Swaamiyeh Saranam Ayyappaa !!!
Lord Ayyappaa is one of the three Saiva deities, the other two being Lord Ganesha and Lord Muruga. While Ganesha is popular throughout India, Muruga is claimed by the Tamils as exclusively their own deity, while Ayyappaa is the deity of the Keralites, because, according to legend He played his holy human drama in Kerala. From distant Kerala, Ayyappaa has been casting His halo of benevolence and sphere of influence over other states in India and other countries abroad, and in South Africa we have at present the first Swaami Ayyappan temple in Pretoria.
During the season of pilgrimage, which is during the 15th November to the 15th January, millions of devotees move towards the small Hilltop shrine, deep within the lush green tropical forests of the Sahya mountain ranges, to worship lord Ayyappaa. It is the universal spiritual vision transcending the religious limitations and a great opportunity for a period of holistic spiritual disciplines to reinforce the body, mind and spirit that inspire devotees to take part in this unparalleled pilgrimage. The feeling of ecstasy and the spiritual solace one derives after visiting the shrine is something unique and indescribable. This explains the ever increasing popularity of this none-too-easily accessible shrine.
The divine nature and power of Shree Dharma Saasthaa on top of the Holy Sabarimalai Hill has been known from the days of Lord Rama, thousands of years ago in the Tretha Yuga. The Saintess Sabari lived in a hut on this holy hill waiting for the Darshan ( Holy Vision ) of Lord Rama in order to attain liberation (Moksha). This holy place on the Sabarimalai Hill is called Sabari Peetham. It was also on this holy hill in the Rishimooka Mountain range that Lord Rama met his greatest devotee Lord Hanuman. The temple is very small and is set in primordial splendour atop the high hills of Sabarimalai.
In the The Bhagavathaa and Skanda puranaa (ancient sacred texts) Shree Dharma Saasthaa, the protector and upholder of righteousness is spoken about. His divine leela or Avathaaram, i.e His incarnation on Earth, was played out in the beautiful, tranquil and serene Kerala. It is here where the world famous temple of Shree Ayyappaa, the avathaaram of Lord Dharma Saasthaa, at Sabarimalai is situated and where millions of devotees ascend this mountain every year in order to attain His divine blessings, grace and benevolence. Hundreds of bearded, black or blue-clad devotees with unflinching faith and in search of peace and harmony are seen everywhere with their foreheads smeared with Vibhuti (holy ash), sandal paste (sandal paste) and vermillion (kumkum) giving them a radiant and ascetic look.
However, from time immemorial Sabarimalai shrine in the forest is forbidden to women between the ages of puberty and menopause. In mythology Lord Vishnu in His incarnation (avathaaram) as Mohini (the female enchantress) used feminine charms to bewitch the asuraas (demons) out of their share of the nectar of immortality. Similarly male devotees can be robbed of the fruit of their austerities by enchanting power of desire seated in feminine attractions. In many other incidents like the Sage Kashyappa and Maayai, to whom was born the asuran Soorapadman, Indra and Ahalya, Brahma and Tilottamma the austerities of the males searching for truth were interrupted , disturbed and their choice altered either consciously or unconsciously by their company with females in their reproductive age. In addition the journey is difficult, long and dangerous and the feminine constitution during this age group requires privacy and protection, which was not available in days of yore. This tradition of age old customs and beliefs is still maintained and practiced. In days of yore when the head of the household undertook a fast or vratham it was done on behalf of the entire family as everyone made sacrifices in order to successfully complete a fast. Furthermore in our saastraas it is stated that there is no vritham necessary for a women who bears children, grows them up with value and virtue and who lives by Dharmic principals. For such females moksha is attained by just performing their duty , inculcating righteous living with honour.
A pilgrimage to Sabarimalai is a Saadhana, a spiritual exercise of a rare combination of courage, humility and faith. The gamut of its correct observance covers the whole field of physical endurance, mental purity and moral upliftment, culminating in the complete eradication of ego-sense and the consciousness of utter surrender to Him…..Who Alone Is.
Another very special feature of this temple is that its doors are open to everyone, irrespective of caste, creed, religion or social status. The high and low meet on equal terms in the presence of the Lord who is known as Dharma Saastha, the one who teaches, protects and upholds Dharma which is the principles of righteous living.