Ayyappa (Sastha)

Lord Ayyappan (Sastha) is the son of Harihara, (Mohini avatar of Vishnu and Shiva).ayyappa-sabarimala-swamiye-saranam

Makara Jyothi is a celestial lighting which takes place on Makara Sankranthi day and they believe that Lord Ayyappan asserts himself as Makara Jyothi to bless his devotees.


Makaravilakku is an annual festival held on 14 January (Makar Sankranti) in Sabarimala. The festival includes the Thiruvabharanam (sacred ornaments of Ayyappan) procession and a congregation at the hill shrine of Sabarimala. An estimated half a million devotees flow to Sabarimala every year to have a darshan (vision) of this ritual.  Makaravilakku is a light or flame that appears thrice on the Ponnambalamedu hill, four km away to the temple.

  • He is generally depicted in a yogic posture, wearing a jewel around his neck, hence named Maṇikaṇṭhan, also known as Dharmasasta, Maṇikanṭhan or Sasta,
  • Sabarimala: Famous Ayyappan shrine is here and annual festival is a time of pilgrimage.
  • Sabarimala attracts millions of visitors every year during mandala season.
  • Devotees fast and engage in austerities under the leadership of a Periya Swami (one who has undertaken the pilgrimage to Sabarimala for 18 years) for weeks barefoot and then travel in groups to the shrine for a glimpse of Ayyappan.
  • Dress: Clad in distinctive ritual dhotis of saffron, black and light blue colors.
  • The World famous Sastha temple at Sabarimala in Pathanamthitta District is located on the slope of the Western Ghats. The pilgrimage begins in the month of Vruchikam (mid November) and ends in Makaram-Makara Samkranthi (mid January).

Mantram: “Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa”

Contact Info:

Sabarimala Sabarimala Sastha Temple
Executive Officer
Travancore Devaswom Board
Thiruvananthapuram – 695 001
Tel: 0471- 2315009
Web: www.sabarimala.kerala.gov.in

Dos and DON’Ts

  • Cigeratte and Beedi smoking, Alcholic drinks and plastic goods are prohibited at Pamba and Sabarimala.
  • As Sabarimala Ayyappa is ‘Nithya Brahmachari’ (celibate) women between the 10-50 age group are not allowed to enter Sabarimala. Such women who try to enter Sabarimala will be prevented by authorities.
  • Only pilgrims who have obsered Vrutham alone are allowed entry through the holly Pathinettampadi. They have to carry Irumudikettu (Pallikettu) also.
  • Placing Viri and halting in the upper Thirumuttam is not allowed during festival seasons.
  • Queue system have to be followed for Darsan, Abhishekam and at the Prasadam counters.
    Purchase tickets for Vazhipadus from the respective ticket counters.

How to reach

There are four main approches the Sabarimala Sabarimala Sastha Temple

1. Kottayam to pamba (via) Erumeli and from Pamba to Sabarimala (by foot) 136 kilometers. Kottayam to Pamba (via) Manimala and there to sabarimala 116 Kilometers.

2. Erumeli to Sabarimala (via) Kalaketty, Azhutha, Inchipra, Karimala, Pampa- 45 kiliometers(traditional route by walking).

3. Vandiperiyar to Mount estate by vehicle and there by waling to sabarimala

4. Climb down sabarimala is Vandiperiyar to Kozhikanam 15 kilometers. Kozhikanam to Uppupara 10 kilometers, Uppupara to Sabarimala 3.5 Kilometers (climb down on foot).

Nearst railway stations are kottayam and Chengannur.



How to reserve room at Sabarimala (English)

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The multistoried pilgrim complex is located adjacent to Nadapanthal. There are a few pilgrim shed on the northern side of Pandythavalam and beyond Pandythavalam. Beyond this area a series of public latrines are provided. There is a Government hospital and Ayurvedic Hospital functioning during festival seasons on the south eastern side near the Nadapanthal. Near Malikappuram temple complex there is a dispensary run by NSS. Near the Donor Complex there is a telephone exchange and public hall office with STD facilities.

The Temple legend

Sabarimala Sree Dharma Sastha Temple, dedicated to Lord Ayyappa , is the most famous and prominent among all the Sastha temples in Kerala. The temple is situated on a hilltop (about 3000 feet above sea level) named Sabarimala in Pathanamthitta district, which is unique in many respects. The uniqueness gathers its voice, as the temple is open to all, irrespective of caste, creed or religion. There is a place near the temple; east to Sannidhanam, dedicated to the Vavar (a sufi and friend of Lord Ayyappa) which is called ‘Vavarunada’, an epitome of religious harmony. Another interesting fact is that it is not open throughout the year. It is open for worship only during the days of Mandalapooja, Makaravilakku and Chitra Vishu. It is said that the pilgrims have to follow fasting for 41days to cleanse their minds before going to Sabarimala. The journey to the temple is to be taken through difficult paths in the forest as the vehicles can go only up to Pampa.

This is one of the most ancient temples in Kerala. It is believed that the deity of the temple was consecrated by Lord Parasurama at the foot of Sabari hills for which reference has been made even in Ramayana. The temple attracts pilgrims not only from the southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh but also from other parts of country and abroad.

There is a Vavar Thara very close to. The deity is Vavar, the friend of Ayyappa and a Sufi saint is at the close proximity to the main temple. Ayyapa cult gifts much importance for secularism and communal harmony and has turned out to be a model for the whole world. Another significant aspect of the pilgrimage is that all the pilgrims whether rich or poor, literate or illiterate are all equal before Lord Ayyapa and all of them address each other as Ayyappa or Swamy.

Sabarimala is believed to be the place where Lord Ayyapa meditated soon after killing the powerful demon, Mahishi. Another mythology says that its ‘Parasurama Maharshi’ who uplifted Kerala from the sea by throwing his axe and installed the idol of Ayyappa at Sabarimala.

To enter the Sabarimala temple, the pilgrim has to pass Pathinettampadi (holy eighteen steps). The holly eighteen steps that lead to the shrine have been figuratively called Ponnu Pathinettampadi, ‘Ponnu’ being an epithet to denote the holy touch of lord’s feet. But now ‘Ponnu’ has become literally true because the steps have been covered with Panchaloham. Each of these eighteen holy steps represents a desire one must conquer in life, it is believed. Only those who observe 41 day’s of austerity as ritual can only carry erumudi and can climb these steps.

Other Legends surrounding Ayyappan

The demoness Mahishi was burning up with anger at the trick the gods had pulled on her brother, the asura king Mahishasura. As Mahishasura was blessed with invulnerability to all men, the gods had sent goddess Durga, to fight and kill him. Thus, Mahishi began performing a fearsome set of austerities, and pleased the creator god Brahma. She asked for the boon of invulnerability, but Brahma said it was not possible so Mahishi planned and asked invulnerability to all men except by the son of Shiva and Vishnu (Both are male & no possibility to give birth to any one). He granted her the boon of ruling the universe and being invulnerable except by the son of Shiva and Vishnu. Since such a person did not exist, she thought she was safe and began conquering and plundering the world.

The gods implored Shiva and Vishnu to save them from this catastrophe. Vishnu found a possible solution to the problem. When Vishnu had taken on the Kurma Avatar, he also had to manifest himself as Mohini, the enchantress, to save the nectar of immortality (ambrosia or amrit) from the demons who were not willing to share it with the gods. If he became Mohini again, then the female Mohini and the male Shiva could have the divine child who would combine the powers of Durga as per Brahmand Purana and beat Mahishi. Skanda purana states that Durga took birth in masculine form as Dharamshasta.

Some versions give a slightly more detailed version of the union of Shiva with Vishnu. One version tells that the asura Bhasmasura (Bhasma means ‘Ashes’) had so pleased Lord Shiva with his austerities that Shiva gave him a boon of anything he wished. So Bhasmasura asked for the ability to burn to ashes anything which he placed his hand over. No sooner had Shiva granted this, than Bhasmasura ran after the god, threatening to turn him to ashes.

Shiva called to Lord Vishnu for help. He hide himself in a peepal tree as Bhasmasura ran here and there searching for the god. Vishnu became aware of the events, and decided that he would take the female form Mohini, “the Enchantress”, and try to trump the asura’s powers. When Bhasmasura saw Vishnu in this form, he was bewitched by her beauty. He earnestly tried to court her. So Vishnu instructed Bhasmasura to hold his hand over his head, and vow fidelity. With this act, Bhasmasura was reduced to ashes (this is common saying – Bhasmasura hastam)

Vishnu found Shiva and explained the whole affair to him. Shiva asked if he too could see Vishnu in this female form. When Vishnu appeared thus, Shiva was overcome with passion, and united with her. The two gods thus became “Harihara Murthi”, that is a composite form of Shiva and Vishnu as one god.

From this union, Lord Sree Dharma Sastha was born. He combined in himself the powers of Vishnu and Shiva. Lord Ayyappan is an incarnation of Lord Sree Dharma Sastha and Lord Ayyappan is a visible embodiment of their essential identity. Sri Ayyappa belongs to Pandya Royal Community. He was the head of a clan. It is believed Sri Ayyappa merged to Sri Dharma Sastha. Lord Vishnu gifted the new-born deity with a little bejeweled bell necklace, so this god is called Manikantha. He is also Known as Dharma Shastha.

There are many popular stories associated with Ayyappa among the devotees. The stories differ, but there are certain common elements:

  • Ayyappa lived in the Pandalam Palace as the son / savior of the King.
  • He had super-human or divine knowledge, wisdom, and courage and loved the King and his people.
  • He protected the King and the kingdom from the attacks of enemies.
  • At the end of His life in Pandalam, He vanished into the forests and is ever since worshiped at the Sabarimala temple.


Austerities or Vrutham starts on Vrichikam 1 (middle of November) which enables one to observe nearly 60 days of Vrutham before Makara Sankranti (middle of January) which is the most auspicious day at Sabarimala. This also helps devotees to observe a vrutham of 41 days before the Mandala Pooja. The devotees initiate the vrutham by wearing a Thulasimala or Rudrakshamala with mudra (mudra means the locket, in this case that of Lord Ayyappa). The mala (bead garland to which is attached a pendant of Lord Ayyappa)) is sanctified in a temple or in the pooja room before being worn. After the prayers, the devotee receives the mala from the temple from the temple priest or a Periya Swami or a Guru Swami. It is also permissible to wear this mala in your own pooja room. At the time of adorning the mala, the pilgrim should be made to understand the implications of the vrutham and the pilgrimage. Before accepting the mala, traditional dakshina (tribute to the Guru) is offered to the priest or Guru. After wearing the `mala’, the pilgrim is addressed as `Ayyappan’ till his mala is removed on completion of his pilgrimage. Eligible female pilgrims are addressed as Malikapurams.

Guruswamy is one who has undertaken 18 or more pilgrimages and climbed the Pathinettam Padi eighteen times. It must be remembered that in the old days, pilgrimage was undertaken once a year only. Eighteen pilgrimages meant 18 years of steady devotion and dedication. On the eighteenth visit, it was symbolic to take along a coconut sapling to be planted at Sannidhanam. Nowadays eighteen pilgrimages can be undertaken in just over a year. So we must re-define Guruswamy to say that it is someone who has undertaken the pilgrimage at least eighteen times, is a total devotee of Lord Ayyappa, and is learned and responsible enough to to convey the full significance of the pilgrimage to his followers. He should also be able to lead his group safely through the pilgrimage. Simple living, absolute cleanliness and holy thoughts are the mainstay of the vrutham. The mind and body are to be kept impeccably pure and absolute celibacy is practiced. The devotee is expected to behave in an austere and sober fashion during his vrutham. Total abstinence from all vices like alcohol, tobacco and non-vegetarian food is stipulated. Personal adornments, hair cutting, shaving, etc. are also taboo.

Devotee is expected wear black/blue/saffron clothes. Devotee is expected to pray daily in the mornings and evenings after taking bath. The prayer ritual can be performed by going to any temple or in one’s own pooja room. Those devotees who are desirous of worshipping Lord Ayyappa on `Makara Vilakku’ day (January 14) may continue their vrutham till that day. The vrutham continues till the pilgrim returns from his pilgrimage to Sabarimala and removes his `mala’ after breaking a coconut and offering prayers. Without a proper Vrutham it is a sacrilege to visit the temple or climb the Holy 18 Steps. (The 18 Steps cannot be climbed if you are not carrying an `Irumudi Kettu’). A vrutham of at least 41 days must be undertaken so that necessary physical fitness and mental conditioning are achieved before the arduous trek. No pilgrim, except the Royal Family of Pandalam, is permitted to ascend the `Pathinettam Padi’ without carrying a Irumudi on the head. Those without Irumudis can only enter the temple precincts through the side entrance. Prior to leaving home for Sabarimala, the Irumudi is filled at the temple or in ones own pooja room. The ceremony is conducted with the assistance of the periaswamy amidst chanting of ‘Saranam Ayyappa’. Irumudi is carried on the head with due reverence. Irumudi Kettu is divided into two parts. The front pouch and the rear pouch. The front pouch, for identification, is marked with the symbol `OM’. The front portion is meant for stocking pooja articles such as coconuts filled with cow ghee, camphor, unboiled rice, plantain (kadali), aval (flattened rice), pori, sandal paste incense sticks, vibhuti (sacred ash), kumkum (vermilion), turmeric powder, jaggery, kalkkandom (candied sugar)and coins for dakshina.

The rear pouch of the Irumudi Kettu contains consumable edible items which are used by the pilgrim for his personal sustenance during the journey to Sabarimala and back. Minimal bedding like blankets or bed sheets can also be carried. These can be used as a cushion on the head. When the pilgrims leaves his home for Sabarimala, he breaks a coconut on a stone near his door step. A lit oil lamp is generally placed on this stone. Till the pilgrim returns home after the pilgrimage, one of the family members ritually lights this lamp at dusk, and allows it to remain lit for a couple of hours, in a gesture of prayer for the well being of the pilgrim and his safe return. When the pilgrim returns home, he breaks a coconut at the same spot to signify the end of the pilgrimage and then moves on to the pooja room to unload the `Irumudi and remove the mala which he had worn at the time of beginning the austerities. That signifies the last ritual of the pilgrimage.

Mandala Pooja/ Makaravilakku

Pilgrimage to Sabarimala begins from the 1st of Vrichikam, a Malayalam month coming in the middle of November (probably between 14 and 17). The most important day for Ayyappan is Makarasankranti Day, which is the 1st of Makara (a month of the Malayalam calendar). This day will fall between January 14 and 16.

On Makarasankranti every year without fail, miraculous events occur. Firstly as the jewels (Thiruvaabaranam) of the Lord are transported from the Old Pandalam Palace to Sabarimala, a Krishnaparanth (holy Garuda – an eagle – the vehicle of Lord Vishnu), circles above the precious jewels (in fact guarding them), like a protector. This rare eagle is rarely seen in the midst of people for a long period of time, yet the auspicious bird follows the Thiruvaabaranam procession, finally circling above Sannidhanam at Sabarimala nine times as it pays its respects to Lord Ayyappan. During this time, there is not a single star in the sky except for a special Nakshatram. As the beautiful jewels are placed on the golden body of the Lord within the temple, the several hundred thousand devotees outside, crammed into any available free space, chant “Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa”. When the jewels are finally all adorned on the Lord, the Nakshatram in the sky miraculously disappears. Within moments after the Lord being adorned with the Thiruvabaranam, an effulgence (Divya Jyoti) appears in the opposite hills of Shabarimala, shining 3 times. This hill is called Ponnambalamedu.

Devotees can view the Divya Jyothi from 9 places in and around Sannidhanam. They are Sannidhanam, Pandithavalam, Pulmedu, Saramkuthi, Neelimala, Marakootam, Hilltop, Chalakayam, and Attathodu.

Places nearby: Kulathupuzha sree Sasta temple, Aryankavu sree sasta temple, Achankovil sree sasta temple, ponnambala medu sasta temple.

Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa


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