Sabarimala Pilgrimage

The Sabarimala pilgrimage is one of the most famous and revered Hindu pilgrimages in India. It is centered around the Sabarimala temple, dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, located in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Western Ghat mountain ranges of Kerala. The pilgrimage season typically occurs from November to January, with the peak of the pilgrimage during the Mandalam Makaravilakku season.

Key aspects of the Sabarimala pilgrimage:

Austerity and Fasting: Devotees who undertake the Sabarimala pilgrimage adhere to strict rituals and observe a 41-day fasting period known as “Vratham.” During this period, devotees abstain from certain activities, maintain celibacy, and follow a vegetarian diet. The fasting period is seen as a way to cleanse the mind and body before approaching Lord Ayyappa.

Irumudi Kettu: Devotees carry an “Irumudi Kettu,” a special two-compartment bag, which symbolizes their offering to Lord Ayyappa. One compartment contains offerings for the deity, such as coconuts and ghee, while the other compartment contains personal items for the pilgrim’s use during the journey.

Climbing the Holy Steps: The pilgrimage involves climbing the “Pathinettam Padi” or “18 Holy Steps” to reach the sanctum sanctorum of the Sabarimala temple. Each step is associated with a specific deity or concept, and pilgrims ascend these steps with reverence and devotion.

Mandalam and Makaravilakku: The Mandalam season marks the beginning of the pilgrimage, while the Makaravilakku festival on Makara Sankranti (usually January 14th) is a major event when a divine light is believed to appear on a hill called Ponnambalamedu.

Women’s Entry Controversy: Sabarimala has been a center of controversy due to the restriction on women of menstruating age (10 to 50 years) entering the temple. This practice faced legal challenges, debates about gender equality, and discussions about the autonomy of religious institutions.

Spiritual Significance: The pilgrimage to Sabarimala is seen as a spiritual journey of self-purification, devotion, and surrender to Lord Ayyappa. Devotees come from different parts of India, transcending regional and linguistic boundaries, to participate in this sacred pilgrimage.

Cultural Impact: The Sabarimala pilgrimage is not only a religious event but also a cultural phenomenon that has influenced literature, art, music, and rituals in the region.

The Sabarimala pilgrimage is characterized by its unique rituals, strict adherence to fasting and austerity, and the deep sense of devotion exhibited by the pilgrims. While the pilgrimage has attracted attention and discussions due to the entry restrictions for women, it remains an integral part of Kerala’s cultural and religious landscape.

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