Sabarimala - where millions converge

Sabarimala is one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in South India during the festival season in the months of November, December and January. A pilgrimage to Sabarimala involves severe austerities, and a trek through the Western Ghats. Sabarimala enshrines Sastha or Aiyappan - Hariharaputran - the son of Shiva and Vishnu-maya.

Sastha is a popular deity in Kerala, and is enshrined in several of its temples. Five temples dedicated to Sastha are of great importance. Kulathuppuzha enshrines Sastha as a child, Aryankaavu enshrines him as a young lad, Achan Koyil enshrines him with as a householder with his consorts Poorna and Pushkala, Sabarimala enshrines him as his Vanaprasthasramam, and Ponnambala-medu enshrines him as the highest yogi. These five shrines represent the five stages of life as described by the scriptures. Ponnambalam is a spot on a hill where the Makara Jyoti (light) is seen on the day of Makara Sankranti.

Legend: Sastha or Aiyappan is revered as the son of Shiva and Mohini - Vishnu-maya. Legend has it that this divine child was discovered on the banks of the river Pampa by the ruler of the kingdom of Pandalam. The childless king brought up this child Manikandan as his own. A plot hatched by the vile queen sent the valiant Manikandan in search of leapord's milk, as the only suitable cure for the queen's feigned illness. The valiant prince killed the demon Mahishi in the jungle and relieved its inhabitants of untold suffering and returned to the kingdom with a herd of tigers. The divinity of the child revealed, he requested the king to build a temple on the hill Neelimala, where the saint Sabari was engaged in penance.

The temple: Eighteen steps are seen leading to the sanctum, and these steps are considered to be very sacred. Only those who have observed the 41 day penance (see below) are allowed to climb these steps. The pathinettu padi shrine is also seen at the Azhagar Koyil temple near Madurai, which has a subsidiary shrine to the guardian deity Karuppannasami.

Millions undertake the (once)arduous pilgrimage to Sabarimala with 41 days of penance. Much of the route used to be accessible only on foot through rocky jungle paths. Much of the route now is on motorable road.

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