Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa!
Since the dawn of time, the ancient land of Kerala has been a haven for seekers of the eternal truth. Like the rest of India, it is steeped in tradition and is home to a million shrines, big and small. A most important pilgrim site of Hinduism in this miniscule South Indian state is Sabarimala.
The presiding deity at Sabarimala is Dharma Sastha/Lord Ayyappan/Ayyanaar, one of the most venerated deities among the Hindu pantheon of gods. Every year millions of Indians, irrespective of caste, creed or religion throng the tiny complex to have darshan of Lord Ayyappan. True to the Hindu philosophy of 'thathvamasi' (that thou art), at Sabarimala, Lord and his devotee commune directly, sans intermediaries.
Legend has it that the temple at Sabarimala was built by Parasurama, the warrior-sage who reclaimed the Land of Kerala from the sea. Sabarimala is one of the five 'panchashastha' temples erected by the powerful yogi to protect Kerala from destructive elements, the others being Kulathuppuzha, Aryankavu, Achankovil and Erumeli. At Kulathuppuzha, the Lord is worshipped as an infant boy, at Aryankavu as an adolescent on the verge of matrimony and at Achankovil, he is depicted as a 'grihasthashrami' with his wives, Poorna and Pushkala.
However, on Sabarimala Lord Ayyappan/Dharmashastha is a brahmachari in a state of eternal bliss or Samadhi, holding 'chinmudra'. It is said that the lord sought this solitary abode to meditate soon after vanquishing the demon, Mahishi in a ferocious battle. The sabarimala sannidhanam (temple) is open to devotees only during mandalapooja (November to January), makaravilakku , vishu and the beginning of every month in the malayalam calendar.
Surrounded by lush tropical jungles and 18 hills, the shrine is over 1260m/4135ft above sea level. Sabarimala is part of Sahyadris (Western Ghats); remnants of ancient temples are visible in the adjoining hills and at Nilackal, Kalaketi and Karimala offerings are still made to the devis/devas. East of the sannidhanam is 'Vavarnada' which commemorates Vavar, a muslim associate of Lord Ayyappan. This gateway speaks volumes about the prevailing amity amongst religions in Kerala.