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ŚABARIMALA (ŚABARI MOUNTAIN) - शबरिमल

A sacred place in South India in the eastern region of Kerala on a mountain called Śabarimala. It is not quite certain whether the name of this mountain is in any way related to Śabarī, to whom Śrī Rāma had given salvation. At any rate a very ancient temple with Śāstā as the presiding deity therein is found at Śabarimala today. It is proof positive of the great sanctity attached to the ancient temple that every year lakhs of devotees from all parts of India visit it braving dense forests, mountains and wild beasts on their way. Historical evidence about the origin of the temple or its philosophical importance is sparse, but there is a legend, more illuminating than facts of history, about Śāstā (Ayyappan) the deity installed in the temple. The legend is as follows-- In olden days the royal family of the Pāṇḍyas divided itself into two branches, one of them settling down at Velliyūr and the other at Madura. When the king of Madura one day went ahunting in the forest he met a handsome and very powerful and courageous Malayāli youth. The king immediately took a liking for him and appointed him as an officer in his army. The youth gradually rose up in military service to become the Commander-in-Chief. The other officers, who were jealous due to the rise of the youth--Ayyappan--began conspiring to drive him out. The queen became a weapon in the hands of the conspirators, and at their instance she pretended herself to be very ill and lay in a fainting fit. All the physicians acknowledged defeat in curing her. Then a physician, an agent of the conspirators, came forward and assured the king that he would cure the queen of her illness within one and a half hours if a leopard's milk was made available. The king told Ayyappan about it. Ayyappan went into the forest and returned to the palace with many she-leopards. He rode a tiger leading the leopards. People in the royal court were frightened by the sight of the leopards. The King realised that Ayyappan was not an ordinary person. Being questioned about him by the King, Ayyappan replied that God was his father and the whole world his home. As he did not like to live any further with tale-bearers and conspirators he returned to Kerala. Ayyappan's departure made the King sad and very restless in mind. After giving all his immovable property on rent the King followed Ayyappan to Kerala taking all his ornaments, jars and other utensils, and came at last to Pantalam. This region of Kerala was then in the control of a petty Chieftain called Kaippuzha Tampān. The King of Madura purchased some land from the Tampān, put up a palace there and lived therein with the members of his family. Ayyappasvāmī on his way back to Kerala met Paraśurāma, who told the former that he had already, for the protection of Kerala, installed on mountains and the sea-coast idols of his (Ayyappasvāmī) and that he would install another idol of Ayyappan at Śabarimala where they had now met each other. From that day onwards Ayyappasvāmī took his abode there. One of those days the Pāṇḍyan king living at Pantalam had a dream, and in that dream Ayyappasvāmī appeared and told him that he (Ayyappan) was living at Śabarimala and the King might meet the Svāmī if he went there. The next day morning the King with his retinue started for Śabarimala. At Śabarimala the King got the forest cleared and made a search of the ground where he found an idol installed by Paraśurāma. The King built a temple there and installed the idol of Ayyappasvāmī therein. He also got necessary purificatory ceremonies conducted in the temple by the famous tantrī (high-priest) Tāzhamaṇ. A routine programme for the conduct of affairs in the temple was fixed. As it was difficult for men to live in the forest infested by wild beasts and conduct pūjā etc. daily, it was fixed that pūjās need be conducted only for five days in every month and that Makarasaṁkrānti should be the annual festival day. From the first of Makaraṁ (January) for five days it was to be utsava with the deity led in procession. On the fifth of Makaram every year a ‘Kalabham’ and on the seventh day a ‘guruti’ also were ordained. On the annual festival day the temple priest, the senior pilgrim, mārārs and other employees go to Śabarimala carrying with them rice etc. for food and calling aloud ‘Svāmiye Śaraṇam Ayyappa’ (Oh! lord Ayyappa! you are our refuge), devotees climb the mountain today also repeating this slogan. (See under Śāstā).

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