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SABARIMALA SHRINE

For many centuries Sabarimala in the south has been an important pilgrim centre attracting lakhs of devotees from all over India, especially from the southern states. The presiding deity at Sabarimala is Lord Ayyappa known as Dharma Sastha, who is considered a symbol of unity between the Vaishnavites and Saivites, his origin being traced to a union of Siva and Vishnu under special circumstances. He is also believed to have fulfilled his mission in life and rejoined his Supreme Self enshrined at Sabarimala. Some scholars say that Sastha images seen all over Kerala are those of Lord Budha, but there are others who dispute this theory.

The temple is situated in the interior of the mountain ranges of the Western Ghats Sahyadri, and it is inaccessible except on foot. Pilgrims have to negotiate long shelter of the thick forests and tall mountains in fested with all sorts of wild animals.

Pilgrimage to Sabarimala cannot be undertaken at all seasons, because it requires long preparation and fixed timings. A devotee who wishes to perform the pilgrimage should undergo forty-one days ' Vritham' (penance) consisting of strict celibacy, morning and evening ablutions, growing of beard and daily prayers. Saranamvili or the call of dedication and refuge in Lord Ayyappa is an essential part of the daily worship.

January 14, every year synchronising with the day of Sankramom (crossing of the sun from Dhakshinayana to Uttarayana) is the most important festival day of the temple. On the above day, lakhs of pilgrim each called an Ayyappa (assuming the very name of the Lord) flock to the shrine for worship. Here they see the Makara Vilakku the appearance of a spontaneous phenomenon of strange light in the distance, indicating the presence of god, and return ennobled and strengthened in spirit. Situated not far from the Sabarimala temple, there is a shrine in the name of Vavar, a Muslim of great valour, who was thought to be a close associate of Sri, Ayyappa. It is a rare feature of the pilgrimage to Sabarimala that the Hindu pilgrim offer worship at this shrine of Vavar also during their trip, indicating the communal harmony that prevailed in Kerala for ages. During the entire pilgrimage, all distinctions of caste and class are forgotten .

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