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Sabarimala Sree Dharmasastha Temple is a temple complex located at Sabarimala inside Periyar Tiger Reserve in Pathanamthitta District, Kerala, India. It is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world with an estimate of between 17 million and 50 million devotees visiting every year.  The temple is dedicated to the Hindu celibate deity Ayyappan also known as Dharma Sastha, who according to belief is the son of Shiva and feminine incarnation of Vishnu. The traditions of Sabarimala are a confluence of Shaivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism, and other Śramaṇa traditions.
|Elevation||480 m (1,575 ft)|
|Sanctum||Ayyappa aka Dharma Sastha|
|Architecture||Kerala Temple architecture|
|Number of temples||4|
|Date built||Before 12th century|
The temple is situated on a hilltop amidst eighteen hills at an altitude of 480 m (1,574 ft) above sea level, and is surrounded by mountains and dense forests. The dense forest, part of the Periyar Tiger Reserve, around the temple is known as Poongavanam. Temples exist in each of the hills surrounding Sabarimala. While functional and intact temples exist at many places in the surrounding areas like Nilakkal, Kalaketty, and Karimala, remnants of old temples survive to this day on remaining hills.
In response to a PIL filed in 1991, the Kerala High Court had judged that the restriction of entry of women ages 10-50 to the temple was in accordance with the usage prevalent from time immemorial, and it directed the Devaswom Board to uphold the customary traditions of the temple. However, on 28 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India overturned the restriction on the entry of women, declaring it unconstitutional and discriminatory. On 2 January 2019, two women under the age of 50 finally entered the shrine for the first time since the Supreme Court verdict, after attempts by many others failed due to protests by devotees.
The temple is open for worship only during the days of Mandalapooja (approximately 15 November to 26 December), Makaravilakku or "Makara Sankranti" (14 January) and Maha Vishuva Sankranti (14 April), and the first five days of each Malayalam month.
The worship of Sastha forms part of the very ancient history of south India. At Sabarimala, the deity is worshiped as Ayyappan and as Dharmashasta. The shrine of Sabarimala is an ancient temple. It is believed that the prince of Pandalam dynasty, an avatar of Ayyappan, meditated at Sabarimala temple and became one with the divine. The place where the prince meditated is the Manimandapam.
There are many Sastha temples in South India and across the globe. As per the temple history, the Sastha temple at Sabarimala is one of the five Sastha temples founded by Lord Parasurama. The other Sastha temples in this group of five includes the Ayyappan Temples:[unreliable source?] at Kulathupuzha, where the Sastha appears as a Balaka or child; at Aryankavu where the Lord appears as a Brahmachari or young man; at Achankovil Shastha Temple, where the lord leads the Grihastha Ashrama life here and depicted along with his two wives – Purna and Pushkala at Sabarimala, where the lord is depicted in the Vanaprastha or form of renunciation; at Ponnambala Medu the Lord appears as a yogi and where the "makaravilaku' is lit.[unreliable source?]
After the installation of the temple, it was mostly unreachable for about three centuries. In the 12th century, a prince of Pandalam Dynasty, called Manikandan, rediscovered the original path to reach Sabarimala. He had many followers with him, including the descendants of the Vavar (a Muslim warrior whom Manikandan defeated) family. This prince is considered an avatar of Ayyappa, and is believed to have led a pack of tigers to his palace with Vavar and then later disappeared to the Sabarimala temple. The temple was then renovated.[unreliable source?]
The temple was rebuilt after arson and vandalism in 1950. No charges were brought. and the earlier stone image of the deity was replaced by a panchaloha idol, about 1 and half feet, made from an alloy from five metals.
The temple consists of a sanctum sanctorum with a gold-plated roof and four golden finials at the top, two mandapams, the balikalpura which houses the altar. In 1969, the flag staff (dhwajam) was installed.
The shrine of Kannimoola ganapathi prathishta is south-west to The Sreekovil of the Sannidhanam. Devotees offer part of the broken coconut (Neythenga) to the fireplace (Azhi). Ganapathi homam is the main offering.[unreliable source?]
The shrine of the Lord of snakes, Nagarajav is placed adjacent to the malikappuram temple. Pilgrims after the Darsan of Lord Ayyappa and Kannimoola Ganapathi, make their darsan and give offerings to Nagarajav.
The Pathinettu thripadikal or the 18 sacred steps is the main stairway to the temple. As per the custom followed, no pilgrim without "Irumudikkettu" can ascend the 18 sacred steps. In 1985, the 18 steps were covered by Panchaloha and later covered with gold. The stairway in northern gate is open for those who do not carry an "Irumudikkettu".
The temples of Lord Ayyappan's trusted lieutenants Karuppu Sami and Kadutha Swami are positioned as his guards at the foot of the holy 18 sacred steps.
The temple of Maalikapurathamma, whose importance is almost in par with Lord Ayyappa, is located few yards from Sannidhanam. It is believed that the Lord Ayyapan had specific instructions that he wanted Malikappurath Amma, on his left side. Prior to the fire disaster, there was only a Peeda Prathishta (holy seat) at Malikappuram. The idol of Malikappurath Amma was installed by Brahmasree Kandararu Maheswararu Thanthri. The Devi at Malikappuram holds a Sankh, Chakram and Varada Abhya Mudra. Now the idol is covered with a gold Golaka. The temple also was reconstructed in the last decade and now the conical roof and sopanam is covered with gold.[unreliable source?]
The Sabarimala temple complex include Pampa Ganapathi temple, Nilakal Mahadeva temple and Palliyara Bhagavathi temple. The Nilakal Mahadeva temple and Palliyara Bhagavathi temple is as old as the Sastha temple and the deities are worshiped as the parents of Lord Ayyappa. Ganapathi temple at Pampa has Pampa Maha Ganapathi and Athi Ganapathi (lit. old ganapathy), sreekovil where the idol from the first Ganapathy temple is worshiped. Sabari Peedam has a temple of Sri Rama and Hanuman also.
The prasadam at Sabarimala temple is Aravana payasam and Appam. These are prepared by using rice, ghee, sugar, jaggery etc. The rice needed to prepare the prasadam at Sabarimala temple is supplied by Chettikulangara Devi Temple, the second largest temple under the Travancore Devaswom Board situated at Mavelikkara. The Chief Commissioner, Travancore Devaswom Board said that the board has appointed Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore as a consultant for providing technical guidance to ensure the quality of Aravana, Appam and other prasadam preparations at Sabarimala temple.
Harivarasanam is recited before closing the temple door every night. The Harivarasanam prayer, which is sung at Sabarimala is a Urakkupattu. It is composed by Sri Kambangudi Kulathur Srinivasa Iyer in Sanskrit. It is said that Srinivasa Iyer used to recite the composition after the Athazha Puja, standing in front of the shrine of Ayyappa in the main temple. With the efforts of Swami Vimochanananda, it came to be accepted as the lullaby by the Tantri and Melshanthi. The composition has 352 letters, 108 words in 32 lines in 8 stanzas.[unreliable source?]
Though there have been many versions of this song sung by many renowned vocalists, the temple plays the rendition by K. J. Yesudas, composed by the renowned music director G. Devarajan, which is in the Madhyamavathi raga of Indian Carnatic music.[unreliable source?]
This significant ritual involves pouring sacred ghee brought by pilgrims in their Pallikettu or Irumudi (a two compartment bag made of handwoven cotton cloth used to carry the offerings for Sabarimala Temple carried on their heads) on the idol of Lord Ayyappa. It symbolically means the merging of Jeevatma with the Paramatma. While a red-colored irumudi is used by a pilgrim on his first journey as a Kanni Ayyappan to Sabarimala, others use navy blue till third year and thereafter saffron colored irumudi.
Lord Rama and his brother Lakshmana met Sabari, a tribal devotee, at Sabarimala. Sabari offered the Lord fruits after tasting them. But the Lord accepted them gladly and whole-heartedly. The Lord then saw a divine person doing tapasya. He asked Sabari who it was. Sabari said it was Shasta. Rama walked towards him. Shasta stood up and welcomed the Prince of Ayodhya. The anniversary of this incident is celebrated on Makara Vilakku day. It is believed that on Makara Vilakku day, Lord Dharmashasta stops his tapasya to bless his devotees. The day is also called Makara Shankranthi.
Aham Brahmasmi and TattvamasiEdit
The important message written at the temple facade is one of the four Mahāvākyas of Advaita or the non-dualistic school of philosophy. Tat Tvam Asi, the 3rd of four Mahavakyas which in sanskrit translates to "Thou Art That" is the principle philosophy that governs the temple and pilgrimage. As the pilgrimage is symbolic for the journey to self-realization that all living beings possess the essence of Brahman, pilgrims refer to each other as Swami, acknowledging their divinity.
The history behind the worshipping methodsEdit
The customs of the pilgrims to Sabarimala are based on five worshipping methods; those of Shaivites, Shaktists and Vaishnavites. At first, there were three sections of devotees – the devotees of Shakti who used meat to worship their deity, the devotees of Vishnu who followed strict penance and continence, and the devotees of Shiva who partly followed these two methods. Another name of Ayyappa is Sastha. All these can be seen merged into the beliefs of pilgrims to Sabarimala. The chain the pilgrims wear comes from the Rudraksha chain of the Shaivites. The strict fasting, penance and continence is taken out of the beliefs of the Vaishnavites. The offering of tobacco to Kaduthaswamy can be considered to be taken from the Shaktists.
The devotees are expected to follow a Vratham (41-day austerity period) prior to the pilgrimage.[unreliable source?][unreliable source?] This begins with wearing of a special Mala (a chain made of Rudraksha or Tulasi beads is commonly used, though still other types of chains are available.). During the 41 days of Vratham, the devotee who has taken the vow, is required to strictly follow the rules that include follow only a lacto-vegetarian diet (In India, vegetarianism is synonymous with lacto-vegetarianism), follow celibacy, follow teetotalism, not use any profanity and have to control the anger, allow the hair and nails to grow without cutting. They must try their maximum to help others, and see everything around them as lord Ayyappa. They are expected to bath twice in a day and visit the local temples regularly and only wear plain black or blue coloured traditional clothing.
Hundreds of devotees still follow the traditional mountainous forest path (approximately 61 km) from Erumely,12.8 km from Vandiperiyar and 8 km from Chalakayam, believed to be taken by Ayyappa himself. The Erumely route starts from Erumely to Aludha river, then crosses the Aludha mountain to reach Karivilam thodu. Now comes the sacred Karimala crossing, from there to Cheriyanavattom, Valliyanavattom and finally Pamba River. Then they have to climb Neelimala and enter into the Ganesha-Bettam, Shreerama-Betta Padam. Then comes the Aranmula kottaram, which is one of the stops of holy journey Thiruvabharana Ghoshayatra (the grand procession of the divine jewelery).
These days people use vehicles to reach the Pamba River by an alternate route. From Pamba, all the pilgrims begin trekking the steep mountain path of Neeli Mala till Sabari Mala. This route is now highly developed, with emergency shops and medical aid by the sides, and supporting aid is provided to the pilgrims while climbing the steep slope, which used to be a mere trail through dense jungle. The elderly pilgrims are lifted by men on bamboo chairs till the top, on being paid.
According to the Memoir of the Survey of the Travancore and Cochin States, published in two volumes by the Madras government in the 19th century, women of menstruating age were denied entry into the Sabarimala temple two centuries ago. Though the authors, lieutenants of the Madras Infantry, completed the survey by the end of the year 1820 after nearly five years of research, it was published in two volumes only in 1893 and 1901. "Old women and young girls may approach the temple, but those who have attained the age of puberty and to a certain time of life are forbidden to approach as all sexual intercourse in that vicinity is averse to this deity (Lord Ayyappa)," the report said  Upto 1991, women visited the temple even though in small numbers. Women pilgrims below the age of 50 would visit the temple to conduct the first rice-feeding ceremony of their children (Chorroonu) in the temple premises.
In 1991, Justices K. Paripoornan and K. Balanarayana Marar of the Kerala High Court, in their ruling against the Travancore Devaswom Board, restricted the entry of women between ages 10 and 50 from offering worship at the temple, stating that such a restriction was in accordance with the usage prevalent from time immemorial. In addition, the judges directed the Government of Kerala, to use the police force to ensure that restriction was complied with.
On 28th September 2018, the Supreme Court of India, in a 4-1 majority decision, overturned the ban on the entry of women. The Chief Justice, Dipak Misra, stated that the selective ban on women was not an "essential part" of Hinduism, and instead a form of "religious patriarchy". Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud stated that the ban "stigamatises" and "stereotypes" women, while "placing the burden of men's celibacy" on them. The lone women judge, Indu Malhotra noted in her dissenting judgement that “what constitutes an essential religious practice is for the religious community to decide” and not a matter that should be decided by the courts. She added that “notions of rationality cannot be invoked in matters of religion by courts”.
This led to protests at Nilakkal and Pamba base camps on 17 October 2018, when the temple was opened for the first time after the Supreme Court verdict. Protesters assaulted women journalists, stole their camera equipment, and damaged a vehicle. The police were also attacked. A number of women were among the protesters, checking cars to see if they contained women of menstruating age and helping with the road blocks. There were also reports of police damaging protesters' motor bikes.
Two women of menstruating age attempted to enter the temple on 19 October 2018 but were blocked by protesters about 100 m away. After the Thantri threatened to close the sanctum sanctorum if the women attempted to ascend the 18 sacred steps, they turned back.
On 1 January 2019, five million women formed a human chain called Vanitha Mathil or "women's wall" stretching about 620 km (385 mi) across Kerala, supporting the Supreme Court verdict. The event lasted about 15 minutes and was peaceful.
On 2 January 2019 at 3:45 AM, for the first time after the Supreme Court verdict, two women in their early 40s were escorted by police into the Sabarimala temple, allegedly through a back gate meant for staff. The Chief Minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan, confirmed their entry. Thereafter, priests closed the temple for one hour to ritually purify it.
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Administration and legal duties is managed by Travancore Devasvom Board, an affiliate authority of Government of Kerala. Thazhamon Madom is the traditional priest family who has powers over the religious matters to be decided in Sabarimala Temple. Tantri is the highest priest and is the head of the temple. It's the duty of the family to decide on religious matters relating to Sabarimala shrine. Tantris are to be present in all ceremonial Poojas and functions to be held at temple premises and functions associated with temple. The installation of idols of the temple was also done by Tantri of this family.
Currently Brahmasri Kantararu Maheshwararu Tantri is the head priest of Sabarimala.
The waste disposed by the devotees to Sabarimala is threatening the wildlife of the region and the evergreen forests. Efforts are on to make Sabarimala free from pollution and waste. High Court of Kerala has directed that 'Irumudikkettu' should not contain plastic materials. Projects like "Punyam Poonkavanam" has been initiated under the aegis of governmental departments. Hindu organisations such as Art of Living and Mata Amritanandamayi Math has been regularly contributing to keep Sabarimala and its precincts clean. While cleaning Pamba river Sabarimala Sanndidhaanam clean is their primary objective, the broader vision is to spread the message of greenness and cleanliness beyond Sabarimala.
Some of the salient aspects of "Punyam Poonkavanam" project includes:
- Not using soap and oil while bathing in the holy Pamba River. No throwing any material, including clothes in the holy river.
- To prepare irumudikkettu without using any plastic and using only bio-degradable materials.
- To devote at least one hour in cleanliness activities at Sabarimala Sannidhaanam, River Pamba and surroundings as part of the pilgrimage.
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The nearest airports are Thiruvananthapuram International Airport (170 kilometres (110 mi)) and Cochin International Airport (160 kilometres (99 mi)). A heliport is situated in Perunad about (40 kilometres (25 mi)) from Pamba, which is also known as Sabarimala helipad.
Chengannur (82 kilometres (51 mi)), Kottayam (120 kilometres (75 mi)) , Kayamkulam Junction (102 kilometres (63 mi)), Sasthamkotta (100 kilometres (62 mi)), Punalur (100 kilometres (62 mi)) and Kollam Junction (129 kilometres (80 mi)) are some of the closest accessible railway stations from Sabarimala.
The main trunk road of about 70 kilometres (43 mi) to Sabarimala is Pathanamthitta-Pamba, which passes through, Mannarakulanji, Vadasserikara, Perunad, Lahai & Nilakkal. Kerala State Road Transport Corporation operates regular daily bus services from Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam and Kumili. Direct Bus services to Pathanamthitta, Erumeli and Pamba are operated from Chengannur railway station and Kottayam railway station.
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