Sabarimala: Legends Associated With The Origin Of The Temple

by VioletteRose

Sabarimala is one of the most famous Hindu pilgrimage destinations in South India, visited by large number of devotees every year irrespective of the religion.

Sabarimala is located in the South Indian State of Kerala, to be exactly in the mountains of Pathanamthitta district near to Pamba river. The temple is located on top of the mountains of Western Ghats ranges and the main shrine worshipped here is that of Sri Ayyappa Swami, also popularly known as DharmaSastha. Sabarimala is believed to be one of the ancient temples constructed many centuries back.

The photo is from Wikimedia Commons Image which shows the 18 holy steps at the entrance of the temple.

God Ayyappa Swami is believed to be the abode of God Dharmasastha, and so both the deities are considered to be the same by most of the devotees.  Apparently, the original temple was destroyed in a fire created during the year 1950. The temple was reconstructed soon and revamped again in 1970.

History And Associated Legends

For every pilgrimage destination, there is always an interesting history behind it, which will be usually rich with legends. Here is what I know and understand about the origin of Sabarimala temple and Swami Ayyappa.

You may find different opinions on this subject, especially online. Here I am sharing the legends and beliefs among the people from South Kerala, where the temple is actually located.

Growing Up In The Palace

The king Rajasekhara who ruled the kingdom of Pandalam once went to the forest for hunting. There, he heard the cry of a new born baby, only to find a baby boy lying there in the forest. The baby was wearing a necklace made of golden bells around his neck. Legends say that God Shiva appeared in front of the king in the form of an old man, and advised the king to take the child to his palace.

The king took the baby to his palace, where he was well received by the queen too, as they didn't have any children of their own.

Since the baby was wearing a bell shaped necklace, he was initially called as Manikanta which means one who wearing bells in his neck. However, later he was named as Ayyappa.

The king and the queen brought up the child with so much of love and care. Later, the queen became pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy. The two children grew up like brothers, in all the luxuries of the palace. However, when both of the boys have grown up enough to takeover the kingdom from their father, the queen began to worry. Even though the first son was an adopted child, he was the one who had the right to rule the kingdom, which the queen didn't want. She pretended to be seriously ill, and told prince Ayyappa that she could recover only if he would go to forest and bring milk from a tiger. She made her doctor tell everyone that it is the only medicine which could save the queen.

No one forced him, but the prince decided to go for the medicine, even though the king tried to prevent him. When he reached the forest, he found out a tigress who was feeding her kids. According to the legends, as soon as the tigress saw the prince, she came forward and bowed her head, and then accompanied him to the palace along with other tigers. 

Journey To The Mountains

When Ayyappa came back to the palace with the tigers, everyone including the queen was frightened and surprised. At this point, the prince revealed who he really was and his decision to leave the palace and go to the mountains.

Actually the queen started to repent with guilt, and she confessed. The king and the queen both requested Ayyappa not to leave the palace. But prince Ayyappa didn't want to be the ruler of the kingdom of Pandalam. He still loved his father and brother, and also the queen who had brought him up.

But he had decided to go, and he told his parents that they can find him in the mountains. To help the king to find him, he sent an arrow to the mountains, exactly at the location where he can be found. Then he disappeared from the palace.

It was at Sabarimala located in the Western Ghats, that Swami Ayyappa had sent the arrow. The word Sabarimala can be translated to English as the mountain named Sabari.

It is believed that Swami Ayyappa meditated on top of the mountains.

As I mentioned earlier, Lord Ayyappa is believed to be the abode of God Dharmasastha.

Even though many Ayyappa temples were built over time, Sabarimala is the most prominent worshipping place for Swami Ayyappa.

And I believe that, this is the only temple where people of all religious beliefs, including Christians and Muslims, come every year. This is mainly because, many people from different religious faiths see Sabarimala as a pilgrimage destination where anyone can offer prayers.

An example that shows the harmony among devotees from different faiths, is the temple dedicated to Vavar, who was a Muslim friend of Swami Ayyappa. Vavar is fondly called as Vavaraswami and his temple is located with in the compound of Sabarimala temple, near to the shrine of Swami Ayyappa.

Spiritual Significance

As Swami Ayyappa meditated on the mountains, it is believed that he shared much knowledge regarding the spiritual side of human life, with his followers including saints. Those who are the devotees of Swami Ayyappa, actually took refuge in him. In Malayalam, all devotees who visit Sabarimala temple is called as "Swami", and they go to the mountain top temple reciting "Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa" which means taking refuge in Swami Ayyappa.

Later, a temple was built on the exact location where Swami Ayyappa went for meditation, and it is named as Sabarimala.

The temple is not open on all days of the year. The main pilgrimage to Sabarimala temple starts during the beginning of the Malayalam month of Vrishchikam, which comes around November - December time. During this time, the temple will be open on all days from morning 3 AM to afternoon 1:45 PM and then again from 3 PM to night 11:30 PM. Other than this, the temple usually opens on the first of every Malayalam month and also on special occasions.

The religious beliefs regarding the temple, where Swami Ayyappa is considered to be a Brahmachari, prohibits young women from entering the temple. This is not the case with other Ayyappa temples, or any other temples, but this custom is respected and accepted by most of the female devotees too. All the children and the elderly, regardless of their gender, can visit the temple.

There is also a temple dedicated to Malikappurathu Amma, the goddess, who worships Ayyappa. According to the beliefs, she waits there, hoping Ayyappa will marry her.

In this Wizzley page, I have focused on explaining the legends associated with the origin of Sabarimala temple. There is so much more to tell about the legends and customs associated with Sabarimala temple and Swami Ayyappa, which I will try to explain in later pages.

Devotional Songs

Devotional songs of Swami Ayyappa that you can download. The second album includes the famous Harivarasanam song sung by K J Yesudas.


Have you ever heard about the temple Sabarimala before?

Updated: 12/02/2014, VioletteRose
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VioletteRose on 12/04/2014

Hi Frank, thanks so much for reading!

VioletteRose on 12/04/2014

Hi WriterArtist, thanks so much for reading! Those who go for the pilgrimage usually follow the customs very strictly. I am glad you enjoyed reading about the legends :)

frankbeswick on 12/02/2014

Some interesting information here.

WriterArtist on 12/02/2014

My neighbour just visited Sabarimala recently. They perform pooja every year and follow the customs rigorously. Enjoyed the story of Ayyappa and the legend associated with this sacred place.

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