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'Sabari Yathiraiye Saranam Ayyappa !'

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After filling the holy coconut with ghee and packing the essentials for offering Lord Ayyappa in the Irumudi (called ketunira), the Guru places the sacred Irumudi on head of the pilgrims chanting Saranam. The pilgrims leave the place without looking at anyone and bidding goodbye to family or friends. Walking barefoot the pilgrims proceed to realise the Self and attain Lord Ayyappa.

There are three routes to Sabarimala - (a) The Erumeli route (b) The Vandiperiyar route (c) The Chalakayam route. The Erumeli route, used by Ayyappan himself during his forest expedition to kill Mahishi is described here.


 
      
  1. Erumeli 2. Perur Thodu  
  3. Kaalaketi 4. Azhutha  
  5. Azhutha River 6. Kallidumkunnu  
  7. Inchipparakota 8. Mukkuli  
  9. Kariyilam Thodu 10. Karimalai  
  11. Periya Annai Vattam 12. Seriya Annai Vattam  
  13. Pampa Nadi    

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The important places the pilgrims crosses between Erumeli and Sannidhanam are:

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Perur Thodu

Kalaketti

Azhutha

Inchiparakota

Karimala

Pampa

Sabari Peetam

Saramkuthi

Pathinettam padi 

Erumeli :

Sastha temple at Erumeli
It is about 65 km from Kottayam. There are shrines for Lord Dharmasastha and Varar Swamy (the Muslim lieutenant of Lord Ayyappa).The first timers to Sabarimala, called Kanniswamy, perform pettatullal. Pettatullal is painting the face with colours
and dancing with wooden weapons to make one look odd. The essence of this practice is to give up ones ego and surrender to Lord Ayyappa. They go round the
Ayyappan Temple and Varar Shrine and later bathe in the river. Then the temple is visited again to seek authorization from Lord Ayyappa to tread the sacred hill Sabari. Later the pilgrims leave Erumeli under the guidance of their Guru for Sannidhanam.
Vavar mosque at Erumeli

Perur Thodu :

It is a river about 4 km from Erumeli. Lord Ayyappa rested here during his expedition. It is from here the rise begins. Giving alms here is important. By giving alms, one is disposing of all dharma and seeking asylum in Ayyappa. The forest beyond Perur Thodu is poongavanam (Ayyappan's garden).
  Scene Perurthode

 

Kalaketti :

Scene at Kalaiketti
About 10 km from Perur Thodu is Kalaketti. The legend says that Lord Shiva, Ayyappa's father, came on his ox and tied it here and witnessed Lord Ayyappa killing Mahishi. There is a shrine where the pilgrims light camphor and break coconuts.
 

Azhutha :

Scene at Alutha  
Azhutha river, a tributary of Pampa, is about 2 km from Kalaketti. On the far side of the river is the steep Azhutha hill, famous for its arduous track. In the ascent of 2 km of steep climb there is hardly anyone who does not shed tears. At the summit of Azhutha is Kallidumkunnu. The pilgrims drop the pebble taken by them from
Azhutha river here. This is done as the mortal remains of Mahishi was cast off here and filled with stones.

Inchipparakota:

The next important place is the Inchipparakota where there is Kotayil Sastha shrine. Pilgrims offer prayers here and break coconuts. From here the pilgrims descent the slippery path carefully. The descent ends at Karimala thodu (canal) with Azhutha hill on one side and Karimala hill on the other. Pilgrims rest here for a while.

 

Karimala :

Karimala is the abode of elephants which visits the Karimala canal to drink water. Pilgrims light the aazhi (campfire) to protect themselves from wild animals and cold weather. Karimala hill consists of seven levels and is climbed in stages. As the ascent of 5 km is difficult the pilgrims continuously chant saranams. On top
  Scene at Karimala
of Karimala the terrain is flat suitable for the pilgrims to rest. It is interesting to see the Nazhikkinar - a well within a well with fresh spring like water. There deities of Karimalanthan, Kochukaduthaswami and Karimala Bhagawathi. From here after the exhausting descent, Pampa river is about 5 kms.

Pampa :

Scene at Pamba
Pampa is the most important and holy spot on the way to Sannidhanam. It is here Lord Ayyappa was found by King Rajasekara. The Pampa river is as holy as the Ganges. The Pampa water purifies one from curse and evil.
 

 

Pampa Feast : 

Pampa Annadhanam (feast) and Pampa Vilakku are important rituals followed at the Pampa bank. Pilgrim groups prepare feast with the provisions taken from the Irumudi of the pilgrims. Thousands of pilgrims are fed at Pampa. When a group of pilgrims are ready to fed the fellow pilgrims they display a large papad outside their cottage. It is usually the kanniswamy who are fed first, as they are considered to be Lord Ayyappan himself. After the feast the Guru is honoured by pilgrims prostrating him and offering him the Gurudakshina.

Kanni Ayyappas move from kitchen to kitchen collecting the ashes which are considered to be very sacred. It is done with the belief that Lord Ayyappa would have had the feast in one of the cottages in the disguise of a pilgrim. The ash is taken home as prasad.

Pampa Vilakku :

On sunset pilgrim believe that Lord Ayyappan will be present at the banks of Pampa and the cottages are decorated with lights and candles. Small floats are decorated with lights called Pampa Vilakku are let in the Pampa river.

 

The next morning after a dip in the cold Pampa river and performing pitru tarpanam (offering to ones departed soul) the pilgrims start their ascent towards the hill Neelimala after worshipping at the temple of Lord Ganapathi, Lord Rama (avathar of

Scene at Neelimala
Balaji) and Lord Hanuman. On the foot of the Neeli hill is the representative of the King of Pandalam. The pilgrims offer their respects to the representative. After seeking the permission of the representative to visit the shrine of Lord Ayyappa they proceed with their journey. From here the Sannidhanam is about 6 km. The neeli
hill is as difficult as the Azhutha and Karimala. The top of Neeli hill is called Appachi medu. Here there are two abysses - Appachi kuzhi and Ippachi kuzhi. Kanniswamy throw rice balls here to calm down the evil spirits present around the place. From this point the ground is almost even. Some distance from here is the Sabari peetam.

Sabari Peetam :

This was the Kota where Shri Sabari, in Sri Rama's era, performed Tapas. Pilgrims worship here breaking coconuts, firing crackers and lighting camphor.
  Scene at Sabaripeedam

Saramkuthi :

Scene at Saramkhuthi
Half way between Sabari Peetam and Sannidhanam is Saramkuthi. Kanniswamy leave the wooden arrow they picked from Erumeli here.
 

Patinettampadi :

Holy 18 steps
The holy Patinettampadi (18 steps) is 15 minute walk from Saramkuthi. The Golden steps is such a magnificent sight. Pilgrims chant saranams loudly. After breaking the coconut they climb the 18 steps to have the darshan of Lord Ayyappa
 
 

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