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Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Sabarimala is a pilgrimage site of the Hindu deity Ayappa in Kerala

Shayana Pradikshanam devotional practice of pilgrims at Sabarimala
In the Indian state of Kerala, only 10 degrees above the equator, is a land of steep mountains thickly covered with splendid tropical forests. The early people of this region, of a Dravidian ancestral stock, lived amongst the trackless valleys and roaring streams in small tribal groups. Farming little, they hunted in the teeming forests, and their primary deity, Ayappa, was a youthful forest god. Various legends explain the birth of Ayappa (also known as Dharmasasta). One begins with Shiva roaming the mountain kingdoms of the Himalayas. There he sees a lovely maiden and, overcome with desire, makes passionate love with her. But the maiden is married to another man, a tribal chieftain who vows revenge on the god. The tribal chieftain retires to an ice cave in the high mountains and practices austerities for a thousand years. Through these austerities he gains great psychic powers and finally goes forth to punish Shiva. From the heights of Mt. Kailash, Shiva sees the tribal chieftain approaching. The chieftain looks like a terrible demon and Shiva, overcome with fear, calls on the god Vishnu for assistance and protection. Vishnu manifests himself as a beautiful damsel, seduces the demon chieftain, and destroys him. But then Shiva, once again overcome with sexual desire, sees the radiant damsel (who is merely Vishnu in another form) and mates with her. Out of this union comes a baby boy named Ayappa. Embodying the qualities of both Vishnu and Shiva, Ayappa is an avatar (divinity in human form) born into the world to battle the demons of the hill tribes of Kerala. Shiva tells the magical child of his dharma-life (a life of service), and leaves him upon the bank of a mountain stream where he is discovered by a childless tribal king. Brought up by the king, Ayappa does many miracles, is a great healer and a defeater of demons. After fulfilling the purpose of his incarnation Ayappa entered the inner sanctum of the ancient temple upon sacred Mt. Sabari and disappeared. During his mythical life, Ayappa kept the company of tigers and leopards. Mystics living in the deep forests surrounding the Sabarimala Mountains have for a thousand years reported seeing Ayappa riding through the jungles upon a majestic tiger.

The shrine of Sabarimala is one of the most remote shrines in southern India yet it still draws three to four million pilgrims each year. Before beginning the multi-day walk through the mountain jungles to get to Sabarimala, the pilgrims prepare themselves with 41 days of rigorous fasting, celibacy, meditation and prayer. Finally arriving at the shrine, the pilgrims will wait in line for hours, even days, to have one or two seconds in front of the image of Ayappa. After seeing the deity, many pilgrims will complete a vow called Shayana Pradikshanam. In the Malayalam language of Kerala, Shayana means “body” and Pradakshinam means “revolution,” so Shayana Pradakshinam means “revolution with the Body.” This devotional practice is done not only in Sabarimala but also in other temples in Kerala.
The Sabarimala shrine is only open a few times each year: the Mandalam festival covering 41 days from November 15 to December 26; the Makaravilakku from January 1-14; on Vishu, the day of the vernal equinox in April; and during smaller festivals in May/June and August/September. The shrine, unlike many in southern India is open to persons of all religious callings, and there are no caste restrictions during the pilgrimage. However, women - unless they are younger than six or older than sixty - are not allowed to come to Sabarimala. This is explained by referring to the celibacy of Ayappa and the concern that he might be lured away from his shrine by a woman his age (if certain readers find this somewhat sexist, they are informed that there are particular goddess shrines in south India which men are forbidden to enter). It is said that during the pilgrimage periods no tigers are found along the forest trails leading to Sabarimala. This is explained as resulting from Ayappa’s power over tigers. Other holy places associated with Ayappa are Kulattupuzha, Aryankavu, Accankovil, and Kantamala.

Additional notes on SABARIMALA and AYAPPA

The information given above was taken from different books on the Sabarimala shrine. After putting these writings on the web site, I received the following material from a reader of the web site, Geetha Krishnan. This new material, relating to the legend of Ayappa, is somewhat different than what I had written. This sort of difference in legend and myth is something quite common in the study of sacred places, and therefore I have included both versions of the Ayappa myth. Thank you to Geetha Krishnan for this alternative myth.
Shiva does not call upon Vishnu after mating with a tribal woman. The story goes that Shiva gives a boon to an asura (a demon) that allows him to merely touch a person on his head and he will fall dead. The asura then thanks him and wants to try out the boon on Lord Shiva himself. In fear, Shiva runs and calls upon Lord Vishnu for help. Lord Vishnu in the guise of the beautiful maiden Mohini, which literally means "enchantress" or "seductress", approaches the asura. She questions him about why he is chasing Shiva. The asura tells her how he has received this boon and wanted to test it on Shiva himself. Mohini tricks the foolish asura by telling him that the boon was really ineffective and Shiva did not want him to know that. If he wanted, he could test it on himself. The asura placed his hand on his own head, believing her, and he falls dead. Shiva is very grateful towards Vishnu but is enchanted by his female form. They have the child Ayappa to satisfy the demigods' plea to save them from the torments of the demon Mahishi. Ayappa is then raised by the King of Panthala, Rajashekharan, a truly royal king not a tribal king, who was childless. Right after adopting the child Ayappa, whom he called Mani Kanda, meaning ‘one who wears a bell around his neck’ (for the child was found wearing a small bell on a chain around his neck that attracted the king's attention who was out on a hunt with his men), the king has a child of his own. When Ayappa was about to reach age, the queen feared that her own child would lose his right to the throne, so with the minister of the court, she schemed to murder Ayappa. She faked being ill saying that her stomach was in unbearable pain. The minister bribed the court physician to say that the only remedy would be a female tiger's milk. Ayappa, willing to do anything for his mother, goes on the dangerous mission alone to get the milk. Instead, he meets Mahishi and slays her. The gods in happiness and joy assume the form of tigers and accompany back to the palace to give the so-called needed milk remedy. Upon seeing this, the queen confessed her schemes and begs forgiveness from the young prince. Ayappa, forgiving his mother, takes upon the right of celibacy and leaves the palace to reside on Sabarimala. Women are not allowed to go to the temple, not in fear that Ayappa might leave the shrine, but that women will desire and fall in love with the beautiful celibate god. They are allowed after they have reached menopausal age.
For further information on the pilgrimage to Sabarimala, consult:
Gangadharan, N.; Pilgrimage to Sabarimala; in Pilgrimage Studies: Sacred Places, Sacred Traditions; The Society of Pilgrimage Studies (Dubey, D.P. editor); Allahabad, India; 1995

Monday, 19 January 2015

Makara Jyothi 2016 – Sabarimala Makaravilakku Festival on 15 January 2016

Makara Jyoti (Light of Capricorn) – Sabarimala Makaravilakku Festival on 15th January 2016 – Millions of pilgrims are expected to witness the famous Sabarimala Makaravilakku at the Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple in Kerala, India.
Makaravilaku – Makara Jyothi marks the end of the Sabarimala Mandala Pooja pilgrimage season. According to the traditional Malayalam panchangam and Vedic astrology, the Makaravilakku pooja will take place at 6:44 PM in the evening.
Sabarimala pilgrims will be able to witness the Makarajyothi Anduthram star at the Ponnambalamedu and the Thiruvabharanam (traditional antique gold ornaments brought from the Pandalam Palace) adorned Lord Ayyappa Swamy.

Sabarimala Makarasamkramam (Makara Samkramam) is the time when Lord Surya (the Sun God) moves from Dhanu Rasi to Makaram Rasi. Makarasamkrama Pooja is at Sabarimala temple during this time. Pilgrims will be allowed to climb the Pathinettampadi (the holy 18 steps) after Ucha Pooja. Devotees can witness the most important evening Deeparadhana and Makara Jyothi Darshan. The most interesting feature of deeparadhana is that the Brahminy kite (eagle) is hovers over the Sabarimala Temple indicating to start the auspicious evening deeparadhana on Makaravilakku day. After the deeparadhana, the Makarajyothi star will appear on the sky. Makara Jyothi is worshiped as a part of ritual in Sabarimala Temple on Makara Sankranti on 14 January every year. Devout Hindus believe that the jyothi is a celestial phenomenon and its sighting is auspicious and brings good luck and blessings.

It is said that Lord Sri Rama and his brother Lakshmana met Sabari, an urban devotee, at Sabarimala. Sabari offered the Lord fruits after tasting them. But the Lord accepted them gladly and whole-heartedly. The Lord then turned and saw a divine person doing tapas. He asked Sabari who it was. Sabari said it was Sasta. Rama walked towards Sasta and the latter stood up to welcome the Prince of Ayodhya. The anniversary of this incident is celebrated on Makara Vilakku day. It is believed that on Makara Vilakku day, Lord Dharmasasta stops his tapas to bless his devotees.

Another popular mythical belief is that the Makara Vilakku is lit there in commemoration of the aarathi performed by Dev rishis and Devas at the time of revelation of His Divine form (Roopa) by Manikantan (an incarnation of Sasta). This event marks the culmination of the long and arduous pilgrimage to Sabarimala shrine. The light disappears in the evening after the Thiruvaabharanam (divine ornaments) are brought into the sanctum sanctorum and are placed on the Lord. The most significant rituals of worship are performed at the day of Makara Sankaranthi.

Sabarimala 2015 – 2016 Opening and Closing dates and Temple Timings

The Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple in Kerala is open for darshan only during certain specific periods in a year. Below are the dates on which the Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple will remain open during 2015 – 2016.
The temple is open for monthly pujas for five days from the first of Malayalam month on all months in year. Other days when the temple is open are for Sabarimala Shrine festival, Vishu, Ayyappa Idol installation anniversary puja, Onam puja, Sri Chitira Attam Thirunnal, two months during the Mandalam Pooja season (November – December) and finally during the Makaravilakku Puja (January) season.

Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple Calendar 2015 – 2016

Sabariamala 2015

January 2015 at Sabarimala
January 14, 2015 – Makaravilakku Puja
Temple open on all days till January 20, 2015
Temple closes at night on January 20, 2015.

February 2015 at Sabarimala

February 12, 2015 to February 17, 2015 – Kumbha Masa Puja – Monthly Puja – The temple remains open for five days during the period.
March 2015 at Sabarimala
March 14, 2015 to March 19, 2015 – Meena Masa Puja Monthly Puja
 March 24, 2015 to April 3, 2015 - Sabarimala Annual Temple Festival.
April 2015 at Sabarimala
April 3, 2015 - Painguni Festival and Special Arattu Puja is on
April 10, 2015 – April 19, 2015 – Vishu and Medam month Puja and Darshan

April 15, 2015 – Vishu Kani Darshan at the Temple
April 19, 2015 - Vishu Festival Ends
May 2015 at Sabarimala
May 14, 2015 to May 19, 2015 – Edava Masa Puja - Monthly Puja – The temple remains open for five days during the period.
 May 28 – Ayyappa Idol installation anniversary puja
May 29 – Ayyappa Idol installation anniversary day
June 2015 at Sabarimala
June 15, 2015 to June 20, 2015 – Mithuna Masa Puja – Monthly Puja – The temple remains open for five days during the period.
July 2015 at Sabarimala
July 16, 2015 to July 21, 2015 – Karkidaka Masa Puja – Monthly Puja – The temple remains open for five days during the period.
There is also a Niraputtari in this month and the date is decided by the Travancore Royal Family.
August 2015 at Sabarimala
August 16, 2015 to August 21, 2015 – Chinga Masa Puja – Monthly Puja – The temple remains open for five days during the period.
August 26 to August 30 - Onam Puja.
 – Thiru Onam Puja

September 2015 at Sabarimala
September 16, 2015 to September 21, 2015 – Kanni Masa Puja – Monthly Puja – The temple remains open for five days during the period.

October 2015 at Sabarimala
October 17, 2015 to October 22, 2015 – Thulam Masa Puja – Monthly Puja – The temple remains open for five days during the period.

November 2015 at Sabarimala
November 10 – Sri Chitira Attam Thirunnal
November 17, 2015 – Mandala Kalam Starts – Shrine open for 41 days
Temple open on all days from November 16 evening..

December 2015 at Sabarimala
Temple open on all days till the night of December 27, 2015 on all days.
December 27, 2015 – Sabarimala Mandala Puja - Temple closes in the evening
December 30, 2015 – Temple opens for Makaravilakku.

Sabariamala 2016

January 2016 at Sabarimala
January 15, 2016 – Makaravilakku Puja
Temple open on all days till January 20, 2016
Temple closes at night on January 20, 2016.
Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple Timings
On the above days the temple usually opens at 0400hrs and closes at 1300 hrs and then opens again at 1600 hrs and closes at 2300 hrs.
Neyyabhishekam takes place from 0430 hrs to 1130 hrs.
During the peak seasons the timings might altered to accommodate the large number of devotees.
Daily Puja Timings

The Usual Puja Timings are as follows when the temple is open:
Temple opens at 0300 hrs (3: 00 AM)
Nirmalya Darshan is at 0305 hrs
Mahaganapati homam is at 0315 hrs to 1145 hrs
Neyabhishekam from is at 0315 hrs to 1145 hrs
Usha Puja (Morning puja) is at 07:30 hrs
Uccha Puja (Afternoon Puja) is at 12:30 hrs
The Temple closes afternoon at 13:00 hrs (01:00 PM)

Evening Puja
In the evening Temple opens at 15:00 hrs (3: 00 PM)
Deeparadhana (Evening puja) is at 18:30 hrs
Pushpa Abhishekam is at 19:00 hrs
Athazha Puja is at 23:00 hrs
Harivarasanam – at 23:30 hrs
The Temple closes for the day at 23:45 hrs

Lakhs of Sabarimala pilgrims witness 'celestial light'

Thiruvananthapuram, Jan 15: Lakhs of pilgrims in Sabarimala Wednesday witnessed the "celestial light" and went delirious with joy as shouts of Swamiye Ayyapa reverberated all round this temple town. If there is one single event for which Sabarimala pilgrims wait patiently for hours together it is this light that appears thrice on the horizon and is popularly called "Makare Villeku".

According to believers, sighting of the "celestial light" is auspicious and over the last few years, there has been a huge influx of pilgrims to witness it. 
Anxious pilgrims were waiting for this phenomenon at various points in the temple town that extends from the foothills and upwards to the temple located on top of a hill. Besides these areas, every inch of space in and around the neighbouring hills was also occupied. 
Following a stampede that killed 102 people four years ago, the Kerala government made elaborate arrangements by deploying close to 10,000 policemen. "We have been working to ensure maximum safety for the lakhs of pilgrims. Every aspect of security was taken care of and vantage positions were under the control of senior police officials," said Devasoms Minister V.S. Sivakumar.

KSRTC nets record Sabarimala collection

The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) depot at Pampa has set a record by operating 29,788 Pampa-Nilackal services during the Mandalam-Makarvilakku pilgrim season. Revenue collection on this count was Rs.7.64 crore (Rs. 7,64,54,623).

KSRTC special officer at Pampa V.M. Manoj said the corporation had earned Rs.5.47 crore from the Pampa-Nilackal chain service during the previous pilgrim season. He said till Saturday the KSRTC had operated 20,286 services to Pampa during the Mandalam-Makaravilakku season from its depots across the State. The highest number of services to Pampa was from the Chengannur railway station. He said the corporation operated 14 low-floor air-conditioned buses and four Volvo buses for its Pampa special service. The low-floor buses ran services to Chengannur, Thiruvananthapuram and Kottayam. Volvo buses were used for services to Alappuzha, Thiruvananthapuram and Ernakulam. Mr. Manoj said the corporation had been operating inter-State services to Kambom, Theni, Palani, Thenkasi, Coimbatore, Madurai, and Bengaluru from Pampa.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

600-kg brass door at Sabarimala temple

Sabarimala: The door to be installed on the 18th step of the famed Sabarimala temple is getting ready. A total of 600 kg of brass was used for making the door.

Panthalam Nediyakala Thekkethil Subramanyan, who does works at the Sabarimala for the last 15 years, has completed the door within 2 weeks, using special brass from Mumbai.

The door is being sponsored by SM Enterprises of Bangalore and costs Rs 4.75 lakh. After strengthening the door with steel pipes, the grill was fixed with brass. Subramanyam said work on the door would be completed when the temple closes after Makaravilakku.