Thiruvananthapuram, Nov 16 (IANS) — The season began with a customary function Sunday evening, with the outgoing ‘melshanthi’, or chief priest, opening the sanctum sanctorum at Pathanamthita and lighting the ceremonial lamps.
Over the years, the number of pilgrims visiting the shrine has gone up, and the authorities are increasingly finding it difficult to handle the milling crowds.
In the last season, a record 35 million pilgrims visited the shrine. The current season is expected to draw even bigger crowds.
The temple will remain open till December 26 and again from January 1 to 19.
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.
In order to have a smooth season, Devasom minister G. Karthikeyan is busy with last-minute arrangements.
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 shrine is open to all religions, and only bars women between the ages of 10 and 60. Legend says this is done to protect the celibacy of Ayyappa and concerns that a woman might lure him away.
The 40-km winding drive through the dense green forests from Manarakalanji, about 10 km from Pathanamthita, to the holy Pamba river takes nearly three hours.
All the devotees, after taking a holy dip in the river, trek to the hilltop temple.
This five-km trip takes nearly three hours. For pilgrims unable to climb, a parallel road leads them to the temple. A devotee built the road about 15 years ago.
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.
All pilgrims arrive barefoot for the pilgrimage.
After arriving at the shrine, the pilgrims patiently wait in queue for hours to climb up the 18 steps to have a second’s glance of the idol of Ayyappa.
© Copyright 2003 IANS India Private Limited, New Delhi. Posted on Religioscope with permission.
Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), formerly India Abroad News Service, was conceived in 1986 to enhance the flow of news and information between India and North America. IANS today is India’s first multinational and multilingual wire service.