The Temple legend
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).
Sree Dharma Sastha Temple, Sabarimala
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.
Erumeli Sastha Temple
Erumeli Sastha temple, an important meeting place enroute the pilgrimage to Sabarimala is very famous. There is also a mosque very close by. Ayyappas goes to Sabarimala after worshipping at these two places, which seems of a symbol of Hindu Muslim unity. The pilgrims usually go to Sabarimala after pettathullal- a ritual- at Erumeli. The pilgrimage to Sabarimala without pettathullal and worship at above mentioned temples are not considered traditional. Erumeli temple rests about 38 kiliometers south of Kottayam.
The nearest railway station is Kottayam.
Pandalam Valiyakoyickal Temple
According to legend, the King of Pandalam found a baby lying in the banks of river pampa. As the King had no heir to succeed, the child was considered as a god-given gift and was thus named Ayyappa. So the baby was brought up as a prince. One of the major events associated with the Makaravilakku festival is the procession of the Thiruvabharam (holy ornaments) of Lord Ayyappa from the Sastha temple at Pandalam.
The nearest town and railway station is Chengannur (12 km).
Other famous Sastha temples related to Mandalakalam are Kulathupuzha Sastha temple,
Achancoil Sastha temple and Aryankavu Sastha temple.
The 18 Holy Steps - Patinettampadi
At first it was granite stone of 5 to 6 feet wide. Now it is covered by Panchloha in the year 1985. The vertical steps are so significant and blessed no one can scale them without fasting for 41 days and carrying the holy irrumudi bag on head.
There are many mythology connected with the holy Patinettampadi. Some believe the eighteen steps denotes the 18 puranas. Some say that 18 weapons with which Lord Ayyappa destroyed the evil denotes the 18 steps. Others are of the belief that the first five steps denotes the indriyas (eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin). The next eight steps signifies the ragas (tatwa, kama, krodha, moha, lobha, madha, matsraya, and ahamkara. The next three steps signifies the gunas (satwa, rajas and thamas). The seventeenth and the eighteenth denotes vidhya and ignorance.