Hari-Hara puthran (Son of Lord Vishnu and Siva) Ayyappan is the presiding deity here. The legend is that Lord Vishnu transformed himself into the woman form 'Mohini' to get 'Amrith' from the Asuras, who took it away from the Devas. Lord Siva became attracted to Mohini and thus born Hari Hara puthran with a bell round his neck. So he was named 'Manikantan' by the Pandalam Raja, Rajshekhara Pandya who got the baby from the jungles. Manikantan was born to kill the Asura woman Mahishi who conquered the Heavens.
Manikantan lived in the Pandalam Kingdom for some years before he killed Mahishi. He befriended with Vavar, a Muslim warrior. Later Manikantan asked King of Pandalam to build a temple for him at Sabarimala. Manikantan is at Sabarimala temple at Lord Ayyappa. Idol of Ayyappa was carved by Parasurama and was installed at the Sabarimala temple on the auspicious day of Makar Sankranthi.
The pilgrimage begins in the month of November and ends in January. Lakhs of Pilgrims from all parts of India and from the rest of the world visit this sacred place every year during the Mandalapooja and Makaravilakku Festivals. The temple is open only to males and to women who have either reached menopause and those before reaching the stage of puberty.
The easiest route is via Chalakkayam, by which one can reach the banks of the river Pamba by vehicle. Pamba is the main halting point on the way to Sabarimala. From here one has to trek 4 to 5 kms to reach the temple.
Sabarimala is one of the most famous Pilgrimage centres in South India. Sabarimala is about 65 km from Pathanamthitta. The very famous Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple is situated on Neelimala in the deep forests, on the banks of River Pamba.
Uniqueness of Sabarimala Temple
Sabarimala Sri Dharmasastha Temple is the most famous and prominent among all the Sastha Temples. It is believed that Parasurama Maharshi who uplifted Kerala from the sea by throwing his axe, installed the idol of Ayyappa at Sabarimala to worship Lord Ayyappa. The pilgrimage begins in the month of November and ends in January. The temple attracts pilgrims not only from the southern states of India, but also from other parts of the country and abroad.
The unique feature of the Temple is that it opens to people of all faiths and many non-hindus conduct pilgrimages to this temple. The secular aspect of the temple is best exemplified by the existence of the "Vavar Nada" in honour of a Muslim saint at the close proximity to the main temple (Ayyappa Swami Temple) at Sabarimala by the side of Holy Pathinettampady. The pilgrims worship in this place also. The pilgrims on their sojourn to Sabarimala worship at Erumeli Sree Dharma Sastha Temple and conduct "Petta Thullal". They also worship in the mosque at Erumeli as a part of their pilgrimage. Ayyappa cult gives much importance for the secularism and communal harmony and has turn out to be a model for the whole world. Another significant aspect of the pilgrimage is that all the pilgrims whether rich or poor, learned or illiterate holding position or not master or servant are all equal before LORD AYYAPPA and all address each other as AYYAPPA.
Pathinettampadi (18 Steps)
Normally the steps leading to a temple are forgotten the moment one steps on to the holy premises, but not in the case of the pathinettampadi. The significance of the sathyamam ponnu pathinettampadi is next only to the idol of Lord Ayyappa. In fact, only those devotees carrying an irumudi are allowed to en
ter the temple premises through the pathinettampadi. Droplets of ectasy trickles into one's mind at the very sight of the 18 golden steps. The devotee, after the hazardous 6-km trek on the forest road from Pamba, breaks a coconut carried in the irumudi before stepping on to the pathinettampadi.
Till a few years ago, pilgrims used to break the coconut on the step corresponding to the number of the pilgrimages undertaken. However, after the pathinettampadi was coated with panchaloha, they aren't permitted to do so and instead have to break the coconut on a stone at the foot of the steps.
Breaking of the coconut in itself is a spiritual act. The shell of the coconut represents the material body and kernel, the immaterial. The water represents the soul. When the devotee breaks the coconut and steps on to the pathinettampadi, he breaks the physical barrier and blends with the Ultimate.
A devotee on his 19th pilgrimage carries with him a coconut sapling which he plants near the temple. This again underscores one more magnificent facet of the pilgrimage: The symbiosis between man and nature.
Pathinettapadi (18 divine steps) to the sanctum sanctorium is divine in all aspects. The first three steps depict "Bhoomi, Agni, Vayoo & Akash", 6 to 9 steps for Karmendriya, 10 to 15 for Jhanandriya, 16th for mind 17th Intelligence and 18th Jeevathma Bhava. Those who crosses all these steps is believed to achieve "Punyadarshan".
The Divine Pamba
Pampa is the most important and holy spot on the way to Sannidhanam. It is here Lord Ayyappa was found by King Rajasekara. The Pampa river is as holy as the Ganges. The Pampa water purifies one from curse and evil.
Pampa Annadhanam (feast) and Pampa Vilakku are important rituals followed at the Pampa bank. Pilgrim groups prepare feast with the provisions taken from the Irumudi of the pilgrims. Thousands of pilgrims are fed at Pampa. When a group of pilgrims are ready to fed the fellow pilgrims they display a large papad outside their cottage. It is usually the kanniswamy who are fed first, as they are considered to be Lord Ayyappan himself. After the feast the Guru is honoured by pilgrims prostrating him and offering him the Gurudakshina.
Kanni Ayyappas move from kitchen to kitchen collecting the ashes which are considered to be very sacred. It is done with the belief that Lord Ayyappa would have had the feast in one of the cottages in the disguise of a pilgrim. The ash is taken home as prasad.
On sunset pilgrim believe that Lord Ayyappan will be present at the banks of Pampa and the cottages are decorated with lights and candles. Small floats are decorated with lights called Pampa Vilakku are let in the Pampa river.
The next morning after a dip in the cold Pampa river and performing pitru tarpanam (offering to ones departed soul) the pilgrims start their ascent towards the hill Neelimala after worshipping at the temple of Lord Ganapathi, Lord Rama (avathar of Balaji) and Lord Hanuman. On the foot of the Neeli hill is the representative of the King of Pandalam. The pilgrims offer their respects to the representative. After seeking the permission of the representative to visit the shrine of Lord Ayyappa they proceed with their journey. From here the Sannidhanam is about 6 km. The neeli hill is as difficult as the Azhutha and Karimala. The top of Neeli hill is called Appachi medu. Here there are two abysses - Appachi kuzhi and Ippachi kuzhi. Kanniswamy throw rice balls here to calm down the evil spirits present around the place. From this point the ground is almost even. Some distance from here is the Sabari peetam.
lrumudi is the only travelling kit which a pilgrim carries on his head during the pilgrimage. Only those who observe fasting for 41 days are allowed to carry it. Without the Irumudi one is not allowed to step onto the holy 18 steps at the Sannidhanam.
This bag is in two compartments - the Munmudi (the front part) and the Pinmudi (the back part) & the opening at centre. The front portion is reserved for keeping all the puja articles and offerings to the deity while the rear part is meant to hold the pilgrims personal requirements for the journey.
Front portion contains Mudra bags, consisting of 2 - 3 in numbers - one for the Ghee Coconut and the other two for the remaining offerings. Items for Vazhipadu (offering) at the Sannidhanam that is kept in the front compartment of the Irumudi are as follows:
1. Coconut filled with ghee for Abhishekam (bathing the idol of the Lord)
Well before the Kettunira time, select a medium size coconut. Clean and polish the outer shell using a polishing paper. With a pointed instrument, open one eye of the coconut and empty the coconut water. Close it with a cork of correct size. The coconut is now in readiness for the Kettunira.
2. Coconut (vidalai thengai) 2 to 4 nos
One each to be broken at Erumeli, Sharam Kutti and two for Padinettampadi (the sacred 18 steps - once while climbing up for Shasta Darshan with the Irumudi and 2nd while returning after the worship.
3. Jaggery (achuvellam), Cashew, Raisins, Dry ginger, Poha (thin & thick variety), Cardamoms, Dates, Honey, Avil ( beaten rice), Kadhi Chakkar
Part of the jaggery, cashew, raisin, cardamom, honey and dates can be used to make Panchamrutam for the Neivedya; part of the jaggery, dry ginger and cardamom can be used for preparing 'Panagam' as Neivedya.
4. Dried turmeric tubers, Turmeric powder, Blouse piece, Kumkum, Vibhooti, Sandal paste, Sambarani, Camphor, Agarbathi (Incense stick), Rosewater, Lemon, Rice and Dal for offering.
5. Beetel leaves, Beetel Nut, coins for offering.
Items for use of the pilgrim from the day of commencement of the journey after Kettunira till the return is kept in the back compartment or the Pin Mudi, which are as under:
Some snacks which one may require now and then during the trip and other raw materials for food items to be prepared during the journey. And pulses and rice needed for cooking can be included in Pinmudi.