Ayyappa Temple, where Lord Ayyappa is worshipped, is the chief attraction of Sabarimala. Sea of humanity throngs every year to be blessed by him. It assures contentment, spiritual fortification, prosperity and fulfillment of devotees' desires and wishes.
It is well known for its pilgrimage starting in the month of November and ending in January. Entire hills reverberate with the chants of Ayyappa as Mandalapooja is celebrated during this period.
Devotees are required to climb 18 sacred steps before they reach the sanctum sanctorum. These steps are believed to represent different human characteristics: the first 5 steps symbolize the human senses, next 8 represent human emotions, the next 3 steps stand for human qualities and the final 2 steps symbolize knowledge and ignorance.
There is a temple dedicated to Malikappuram Devi on the left side of the Ayyappa temple. The temple offers a soul refreshing experience as the visitors get the glimpse of the panoramic view of the Western Ghats from the temple premises.
Malikappuram Devi Temple is situated on a small hill and is a short two-minutes walk away from the Ayyappa Temple. One feels blown by the misty breeze and pleasant atmosphere while visiting this temple located on the right side of the Ayyappa Temple.
The temple has many legends associated with Lord Ayyappa and Malikappuram Devi. A legend goes that after the lord killed evil Mahishi, a beautiful nymph emerged from his remains and begged the Lord to marry him but he did not as he vowed to remain celibate. The goddess continues to live near the Lord; hence, a temple was built in her honour.
Bhagavati Seva is the chief offering performed at the Malikappuram Devi Temple. Kanmashi (kajal), Pattudayada (silk cloth), Pottu (bindi) and Vala (bangles) are the other major offerings. Small shrines dedicated to serpent gods are located in the premises of this temple. Ayyappa devotees perform the unique ritual called Thengai Uruttu (rolling of coconuts) at Malikappuram Devi Temple.
Vavar Shrine, another chief attraction of Sabarimala, is a place where one can see the confluence of two different faiths. This shrine is dedicated to Vavaru Swami who was a Muslim Saint. Vavar Shrine is located next to the main temple.
There are numerous legends about Vavaru Swami and his association with Ayyappa. Interestingly, Vavaru Swami fought against Lord Ayyappa but was defeated and then on he became an ardent follower of the Lord. A carved stone slab symbolises the deity of Vavaru Swami and there is an old sword kept inside the shrine.
The prime offering to this deity is black pepper and rituals are conducted by Muslim priests. Devotees who visit the Ayyappa Temple visit this shrine and pay their homage. Two faiths and religions meet in the Vavar Shrine, making Sabarimala an ideal place for a religious and communal accord.
Makaravilakku is a grand annual festival celebrated in Sabarimala on the day of Makara Sankranti. It is reported that this festival attracts over half a million pilgrims each year. January 14 is celebrated as the Makaravilakku. On this auspicious day the idol of Lord Ayyappa enshrined in the temple is adorned with regal jewels.
The festival begins with the Thiruvabharanam Procession (Jewels Procession) and the jewels are brought to the temple from the Pandalam Palace. Each year thousands of devotees line up for the grand procession in the temple. The grand gala reaches the main temple with pomp and funfair.
The seven days long festival ends with the ritual named 'Guruthi’, performed to appease the gods and goddesses of forests. An auspicious polar star known as Makara Star appears in the sky on this day. Makaravilakku ensures spiritual gratification of your senses and ensures that you go home truly purified in your mind, soul and body.