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Factfile: Sabarimala temple

india Updated: Jan 15, 2011 00:50 IST

Tragedy struck Kerala as numerous pilgrims are feared dead and several injured as a bus returning from the hill shrine of Sabarimala ran over pilgrims in Peerumedu in Idukki district, 35 kms away from the shrine, before plunging into a gorge.

This is not the first time tragedy struck the hill shrine, known for its communal harmony (all religions are welcome here). On January 14, 1999, 53 persons died in Pampa, the base camp of the hill shrine, in a stampede.

One of the richest temples of the country, the second largest seasonal pilgrim centre of the country after Kumbh, Sabarimala is a Hindu pilgrimage center located in the Western Ghat mountain ranges of Pathanamthitta District in Kerala. Sabarimala is believed to be the place where Ayyappan meditated after killing the powerful demoness, Mahishi.

The Ayappa temple is situated at an altitude of 914 metre and is a long uphill journey on foot though forests and rough terrain that does not seem to deter pilgrims that number between 30-50 million every year.

The Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple is famous for the 41-day 'Mandala Kalam' - an auspicious period of worship that begins on the first day of the Malayalam month 'Vrischikam' in mid-November. This year the Sabarimala Shrine opened on November 16, and is scheduled to remains open for 41 days, ending December 27, with another 'Mandala Puja' followed by a 2-day break.

Hundreds of devotees still follow the traditional mountainous forest path (approximately 45 km) from Erumely, believed to be taken by Lord Ayyappa himself.

Pilgrims set out in groups under a leader, and each carry a cloth bundle called Irumudi kettu containing traditional offerings.

The temple is open to males of all age groups and to women who have either passed their fertility age and those before reaching the stage of puberty.

The easiest route is via Chalakkayam, by which one can reach the banks of the river Pamba by vehicle. Pamba is the main halting point on the way to Sabarimala. From here one has to trek 4 to 5 kms to reach the temple.