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The Hindu god Ayyappan is one of southern India’s most revered deities. Known also as Dharmasastha, Hariharan, Manikanta, Ayyanar and Bhoothnath, Ayyapan is worshipped in a number of shrines across south India. At Kulathupuzha, he is worshipped as a child; at Achankovil in conjunction with his consorts, Pushkala and Poorna; and at Sabarimala as an ascetic, a celibate meditating in solitude for the benefit of all mankind. Sabarimala lies in the Sahyadris- the Western Ghats, in Kerala. Situated at a height of about 3,000 ft, the shrine is one of Hinduism’s most important pilgrimage centers.

Every year, between November and January, thousands of Hindu pilgrims converge on Sabarimala, after a rigorous 41 days of abstinence and penance. Devotees, each with a sacred irumudi- a cloth bag which contains pooja items such as coconuts, dry fruit, sandalwood paste, turmeric and the like, set off on the trek up to the shrine, chanting all the way.

Sabarimala holds the rather dubious distinction of being the only Hindu temple in India where women are not allowed. A number of feminist organizations have tried to persuade the Temple Board the revoke this age-old tradition, but to no avail. Many reasons are cited by the board in support of the decree; these include the 41-day penance imposed on pilgrims, the arduous trek up to the shrine, and the fact that the Ayyappan worshipped at Sabarimala is supposed to be a celibate hermit. Be as it may, women- and girls- between the ages of 10 and 50 cannot even enter the forest around Sabarimala.

Best time to visit

The pilgrimages to Sabarimala begin in November and last up to January.

Throughout the year, monthly poojas are held at the temple, usually within the first week of each month. The shrine, therefore, is open only for the first five days of every month and for the pilgrimage season, between mid-November and mid-January.


Women who have either passed their fertility age and those before reaching the stage of puberty cannot enter the temple.


The Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple is open only for ‘darshan’ during certain specific periods in a year – Monthly pujas for five days, Sabarimala Temple festival, Idol installation anniversary puja, Onam puja, Sri Chitira Attam Thirunnal, two months during the Mandalam season (November – December) and finally during the Makaravilakku (January) season.

On the above days the temple usually opens at 4:00 am and closes at 1:00 pm and then opens again at 4:00 pm and closes at 11:00 pm.

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