Customs And Traditions Associated With Sabarimala Pilgrimage

by VioletteRose

Here you can read about the popular customs and traditions followed by the devotees who visit Sabarimala temple, especially during the pilgrimage season in December.

The Sabarimala pilgrimage starts mostly by end of November, to be exactly in the Malayalam month of Vrischikam 1st and the next 41 days are especially important for the devotees. After the 41 days of worship, the temple sometimes closes for a few days and then again opens for the special prayers and rituals during the middle of January so that the devotees can see the Makaravilakku and Makarajyothi lamps on the special day.

Picture of the Western Ghats mountain ranges, where the Sabarimala temple is located, is from Pixabay.

Makaravilakku and Makarajyothi are the holy lamps that are seen on specific days in Sabarimala temple, which is altogether a different subject to write about. Here I will focus just on the traditionally followed customs for those who wish to go for the pilgrimage.

As I mentioned in my previous Wizzley page on the legends associated with Sabarimala temple, Swami Ayyappa is a Brahmachari. All the devotees who wish to visit the temple, also practice some strict customs before going to the temple, to follow the traditions and rules of the temple. Let us have a look at the general practices.

The devotees going for the pilgrimage have to wear a chain made of holy basil beads, mostly for the 41 days. Once someone wear the holy necklace, he is regarded as a Swami. He is expected to stay away from non vegetarian food, alcohol and such things and also follow a celibate life even if married.

After following this lifestyle for 41 days, the pilgrimage will begin, traditionally walking a long way by foot, to the mountains where the temple is located. I know those who even walk kilometres to reach the temple, taking days for the travel. It is very hard to do so, but that is the speciality of Sabarimala pilgrimage. Today, many people travel by vehicles up to a particular point near to the mountains, then walk from there. Everyone has to go through the mountains to reach the top, and then go through the 18 holy steps to get inside the temple.

It has to be noted that the pilgrims walk through the mountains with bare foot.

The devotees carry a  bundle of many holy items including coconuts and such items in their head, while they go to the temple. The bundle in cloth is known as "irumudikkettu", the items inside which is usually filled during a pooja or rituals performed before you start the pilgrimage. The coconut is usually filled with ghee and the devotees break it before entering to the temple.

If you think you cannot follow the traditional customs for 41 days, you can wear the holy basil chain just before going for the pilgrimage.

Other than these, wearing either deep blue or black clothes is another tradition followed. This is because Swami Ayyappa is thought to be the God ruling Saturn, the planet for which black is the assumed colour in Hinduism.

The devotees who go for the pilgrimage first time in their life are referred to as "kanni ayyappa" and they have usually special rituals before they start the pilgrimage. Usually rice kanji and some side dishes are prepared and offered to everyone, if there is anyone going to the Sabarimala temple for the first time. It is usually organized by a group of pilgrims who are going together for the pilgrimage. Once they reach near the mountains, there is a special tradition of sending an arrow to the near by banyan tree. For this purpose, usually small arrows are sold near to the famous banyan tree.

It is a belief that Ayyappa had given promise to the goddess Malikappurathu Amma that if an year comes when there is no "kanni ayyappa" comes to Sabarimala, he will marry her, which probably will never happen. The arrows in the banyan tree denotes the number of devotees who are visiting the temple for the first time in their life.

Images of the Western Ghats where the Sabarimala temple is located can be seen below.


Western Ghats Greenery
Western Ghats Greenery
Early morning in the mountains
Early morning in the mountains

The 18 holy steps have much importance in Sabarimala temple. Everyone who visits the temple has to go through these steps in the entrance. When you go back, it is advised to face the temple and get down the steps. To avoid any fall, you can easily get someone to help with you there.

Those who go for the pilgrimage always recites Swami Ayyappa bhajans and songs, and most importantly the mantra "Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa" meaning taking refuge in Swami Ayyappa.

Pamba is the holy river near to the Sabarimala temple. Everyone coming for the pilgrimage is supposed to take a head bath three or seven times in the Pamba river before going to the temple. Even those who come in vehicles, get camped near the Pamba river, and start the journey by walking towards the mountains.

Every year on January 14th, the famous Makaravilakku festival is celebrated at Sabarimala temple. There is another temple in the near by forests, where the tribes light lamp and perform rituals and offer prayers. This lamp lighted by the tribes is viewed by the devotees in Sabarimala temple and it is known as Makaravilakku.

Makara is the Malayalam month on which the festival falls, and it occurs when the sun moves to the Capricorn constellation, which is considered as an important time according to Hindu beliefs. In many places, this day is celebrated as Makara Sankranthi. 

Makarajyothi is actually another holy light that is seen on top of the far away mountains at the same time. This light appears there when the Sirius star passes through the morning sky, devotees see this as a blessing from God and it is a special day in the temple.

Here is one of the most popular images of Swami Ayyappa from ebay.

Prayer necklace made of holy basil beads, available in ebay.

Swami Ayyappa devotional songs in Malayalam, available from Amazon.

Dev Songs On Sabarimala[Mal]

Dev Songs On Sabarimala[Mal] by Various ArtistsThis product is manufactured on demand using CD-R recordable media.'s standard return policy will apply.

View on Amazon

Almost everything I know about the customs followed by the pilgrims are included in this article. If you want to share anymore information regarding the traditions, feel free to do so!

Did you know about the traditional customs associated With Sabarimala pilgrimage?

Updated: 12/04/2014, VioletteRose
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VioletteRose on 12/05/2014

Thanks WriterArtist! I agree the customs are quite difficult, but mostly everyone follow them. Thanks for stopping by :)

WriterArtist on 12/04/2014

The pilgrimage appears a bit tough but believers would take all the pains to visit Sabarimala. The temple is situated on the hills and the view to western ghats is beautiful.

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