The temple of Lord Ayyappa or Dharma Sastha on the Sabari hills on Western Ghats attracts numerous devotees. According to Puranas, Lord Vishnu once appeared as Mohini and Shiva succumbed to her beauty. Since Ayyappa was born of their union, He is known as Harihara Putra. His other name is Manikantan as he had a golden bell round his neck when he was found by the King of Pandalam on the banks of Pampa. This divine boy is said to have vanquished demon Mahishi on the Sabari hills.
Moreover Parasurama had installed five Devi deities along the seashore and five Sastha images along the hilly tracts. Sastha is depicted in different stages of life in these five temples. At Kulathupuzha, He is represented as a child, at Ariyankavu as a Brahmachari, at Achancoil as a Grihastha with His consorts Poorna and Pushkala, at Sabarimala as Vanaprastha and at Ponnambalamedu or Kantamalai, as yogi.
The main pilgrimage takes place during Vishu (April), Mandala Puja (December) and Makara Sankranti (January). Pilgrims trekking long distances reach the shrine after negotiating Karimala and Neelimala. Vehicles can go up to the banks of Pampa River. From here it is a 5 km trek to reach the hill shrine.
The presiding deity has been consecrated in a neat little sanctum on a raised ground. Only those who carry the 'Irumudi' are allowed to climb the18 sacred steps sanctum. Others follow a side entrance.
On the evening of Makar Sankranti pilgrims witness a magnificent flash of a light known as Makara Vilakku or Jyoti on the eastern side, called Ponnambalamedu. The shrine is kept open during the first 10 days of every Malayalam month.
Pandalam Sastha Temple is 15 km from Pathanamthitta district. The Thiruvabharanam of the Lord is kept here and is ceremonially taken to the hill shrine for Makara Sankranti festival.
Vaikom: It is located 40 kilometers away from Sabarimala. This well-known Shiva shrine, situated near the Vembanad Lake, is dedicated to Sri Vaikathappan, the benign form of the lord. Legends have it that Khara, an asura, had installed Lingams at Vaikom, Ettumanoor and Kaduthuruthi. It is customary to worship at all the 3 Shiva shrines on the same day. As Vyagrapada worshipped the Lingam at Vaikom it was earlier known as Vyagrapadapuram. Sage Parasurama is said to have consecrated the Lingam and established puja rites for the shrine.
The sanctum is circular in shape with copper-plated roof with a golden Kalasam. The Lingam is about 5 feet high. He is worshipped as Dakshinamurthi in the morning; as Kirata (hunter) at noon and as Sachidananda in the evening. Devotees are fed in this temple round the year and the Lord is known as Annadana Prabhu.
Vaikkathu Ashtami is the festival for 13 days during November and December. Ashtami is the day on which Vyagrapada received the darshan of Lord Shiva here. The day is celebrated all over Kerala; Koodi Puja is performed on the next day to mark the meeting of Lord Subramanya of Udayanapuram (3 km from Vaikom) and Sri Vaikathappan.
Ettumanoor is 11 kilometers away. There is another popular Shiva temple here. The image, an Aghora murti (fierce form of the Lord), was installed by Khara. This temple resembles the Vaikom Shiva shrine.
At the entrance there is a giant lamp known as Valia Vilakku. It is believed to have been brought here and lighted by the Lord Himself. Devotees worship this ever-burning lamp first by pouring oil in it. The sanctum enshrines the image of Lord Mahadeva at the back of a Lingam on a high pedestal. To the east of the sanctum, Parvati is worshipped but without any idol installed. Ganapathi, Sastha and Dakshinamurthi have separate shrines in the Prakaram.
Among the important offerings here are Kootu Payasam and Thulabharam. It is believed that one can get completely cured from witchcraft after worshipping at this temple for a Mandalam (41 days). Another interesting feature is the Nandi, whose image gets filled with paddy. It is believed to possess medicinal properties.
The procession of seven and a half golden elephants known as, Ezhara Ponnana, is taken out on the eighth and tenth days. It is the highlight of the 10 day festival that is celebrated during February-March. The 8th day attracts thousands of devotees when the Lord is kept at the beautifully decorated Asthana Mandapam at midnight.
Other shrines here include Pananchikkal Bhagavathi on the southern side of the temple courtyard and Sthambha Vigneswara dedicated to sage Vyagrapada who turned into this form.
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