Perhaps the best known pilgrimage destination in Kerala, Sabarimala is situated high up in the Sahyadri Mountains. Sabarimala Sri Dharmasastha Temple is the most famous and prominent among all the Sastha Temples. It is believed that “Parasurama Maharshi” who uplifted Kerala from the sea by throwing his axe, installed the idol of Ayyappa at Sabarimala to worship Lord Ayyappa. The temple attracts pilgrims not only from the southern states of India, but also from other parts of the country and abroad.
Various legends explain the birth of Ayyappa, among them that he was born to battle the demons of Kerala’s hill tribes. Brought up by a childless tribal king, Ayyappa performs many miracles. After fulfilling the purpose of his incarnation, Ayyappa entered the inner sanctum of the ancient temple upon sacred Mt Sabari and disappeared. During his life, Ayyappa reportedly kept the company of tigers and leopards. The Sabarimala temple attracts the maximum pilgrims on the first day of the ‘Makharam’ month on January 17, when a celestial light appears on top of a nearby hill. Thousands arrive just to see the light, which is considered sacred. All the devotees, after taking a holy dip in the river, trek to the hilltop temple. Before beginning the pilgrimage to Sabarimala, pilgrims prepare themselves with 41 days of rigorous fasting, celibacy, meditation and prayer. The standard items that are carried to the temple include a coconut filled with ghee and two other coconuts that are broken in front of the temple.