Sabarimala temple is one of the oldest and most prominent Sastha temples of Kerala. It is located in the western ghat mountains of Pathanamthitta district of Kerala. It is believed that Sabarimala is the place where Ayyappan meditated. Ayyappan also is known as Dharma Sastha is said to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
Sabarimala is a temple which is about 3000 feet above the sea level situated on the hilltop. This is one of the few unique temples of India which is open to all religions. Another unique fact about this temple is that it is open only during the months of November to January of the year and remains closed throughout the other time. It is opened only during the times of Mandala Pooja, Makaravilakku and Vishu.
The devotees are expected to follow 41 days of strict vratham (vow) before seeking the darshan of Lord Ayyappa. Pilgrims who follow this vratham are supposed to eat only Lacto-vegetarian diet, follow celibacy, not to consume alcohol or any such, control their anger, visit their local temple regularly, help people as much as they can, allow their nails, beard and hair to grow and not cut until the period of 41 days of vratham, wear only black or blue colour traditional clothing.
It is believed that Ayyappa gives darshan to his people on the occasion of Makara Sankranti in the month of January as the star of fire called as Makara Jothi which can be seen by naked eyes of a person. It can be seen thrice in a minute and the devotees wait until next year to seek his darshan.
The temple is open to all men and to the women who have either passed their fertility age or before attaining the stage of puberty. To reach the temple the pilgrims usually set out in groups with a leader they select. They carry a cloth bag of traditional offerings to Ayyappa called Irumudi Kettu without keeping it on the ground.
There are a lot of questions raised on why women are not allowed to the temple? And the answer to this comes with a backstory. According to Puranas Ayyappa was born to kill a female demon and when he killed the demon a beautiful lady comes out of it. The woman was cursed to be the demon and when she was killed the curse was reversed and she turned back to her own self. Upon turning back into a woman of her own she asked Ayyappa to marry her but Ayyappa refuses her saying that he wants to go to Sabarimala and answer the prayers of his devotees. However, he says her that he would marry her when Kanni swamis stop coming to him.
It is believed that she now sits and waits for him at the neighboring shrine Malikapurathamma. And this is why women don’t go to the temple showing empathy and respect to her and her eternal wait and also respecting that Ayyappa is a celibate and he should not be distracted by any.
The restriction of women on not entering the temple has nothing to do with menstruation and cleanliness. But now the issue was brought into the notice of Supreme Court of India and the court has lifted the restriction on women not entering into the temple. Now since 2018, even women are allowed to climb up the 18 golden stairs of the temple and seek Ayyappa’s darshan.