• Lord Ayyappa, the chief deity of Sabarimala, is believed to be Hariharaputra, born of the union of Lord Vishnu in the form of Mohini (Hari) and Lord of Shiva (Hara).
  • Manikandan, an incarnation of Lord Ayyappa, rediscovered the temple in the 12th century.
  • Manikandan was a prince of the Pandalam dynasty. He was found by the king on the bank of a river.
  • Later, in a conspiracy hatched against him by a minister and the queen who wanted her own son to be crowned as the next king, Manikandan was sent to the forest to bring the milk of a tigress.
  • The conspirators hoped he would be killed by tigers. But they realised his divine origin when he returned to the palace riding a tigress.


  • The shrine of Lord Ayyappa is located atop a hill, 3000 metres above the sea level, at Sabarimala in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala. One has to trek upwards from Pamba, the base of the hill, to reach the temple.
  • The temple is administered by the Travancore Devaswom Board, an autonomous authority under the state government which manages numerous other Hindu shrines in the state as well.


  • Unlike other Hindu temples in the state, Sabarimala Sree Dharma Sastha temple is not open the year-round.
  • It opens for devotees to offer prayers for the first five days of every month in the Malayalam calendar, as well as during the annual ‘mandalam’ and ‘makaravilakku’ festivals between mid-November to mid-January.
  • It is considered one of the biggest pilgrimages in the world, with millions of people offering prayers at the temple chiefly from the five south Indian states.
  • Most of the pilgrims arrive at the temple during the busy ‘mandalam’ and ‘makaravilakku’ festivals, after they undertake a rigorous 41-day vratham, or a vow of abstinence.
  • During this 41-day period, devotees are required to wear only black or deep blue attire, address each other as ‘swami’, perform daily pujas, abstain from non-vegetarian food, liquor, and sex and not wear footwear.


The ‘Vavar’ mosque near the Sabarimala temple complex which is visited by both Hindus and Muslims.

  • A visit to the Vavar mosque is an integral part of the Sabarimala pilgrimage. Vavar was a Muslim friend of Manikandan, the incarnation of Lord Ayyappa. According to the legend, he was a pirate who was defeated by Lord Ayyappa in war after which he became a close associate.
  • Even when Muslims offer their prayers inside the mosque, the Hindu devotees perambulate the mosque.
  • Apart from the mosque, there is a place near the main temple dedicated to Vavar which is called Vavaru Nada.


  • The Sabarimala temple is also connected to Lord Rama.
  • According to a legend, the name Sabarimala is derived from Shabari, a tribal devotee of Lord Rama mentioned in the Ramayana. Sabarimala literally means the hill of Sabari.
  • Lord Rama had come to meet Shabari as her Guru Rishi Matanga had predicted. Lord Rama noticed a divine person doing penance and asked Shabari who it was.
  • Shabari said it was Sastha (Lord Ayyappa).
  • Sastha too stood up and welcomed Lord Rama.
  • Makaravilakku, an annual festival, is held on Makar Sankranti to commemorate this incident.


  • Many scholars see a Buddhist connection to Sabarimala.
  • Lord Ayyappa is seen as an incarnation of the Buddha.
  • The meaning of Sastha or Dharmasastha, other names of Lord Ayyappa, is interpreted as teacher or preceptor in the Buddhist sense. ‘
  • Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa’, the popular chant of the devotees, is said to echo the Buddhist chant ‘Buddham Sharanam Gacchami’.


  • There is also a Christian connection to the temple. A large number of devotees also visit the Arthunkal church dedicated to St Andrew and St Sebastian at Alappuzha on their way to Sabarimala.
  • At the church, many of them remove the sacred beads they wear around their neck through their 41-day fast.
  • Ponds at the church are cleaned weeks before the annual pilgrimage begins.


  • Appam, along with another dish aravana payasam, is the Sabarimala prasadam.
  • Both are made of rice powder, jaggery, ghee, and banana.
  • While the aravana is sweet and edible, taking a bite of the appam has always been a hard task, literally.
  • Only those with a strong set of teeth would attempt to eat one whole. It gets hard because it’s deep fried.
  • The Travancore Devaswom Board has now devised a new formula with which it will stay fresh for a minimum of 15 days and will also be less hard.


  • ‘Harivarasanam’, composed originally by KKS Iyer in Sanskrit, is recited mandatorily as a lullaby (urakkupattu) before the sanctum sanctorum closes for the evening every day.
  • A modern and popular version of the composition by G Devarajan and sung by Dr KJ Yesudas is played these days when the temple doors are shut every night.
  • In 1955 Swami Vimochanananda sang in his beautiful voice and popularized Harivarasanam by traveling throughout South India.
  • After serving the last meal or Athaza puja or ‘Panakam’ when the temple doors are about to close KKS Iyer used to sing Harivarasanam daily to Lord Ayyappa.
  • The Panakam (prepared of the jaggery syrup, dry ginger, cardamom, pepper powder, and cumin-seed mixed) offered to the Lord Ayyappa are distributed to the devotees.


  • Makaravilakku (ritual festival of Sabarimala) is one of the most important attractions in Sabarimala.
  • It is during this period that the most number of pilgrims reach Sabarimala.
  • This is because of the ‘magical’ and ‘divine’ happening called Makarajyothi (celestial star appear in the month of Makaram).
  • Facts categorically establish that the divine Jyothi that gives Sabarimala pilgrimage a magnetic attraction among the millions of Hindus is man-made.
  • Even the newspapers like the Malayala Rajyam and The Hindu, which reported the Sabarimala temple arson in detail in the months of June and July of 1950, didn’t carry any specific report on Makaravilakku phenomenon.
  • Former president of Travancore Devaswom Board Raman Nair has admitted that “the Makaravilakku is also done with the help of the police and other people”.
  • In a letter the ombudsman for the Travancore and Cochin Devaswom Boards, Nalinakshan Nair said that Makarajyothi has a history of 45 years only.


                                      Q- BOX (Questions for Civil Service Mains)

Q 1.  Do you think the exclusionary practices from a religious worship perspective, even if it be founded in religious text, is subordinate to the constitutional values of liberty,       dignity, and equality?  Is it contrary to constitutional morality?

Q 2. “Matters of faith, tradition, and custom are tested against the rationality embedded in the Constitution.”  Analyze the statement in light of recent incidents.

Q 3.  Does the Equality doctrine enshrined under Article 14 override the Fundamental Right guaranteed by Article 25 to every individual to freely profess, practice and propagate their faith, in accordance with the tenets of their religion? Examine.

Q 4.  “What applies to a man applies to a woman” as well and that “once you open it for the public, anyone can go”. A “woman’s right to pray was not dependent on any law but it is a Constitutional right”. Do you Agree with the statements? Give justifications.