is located to the left of the Ayyappa temple.It is a custom that every Kanni (first timer) Ayyappan should deposit Saram (arrow of soft wood) at Saramkuthy as a mark of their arrival.
Lord Indra and all other gods were jubilant to see Manikandan killing Mahishi. They volunteered to become tigresses and accompanied Manikandan to the kingdom. He reached the palace riding on a fierce tigress followed by a pack of her cubs. Everyone in the palace was trembling with fear, and the schemers begged pardon from him. The king was convinced of his son’s divine origin and requested him to stay with them.
The king expressed his ardent desire to build a temple for him. The Lord shot an arrow and it fell at the top of Sabrimala. He told the king that it was the ideal place to build a shrine for him. Lord Manikandan specifically detailed out the importance of taking forty one days’ penance or vratha that involves self-denial and austerity. The king duly constructed the temple at Sabarimala. The deity was carved by Parasurama, the sixth avatar of Vishnu. It was installed on the day of Makarasankranthi.
Another mythology says that Sabarimala is the place where Prince Manikandan, an incarnation of Lord Ayyappan, meditated and merged with Lord Sastha soon after killing the powerful demon, Mahishi.
Uniqueness of the Temple
The temple which is an epitome of religious harmony is open for worship only during the days of Mandalapooja, Makaravilakku and Chitra Vishu. The pilgrims are required to adhere to strict fasting and penance for 41 days to cleanse their minds before going to Sabarimala. The pilgrims wear black or blue dress until the completion of the pilgrimage. Women in their menstrual age are not allowed in this temple.