Sabarimala temple is a renowned shrine for Lord Ayyappa, and a very popular pilgrimage destination. It is also one of the richest temples in India. It has great historical significance, but there are also many interesting facts about the temple that are not very well known. You can read about them in this article.
The celibate god
Lord Ayyappa, the deity of Sabarimala temple, is a confirmed Brahmachari or bachelor. Menstruating girls and women are not allowed in this temple. So women in the age group of 10 – 50 years cannot enter the temple. Recently, a Supreme Court ruling overturned this practice, finding it discriminatory, but popular opposition and protests prevented its implementation. This rule has existed for the past 1500 years!
Color code for pilgrims
Those who make the pilgrimage to Sabarimala have to follow a specific color code of either black or dark blue. They also smear Vibhuti (holy ash)or Sandalwood paste on their forehead while making the pilgrimage.
The temple stands where Ayyappa killed the demoness Mahishi
The legend of Sabarimala Temple says that Ayyappa killed the demoness, Mahishi, at the spot where the temple stands now. Mahishi was the sister of the demon, Mahishasura, who met his end at the hands of Goddess Durga. Ayyappa was born to kill Mahishi. His parents were Shiva and Vishnu as Mohini. Only a child born of their union could kill the demoness.
The temple stands amidst 18 hills and has 18 steps
The Sabarimala temple is encircled by 18 hills. Devotees have to climb the pathinettampadi or 18 steps to enter the temple.
The mosque for Vavar Swamy
There is a shrine dedicated to a Muslim deity, Vavar Swamy, next to the main temple. There is no idol, only a carved stone slab to represent Vavar. Vavar was supposedly a pirate from Arabia who wanted to loot Kerala. A fight ensued between him and young Ayyappa. Vavar was defeated, but Ayyappa’s courage won him over, and he became his aide. It is also said that he helped Ayyappa to kill Mahishi at Erumeli. Before ayyappa left for Sabarimala, he told Vavar to stay back at Erumeli. It is said that devotees who want Ayyappa’s blessings need to visit his friend, Vavar Swamy, first at his mosque.
The temple’s name comes from the Ramayana
There is a character called ‘Shabari’ in the Ramayana. She was an old woman ascetic who was so sincere in her devotion that she used to taste the berries to check if they were ripe and sweet before offering them to Lord Rama. But far from being offended by it, Rama recognized that it was an act of true devotion as she did not want him to eat the bitter and unripe berries. Shabari lived among the 18 hills that encircle Sabarimala. Hence, it was called Sabarimala Temple.
Devotees have to observe a strict fast
Pilgrims to the Sabarimala temple have to observe a strict 41-day fast or Vratham before the pilgrimage. They cannot eat non-vegetarian food, smoke, drink alcohol, or have sex. They have to sleep on the floor, walk barefoot, wear black or dark blue clothes, and take a bath twice a day in unheated water.
Devotees have to follow strict rules
Devotees cannot use bad language, and they cannot trim nails, cut their hair, or shave their beards. Also, each pilgrim has to take a bath twice a day during this period.
Pilgrims perform Neyyabhishekam
An important ritual at Sabarimala is Neyyabhishekam, during which devotees pour sacred ghee on the idol of Ayyappa. The ritual represents the merging of the soul with the divine. The devotees keep the ghee in handwoven cotton bags called Pallikettu or Irumudi.
Sabarimala Priests’ Dakshina runs to Crores
The estimated income of “mel shaanthis” or chief priests in the temple is around Rs. 52,00,000. The amount covers only the period of 56 days that are offered to the priests.
The Prasadam is a local delicacy
The prasadam served in the temple is a local delicacy. Once the ritual of offering prasadam is over, the rest goes to the local vendors in Kerala.
Sabarimala is the largest pilgrimage destination in the world
Sabarimala is among the largest pilgrimages in the world, and the temple used to see one hundred million pilgrims in a year in pre-Covid times.
The rare event of Makara Jyothi
Makara Jyothi is the star, Sirius, which devotees worship as a manifestation of Ayyappa himself. Makara Jyothi in Sabarimala is usually on January 14. On this day, the Sun enters Makara or Capricorn. The star appears around 6 – 6.30 pm in the evening, shining brightly in the twilight sky above the hill shrine of Sabarimala. At this time, aarti or Deeparadhana is performed at the temple. Ayyappa’s idol will be presented wearing his ornaments or Thiruvabaranam, which is brought to the temple on this day by the Pandalam royals for this occasion.