The Sabarimala Temple festival is celebrated in honour of Lord Ayyapa who is revered by all in India.
Sabarimala is a renowned pilgrim centre atop the rugged hills of the Western Ghats. This holy shrine is dedicated to Lord Ayappa. The main pilgrimage is undertaken between November and January.
There are two main rituals called the Mandal Puja and the Makara Sankranti Puja, which is celebrated from November to mid-January in Kerala during which time, the devotees perform austerities and penance.
Devotees undergo rigorous penance and austere living before starting on the pilgrimage. Regardless of caste, creed and colour they wear black dhoties and carry on their heads, bundles containing traditional offerings like coconuts filled with ghee, camphor and rice.
The temple dome is covered with gold and the devotees break the coconuts before climbing the steps.
Among the pilgrims, there are a few who are undertaking the pilgrimage for the first time while ther are a few who have been doing so for the past many years.
The first timers are known as 'Kanni Swamis' and the leader of the group is known as 'Guru Swami' or the lead person of a team who is incharge of all the rituals.
Devotees take a ritual bath while climbing up the hill in the holy river Pamba, which absolves one's sins. En route at Erumeli, in a supreme instance of communal harmony, they pay obeisance at the shrine of Vavar, a Muslim deity believed to be a close ally of Lord Ayyappa.
To ease the ardour of the long trek through the forests to the temple at the peak of the Sabari Hills, devotees constantly chant the name of the holy one. No women in the fertility age group are allowed into the precincts of the shrine of the Lord who is considered to be an Eternal Bachelor.