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THE LONG ROUTE TO SABARIMALAI
Sabarimalai is a hill on the Western Ghats, four thousand feet above sea level. Of the famous eighteen important Sastha shrines on the Western Ghats, the most famous is the one at Sabarimalai. The distance from Erumeli to Sabarimalai is said to be forty-one miles, though actually it is only thirty-eight miles now, as there are several-cuts enroute.
Four miles to the Southeast to Sabarimalai is the confluence of the rivers “Kallar” and “Pampa”. This place is called “Triveni” as Kallar is regarded as the “Jumna” and “Pampa” as the “Ganges” and “Saraswathi” is believed to join the flow from underneath even as at “Prayag” in Allahabad. Four miles east of “Triveni” is a place on the bank of the pampa called “Chalakkayam”. A good tarcreted road, fit for all vehicular traffic joins Chalakkayam and Triveni. Many people go to Sabarimalai via Chalakkayam. Now the vehicular traffic terminates at the Bank of Pampa.
Nominally twelve, but really fourteen miles north-west of Sabarimalai is the Mount Estate. Crossing the estate by bus or other vehicle or by track, you come to Vandiperiyar a bus terminus, on the Kottayam-Kumuli road. Many pilgrims go to Sabarimalai by this route also.
Besides the three routes mentioned above, there are other routes to Sabarimalai. The “Thalapparai” route and “Pathanamthitta” route are rarely used by pilgrims. The “PonnambalaMedu” route and the “Dam Site” route are very seldom used by pilgrims. The forest track from “Achencoil” to Sabarimalai is not used at all by pilgrims.
The three routes most used by pilgrims to Sabarimalai are the thirty-eight mile long route from Erumeli, the Chalakayam route and the Vandiperiyar route. Of these three, the first is the traditional route. That was the route by which the Lord, as per the story, went for leopard’s milk for the cure of His jealous foster-mother, the queen’s affected ailment. That was the route, which, when he followed, He was met by Lord Siva’s Boothaganams which turned into tiger for Him to ride on, back to Pandalam. King Rajasekhara went to the spot pointed out to him by the Lord’s arrow for construction of the Shrine by that route.
Few decades back, the route was a narrow track through jungles and forests overgrown by grass and prickly herbs in some places, full of ruts and sloughs in some places, overhung by creepers and climbers in some places and so narrow that people could walk only in single file in some place. Not much distance could be covered by people by marching in columns two or three deep. The pilgrims then could be counted in hundreds.
In November 1937, His Highness the Maharaja of Travancore issued the famous temple entry proclamation throwing open to all Government temples and all temples under Government control to all Hindus for worship, irrespective of Caste. Following this there was a steady increase in the number of Sabarimalai pilgrims year after year. Then they had to be counted in thousands.
In1947, when our Constitution vouchsafed freedom of speech to us, that freedom was misused in many places for anti-religious and anti God propaganda. The Lord of the Sabari Hills then fulfilled Himself by creating circumstances in several States outside Kerala to attract pilgrims. The pilgrims thronging to Sabarimalai have to be counted in Lakhs (and hour in millions).
As the Annual number of Sabarimalai pilgrims increased, the “Mara math” section of the Travancore Devaswom Department arranged with the Maramath Engineer to fill up the ruts and sloughs on the long track, to widen it to some extent, to clear the track and its both sides by cutting away the growing vegetation, by easing the curves and by making the ascends and descends less steep. In this, the department was very much assisted by the Ayyappa Seva Sangham. The annual maintenance of the route, I am told, is now mainly done by the Akhila Bharatha Ayyappa Seva Sangham and partially by the Devaswom Department.
There are three festive occasions at Sabarimalai every year – Mandala Vilakku, Makara Vilakku and Vishu. From about the middle of November until about the end of the December there will be many pilgrims going and returning from Sabarimalai. The same will be the case from the beginning of the first week until the end of the third week in January. This phenomenon will repeat again between the tenth and fifteenth April.
While the vast majority of pilgrims going to Sabarimalai for Makara Vilakku choose the long track, the vast majority that go for Vishu, choose the Chalayakayam route though most of them touch Erumeli also. Regarding the pilgrims that go for Mandala Vilakku, their route may almost be the same by the long route, the Chalakkayam route and Vandiperiyar route.
The pilgrims trekking the long route have to cross seven streams and climb eighteen hills in the course of covering the thirty-eight miles.
by Brahmasri V Nilakanta Iyer