Sabarimala Tradition

We all are aware of the Sabarimala Verdict by the SC. The Supreme Court has abolished the ban on Women between the age group of 10-50 which is their fertile years. Earlier the Kerala High Court had maintained the ban where the State Government itself supported this position in 1991. Now the issue has come up once again so we need to look into it from all the possible perspectives.
In this blog we would see what the actual tradition of the Sabarimala Shrine is! Later in other blogs we will discuss on other perspectives along with the issues related to the Shrine.
Ayyappa Swami is an Hindu Deity, a Representative of the God. He is a Naishtika Brahmachari deity which means a celibate deity. According to a story Swami Ayyappa decided to live the life of a celibate. He restrained himself from not only marriage but any sort of contact with the feminine gender. He lived his life in the penance and also abstained from any sort of distortion like alcohol, etc. In his respect his father build a temple which is today’s Sabarimala temple, where the deity resided and spent his days of penance. He also resolved to solve the problems and questions of his devotees who successfully completes the 41 days of penance consisting of different difficult challenges and activities. This is somehow similar to the Pandharpur Vaari that is held in the Maharashtra. Let us see some of the important rules followed bu the devotees.
  • The devotees are expected to dress-up like sadhus only in blue and black. 
  • They are expected to fast partly, and eat only certain type of pure veg food.
  • This is 18 miles long group trek, which consists of people without any caste or social discrimination. 
  • There are men of all the ages joining the trek. 
  • Young girls and older women also join. But the women between the fertility age group are advised not to trek for certain reasons which will be discussed in brief. 
  • During the trek all the devotees call each other ‘Swami’. 
  • The devotees wear simple dress on the day of the pilgrimage up the hills and through the forest, many go barefoot, carry irumudi (a walking stick for regional Hindu yogis with two compartment little bag sometimes carried on head), wear Tulsi leaves and Rudraksha beads around their neck (symbolism for Vishnu and Shiva) while fellow Hindus gather along the trek path, cheering and helping them complete their journey
  • They collect flowers from the western ghats to offer the deity. 
  • Also they are needed to bathe in the Pambar river before they visit the actual Sabarimala temple.
  • During the entire trek all the devotees are expected to restrain from any kind of violence, sex, and alcoholism. 
  • All their mind should be focused only in the devotion for Ayyappa, which is the main motive.
  • After the long trek there are 18 divine steps to the sanctum sanctorum of the Ayyappa Swamy Temple.
  • Each step is a sacred one with a very deep meaning and understanding.
  • Only the one’s completing the 41 days trek are allowed to walk through these steps.
This all about the Sabarimala Shrine and its divine rituals. Now  let us see some important significance of the temple.
  • The temple is not like the regular temple, it is opened only at few occasions throughout the year. Like during the Mandal Pooja, Makar Sankranti, Maha Vishnu Sankranti and the first 5 days of every Malayalam month.
  • There are number of other temples of the same deity across the world. But rules for women to visit the shrine is only followed in this Temple only. The reason behind this is the temple being the first of its kind where all the rules for the devotees are followed very strictly by the Devasom and the Devotees. 
  • Secondly, one of the main reason is the terrain where the temple is located. The rules were made during the time where there were no transport facilities. Also it could be difficult for the women in the fertile years to do 41 day long trekking.
  • Third and important one is the belief that the deity is Naishtika Brahmachari. And every devotee who has faith in the deity and respect him will accept him as he is and respect his decision by not disturbing his celibacy. Its not a discrimination but a respect for the deity’s decision to remain a celibate.
  • The 18 sacred steps to the sanc tum sanctorum of the Shrine is divine in its own way. There are many stories related to the significance of the 18 steps. But According to one of them they say that the deity was the master of 18 weapons. Covering each step, the deity would leave each weapon on each step before entering into the Idol of the Sanctum Sanctorum.
This was all about the Tradition of the Sabarimala Shrine. In the Next blog we will cover the important issues and queries related to the Shrine and its tradition.