Less than 5000 persons used to visit Sabarimala 50 years ago, but with the coming of the road from Mannarakulanji to Chalakayam, this number has increased to 4 crores, that too in the Mandala- Makaravilakku season alone.
It was too difficult for the people to reach Sabarimala before 50 years as the journey through the dense forest was so grueling an ordeal as it took days to reach the abode of God.
The people had to walk from Erumeli to Sabarimala via Peroorthodu, Kottapadi, Kaalaketti, Azhhuthamedu, Kallidaamkunnu, Inchipaarakotta, Karimala, Valiyaanavattam, Cheriyaanavattam, Pamapa, Neelimala ,Appachimedu, Sabareepeedom, and Saramkuthi through the forest.
Another path was also used by people to reach Sannidhanam. That was from Kumily through Changara Estate, Uppupaara and Paandithavalam, but it was the route from Erumeli that people used regularly.
The Route- Laaha to Chalakayam has a history hidden behind it. This path was actually built not for the devotees to reach Sabarimala.
It was during 1959-60 that the road was built as part of the Sabarigiri power project that came into being in 1967. Before this project actually started, the Electricity Board tried to bring in a project named ˜Swaami Saranam", which intented to build a dam at Thriveni to produce electricity. For this the board extended the road ( Mannarakulanji- Laaha) to Chalakayam. As time passed the Sabarigiri Project gained importance and to make it a reality another road was made from Chalakayam to Ponnambalamedu. As the Sabarigiri Project became a huge success the Swaami Saranam Project was dropped. Later another road was built from Plapalli to Muzhiyaar via Aangaamuzhi. This is the present Sabarigiri road.
Eventhough there was the Chalakayam Road KSRTC started service through this path only in 1965. The road from Chalakayam to Pampa was built only 7 years later.
With new routes in the chart the journey to Sabarimala may get more easier with the glory of the traditional paths dwindling at a rapid pace.
Erumeli to Pamba
Kottayam to Erumeli (via) Kanjirapally
Kottayam to Erumeli (via) Manimala
Kottayam to Pamba (via) Manimala
Kottayam to Pamba (via) Thiruvalla (Kozhencherry,Vadasserikkara)
Kottayam to Pamba (via) Thiruvalla
Chengannur to Pamba
Ernakulam to Pamba (via) Kottayam
Allappy to Pamba (via) Ac Road
Punalur to Pamba
Pathanathitta to pamba
Thiruvananthapuram to Pamba
Ernakulam to Erumeli (via) Vaikkam, Pala, Ponkunnam
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 while continuously chanting Saranams. The pilgrims leave the place without looking at anyone and bidding goodbye to family or friends. Walking barefoot the pilgrims proceed to realize the Self and attain Lord Ayyappa.
There are three routes to Sabarimala - (a) The Erumeli route (b) The Vandiperiyar route (c) The Chalakayam route.
2. Perur Thodu
5. Azhutha River
9. Karivalam Thodu
11. Periya AnaVattam
12. Seriya AnaVattam
13. Pampa Nadi
Erumeli is about 65 Kms. south east of Kottayam, the nearest town in Kerala, and is set in a hilly terrain against the backdrop provided by the mighty Western Ghats. There are several rubber, coffee, and pepper plantations here. The only open land is the small village in the midst of these plantations. This sleepy village is transformed into a sea of humanity reverberating with the chants of thousands of "Ayyappas".
Erumeli detives its name from Mahishi, which in vernacular, is knows as "Eruma" (meaning buffalo). It is believed that the trunk of Mahishi after she was killed fell here. The ritual ofPettai Thullal, the dance of the hunters, observed here is also associated with the killing of Mahishi.
2. Perur Thodu
Perur thodu (thodu means canal) thavalam, as it is popularly called, is a river about 4 km from Erumeli. Lord Ayyappa rested here during his expedition. It is from here that the 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), so called because of the lush vegetation and flowering plants and trees. According to traditional belief, no one except the pilgrims proceeding to Sabarimala has access to these divine forests. Wild animals were in plenty, but they gave way to the pilgrims when the whole forest resounded with their 'Saranams.'
About 10 km from Perur Thodu is Kalaketti ashramam. Kalaketti literally means the place where the Ox was tethered. The legend says that Lord Shiva, Ayyappa's father, came on his ox and tied it here and witnessed Lord Ayyappa killing Mahishi. Kalaketti is a beautiful valley. There is a shrine where the pilgrims light camphor and break coconuts.
4, 5. Azhutha & Azhutha River
Azhutha river, a tributary of the famed Pampa river flows in the east-west direction with a forceful current, 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, meaning a hill where pebbles are thrown. 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. Another version is that the pebbles represent the past sins of the pilgrims which they deposit here. Some say that the pebbles were Saligramas presented to the devas who assembled at the time of the killing of Mahishi.
7. Inchippara Kota
Inchippara Kota is the fortress of the robber chief Udayanan. At Inchipparakota there is Kotayil Sastha shrine. Pilgrims offer prayers here and break coconuts. This placec is notorious for its scarcity of water. Hence water is collevted from a small straem down the valley and stored here. From here the pilgrims descent the slippery path carefully.
8, 9. Mukkuzhi & Karivalam Thodu
The descent from Inchippara Kota of Azhutha hill ends at Mukkuzhi with Azhutha hill on one side and Karimala hill on the other. Pilgrims rest here for a while before commencing the trek to the next phase of the pilgrimage - the daunting Karimala.
Karivalam thodu is the entrance to Karimala. You reach Karimala after crossing Pudhucheri Aaru (river).
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. Unlike Azhutha which is climbed straight up, Karimala is climbed in stages in a winding manner. 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 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.
11, 12, 13. Periya AnaVattam , Seriya AnaVattam , Pampa River
Pampa is the most important and holy spot on the way to Sannidhanam. It is here that 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.
The Pampa River is a combination of a number of rivers originating from the lands of Peermade. It is the third largest river in Kerala. It is considered as a 'Saint River'. It originates about 1650 m above the sea level. It has a length of 177 km. The river splits into several tributaries and falls into the Vembanad Lake. It runs through Ranni, Thiruvalla, Changanacherry and Ambalapuzha. Kakkiyar, Azhuthayar, Kakkatar and Kallar are the main tributaries. The main dams of this river are Pampayar and Kakiyar. Maniyar Irrigation Project and Sabarigiri Hydro Electro Project are situated there.
The renowned rice producing region, Kuttanad, gets water supply from Pampa River. The holy place Pampa, near to Sabarimala, is situated on the banks of the Pampa River. The Perunthnaruvi waterfalls on the banks of the Pampa River is a favourite picnic spot for both domestic and foreign tourists. The Aranmula Boat Race and Maraman Convention, at Maraman near Kozhenchery, are also held in this river.
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 prasadam.
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 lit 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 Balaji) andLord Hanuman. On the foot of the Neeli mala 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 mala 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. A short distance from here is the Sabari peetam.
Sabari Peetam is the place where Shri Sabari, in Sri Rama's era, performed Tapas. Pilgrims worship here breaking coconuts, firing crackers and lighting camphor.
Half way between Sabari Peetam and Sannidhanam is Saramkuthi. Kanniswamy leave the wooden arrow they picked from Erumeli here.
The holy Pathinettampadi (18 steps) is a 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.
Vandiperiyar Route to Sabarimala comprises of Kozhikkanam, Pullumedu, Uppupara and Uralkuzhi Theertham. Vandiperiyar is about 29 km from Sabarimala.
Uppupara is about 10 km from Kozhikkanam in Idukki District. It can be accessed by a jeep or bus from Kumily and Vandiperiyar. The winding journey along the Periyar River and Pullumedu offers the most enchanting of the sights. The Kozhikkanam-Uppupara ghat road cuts through the verdant forest patch in the Periyar Tiger Reserve. The rolling hills draped in greenery, rare flora and fauna and the sprawling velvet lawns offer a breathtaking view for the tourists.
From Uppupara, Sabarimala Sannidhanam can be reached by climbing down 4 km by foot through the forest. This way along the dense forest also touches the Pandithavalam.
Uralkuzhi Theertham is about 1 km north-east to Sannidhanam. The name of the place is derived from the shape formed due to the falling of water on the rock (‘Ural’is a grindstone with a small dip used for making flour). The water from this spring is taken for the ‘abishek’, the holy ritualistic bathing of an idol using water. Devotees usually take a holy dip in this teerth, which can wash away the sins of a lifetime. The water flows towards the Kumbala Teerth.
During January to March, the Pathanamthitta District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC) organizes trekking to the Sabari Hills. The trekking route is Ranni-Rajanpara-Nilackal-Sabarimala-Uppupara–Vandiperiyar.
Jeep services and KSRTC (Kerala State Road Transport Corporation) buses from Kumily and Vandiperiyar ply up to Uppupara. The 25 km journey by bus or jeep reaches to Uppupara from Vandiperiyar. From there the pilgrims must climb down by foot through Pandithavalam for about 4 km to reach Sannidhanam (Sabarimala). This route is convenient for the pilgrims from Tamil Nadu touching Kumily. The Kozhikkanam-Uppupara ghat road cuts through the verdant forest patch in the Periyar Tiger Reserve. One has to pass through Vallakadavu and Kozhikkanam to reach Pullumedu.
Devotees can also go from Vandiperiyar to Mount Estate (8 km) by vehicle and then walk to Sabarimala (12 km).
Chalakayam route is the easiest route to Ayyappa Sannidhanam. Chalakayam is near Pampa River and the Sabarimala Temple is only 8 km from here.