Sabarimala Pilgrimage that is scheduled to be held on the eve of Makaravilakku on January 14, 2016 is one of the largest annual pilgrimages of the world. Year after year, a deluge of devotees make this sacred walk towards the ancient temple of Lord Ayyappan. Apart from being a large conglomeration of devotees, the pilgrimage is also one of the toughest.
The History of Pilgrimage
The temple of Lord Ayyappan gets its mention as early as 12th century, when the Prince of Pandalam dynasty known as Manikandan, mediated at the ancient temple. It is believed that on the holy day of Makaravilakku, Lord Rama and his brother Lakhsmana met Sabari, a tribal Goddess and were blessed by her. It is also the day, when it is believed that Lord Dharmashasta stops his meditation to bless all the devotees visiting the temple. With the hopes of getting divine blessings, millions of devotees make their way towards the temple.
Preparation for the Pilgrimage
Sabarimala is one of the most difficult pilgrimages. It takes a prior preparation, and not just anyone can take this walk of faith. To undertake such a pilgrimage the devotee needs to be both physically and mentally fit. So, how do prospective pilgrims prepare?
- Preparations start with a 41 day Vratham (fasting). This Vratham should usually begin on the first day of Vrischikam (according to Malayalam calendar) in mid November.
- During the Vratham, one cannot attend any social activity and spend time praying or singing bhajans. This should also be accompanied with visiting the temples, cleaning them, feeding and helping the poor or sick people.
- During the days of preparation, devotees must eat only vegetarian food and abstain from physical or verbal violence, alcohol and tobacco and intoxicants in any form.
- He must sleep on the floor, use a wooden block for a pillow and walk bare feet.
- He must also not oil his body or his hair and must always carry a tulsi leaf with him to keep away evil thoughts.
The Temple Trek
Seeking divine blessings from Lord Ayyapan, devotees trek through the mountanious forest paths. All the devotees have to walk across atleast 8 KM on the steep mountainous tracks. Though the route has been re-developed in the present times and along the road there are provisions for medical aid and other emergency support available, but it still remains an arduous trek, no doubt. This trek pushes the physical fitness limits of all the devotees.
- Route: Chalakayam – Sabarimala
- Difficulty Level of Trekking: 5/5
- Get down at: Chengannur (CNGR) or Kottayam (KYTM)
Special Arrangements for Pilgrims
- Special Trains: More than 90 special trains would be run through Chengannur and Kottayam for the benefit of the pilgrims. Some of the special trains are mentioned below:
- Helpline Numbers: Southern railways has set up toll free helpline numbers. For security issues dial 182 and for other service related enquiries dial 138. Both the numbers will be handled by staff having multi-lingual capabilities.
- Special Buses: KSRTC will operate 10% more buses this year, than the last years.
- Other Facilities: Police and medical booths will be set up along the road to the temple to make sure that pilgrims face no problems.
- Men’s only pilgrimage: In 1991, Kerala High Court legally restricted the entry of women in the menstrual age group into the temple. The pilgrimage is, till date, meant only for the men. Though, the Supreme Court of India is currently reviewing this rule.
- Dress Code: Pilgrims to Sabarimala can be easily identified through the colour of their clothing. They have to wear black or blue dress. Apart from this they will be seen smearing sandalwood paste and Vibhuti on their forehead while undertaking the pilgrimage.
- Neyyabhishekam: It is one of the important rituals that the devotees undertake after reaching the temple . As a part of this ritual, ghee brought by pilgrims in their Pallikettu or Irumudi is poured on idol of Lord Ayyappa.
- Bags Matter: Pallikettu or Irumudi is a two compartment bag made of handwoven cotton and used to carry the offerings to the temple. There is a particular colour code for these bags as well. If a pilgrim carries a red coloured bag it signifies the first journey to Sabarimala, while navy blue bags are used till third visits and saffron coloured bags thereafter.
- Prasadam (holy food): Once the pilgrims complete their journey and all the rituals within the temple, they can have a delicious Prasadam that consists of Aravana Payasam (made with rice, sugar and jaggery) and Appam (pancake made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk).
- The Lullaby: If the devotees stay on late, they can enjoy the Harivarasanam song which is sung just before closing the temple doors. This lullaby (Urakkupattu) was composed by Sri Kambangudi Kulathur Srinivasa Iyer and has 108 words in 32 lines.
Nearby Tourist attractions
Periyar National Park: Situated in Thekkady town, this Tiger and Elephant reserve is a great place to spend some time in the lap of nature. Known for its scenic beauty and amazing bio-diversity, this is a must visit destination when you are in Sabarimala. The reserve is filled with colorful varieties of orchids and other flowering plants.
Periyar Lake: This pristine lake is situated within the Tiger Reserve itself and is dotted with many scenic attractions. The rich flora and fauna around the lake will leave you mesmerized. Boating is a major attraction while at the lake.