(Last Updated on : 03-04-2014)
Sabarimala is regarded as the epitome of religious harmony in Kerala
. It is one of the most interesting pilgrimage sites around. The temple of Lord Ayyappa or Sri Dharmasastha Temple on the Sabari hills on Western Ghats
attracts numerous devotees. The temple is associated with many miracles and legends. According to Indian Puranas
, Lord Vishnu
once appeared as Mohini and Lord 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.
As per a legend, Ayyappa descended as the child Manikanta. He was found on the banks of the Pampa
River by the king of Pandalam. The king took the child to his kingdom. He was brought up with love and care as the king and queen were childless. Later, the queen gave birth to a son and both the children grew up as brothers. One day the time came to appoint a heir and the king decided to anoint Manikanta, the elder of the two. The queen however resented this and wanted her own son to be crowned. She then with the help of some the ministers devised a way to get rid of Manikanta. She feigned illness and the royal physician prescribed leopard's milk as the only remedy to cure her. Hearing this Manikanta readily offered to bring the rare medicine. Although the king stopped him he set out for the forest. He carried on his head a bundle containing a coconut and some food for use on the way. During his wanderings in the jungle Manikanta met Mahishi and in battle killed her. This was however, the purpose of his avatara on earth. Mounted on a tiger and carrying the leopard's milk he returned to Pandalam.
The king and the subjects were frightened by the sight but soon the king realised that his son was none other than the God Himself. He sought mercy from Manikanta and requested the Lord to reside permanently in his kingdom. The Lord then advised the king to build a temple on Neelimala to the north-east of the Pampa. It was the place where Sabari was practising penance for eternal salvation. Thus, the pilgrimage to Sabarimala reminds one of the Lord's journey to the forest to fetch leopard's milk. The pilgrim carries an Irumudi or two compartment cloth bag on his head that represents the bundle which the Lord Himself carried. It contains in the front compartment a coconut filled with ghee which is the main offering to the deity. In the rear he carries articles of food required on the way.
The purpose of the avatara of Lord Ayyappa was to restore order in the country and to renovate the temple at Sabari Hill. Ayyappa fulfilled the mission in due course and it is said that he later entered the sanctum sanctorum and disappeared.