1.1 Sabarimala Temple
1.1.3 Main pujas and offerings
1.2 Other attractions
1.2.1 Pilgrimage Centers
The prime attraction of Pathanamthitta is the Great Temple of Lord Ayyappa. The temple is dedicated Lord Dharmashastha or popularly known as Ayyappan.
Myths recall that Lord Ayyappa is born as son of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu, to destroy Demoness Mahashi who gained a boon that she could be killed only in hands a son born to two male gods. Lord Shiva, who was determined to destroy the ruthless Mahashi decided to call support of Lord Vishnu, who appeared before Shiva in a female form known as Mohini (enchantress) and a son was born to them, after their divine union. The baby was left in the forests of Pathanamthitta, only to be adopted by a native ruler- the King of Pandalam (a nearby principality). The young prince in his late teens soon happened to meet the demoness during a hunting and after a duel, killed her, thus accomplishing his mission. Prince Ayyappa decided to renounce world pleasures and live as a hectic in deep yogic meditation in the forests. On his father's demand, he allowed his subjects to meet him only for 41 days in a year, blessing anyone who treks the dense forest and meet him after take severe ascetic lifestyle.
The temple is situated on a hilltop at an altitude of 468 m above mean sea level, and is surrounded by mountains and dense forests. Temples exist in each of the hills surrounding Sabarimala. While functional and intact temples exist at many places in the surrounding areas like Nilackal, Kalaketi, and Karimala, remnants of old temples survive to this day on remaining hills. Devotees must climb the mountains range to reach the temple. For this, pilgrims trek 4.5 km route into dense forest path, leaving all vehicles at Nilakkal parking station. For handicapped pilgrims, doli service (palanquins) are available. The main temple is better known as Sannidhanam (Sacred Abode), constructed on top of a raised platform. 18 golden steps lead to temple shrine, each step considered sacred with reference to each Hindu Veda and other scriptures.
2 temples are located at ground floor, one dedicated to Lord Ganesh and another for Goddess. A giant fire pit is situated on left side 18 golden steps, where devotees need to burn their coconuts as a token burning their sins.
The temple is open for 41 days from November 16th or 17th (1st day of Vrishicka Month of Malayalam Calendar) and goes till mid of January. The grand festivities of Makara Sankrathi marks the end of Mandala pilgrimage. Apart from this pilgrimage season, the temple opens for all 1st and 2nd day for Malayalam Month. For tourists, the second option is more ideal than Mandala pilgrimage, considering the heavy rush.
Main pujas and offerings
The main pujas are on opening and closing days of Mandalam Pilgrimage as well as on Makara Sankrathi day, which attended by maximum number of pilgrims. The 10 day annual festival also coincide with Mandalam pilgrimage. Apart from special day pujas, 4 pujas are considered highly sacred which is conducted on daily basis. The Usha Puja (Morning Puja), Ucha Puja (Afternoon Puja), Abishekam (pouring libations) and Padi Puja (special pujas conducted on 18 holy steps at closure of temple in night). The temple is also famous for lighting maximum camphors as a token of devotion.
The main offering sacred to lord is Abishekams. Neyyu-Abishekams (Ghee Pouring) is highly sacred and ghee brought by all devotees in their Irumudi Kettus will be used to do. Likewise in evenings Pushabishekam (Flower pourings) as well as Bhasma Absihekam (ash pourings) will be conducted, which all be distributed among devotees. Another common offerings are Appam (a sweet dumplings) as well as Aravana (a thick sweet black dessert made of jaggery) which most of devotees buy.
Free food is distributed among devotees during all pilgrimage seasons, by various organizations and governmental agency.
Pathanamthitta is the Pilgrimage Capital of Kerala, which attracts millions of both Hindu and Christian Devotees. Apart from Sabarimala, the town and its nearby villages houses more than 6 dozen famous temples and churches, many are of international fame. Some of the prominent are;
St Ignatius Orthodox MahaEdavaka Kaipattoor. This church was built at the end of the 19th Century. It was declared as 'Maha Idavaka' recently. The church has a "RAASA" every year in the month of December.
Omallur Raktakantaswami Temple (Ayyappa Temple). Raktakantaswami Temple Temple having idol of Lord Ayyappan, the temple celebrates the Yearly Utsav at summer of April and May. The Utsav goes on for 10 days. Possessions of more than 10 Elephants, elephants are decorated so beautifully one can feel the gods and goddess of heaven are on earth at that precious ceremony. Omallur is a small village 5km from Pathanamthitta town. There is a famous Rakthakanta temple also known as the Omallur Ambalam. This Rakthakanta Swamy Temple and the annual cattle fair held during March-April are the main attractions of Omallur. People from both within and outside the State participate in the fair.
Malayalapuzha Devi Temple (Devi Temple). Malayalapuzha houses the one of the largest Devi (Goddess Durga) Temple and the goddess here is believed to grant boons to devotees and help them realise dreams. The temple has beautiful wall paintings and artistic stone carvings. This temple is famous for the ten day long Padayani performances held in connection with the annual festival in April/ May.
Thiruvalla Sreevallabha Temple. Sree Vallabha Temple is one among the one hundred and eight Vaishnava temples in India, hence it is also one of the important pilgrim centers of the Vaishnavites (worshippers of Vishnu) all over the country. The temple is extremely famous for its large vedic school, where students are trained in Vedas and Hindu Tantric practices. The temple is also famous for its large Kathakali performances, performed daily in evenings.
Pandalam Palace. Located in Pandalam, the palace was once home of Lord Ayyappa, where he lived for 16 years, before becoming ascetic. The palace, thus became a major religious center, though the erstwhile royal family continues to live in the complex. A large temple is located within palace complex, known as Valiyakovil Temple, believed to home of Prince Ayyappa. The Palace also displays a large treasures of Lord Ayyappa's princely costumes and crown jewels along with his armory. Lord Ayyappa, before ascending to Sabarimala as a hermit, allowed his father to bring his princely costumes and jewels to Sabarimala, where he will wear it only on Makara Sankranti day for his father to see him princely costume. Ever since that, before Sankranti day, a grand procession starts from this palace, carrying the jewels and other treasure boxes to Sabarimala.
Niranam. Niranam church, is the first church to be established by St. Thomas when he landed in Kerala. It is one of the most important non-Catholic Christian pilgrimage center and seat of Kerala Orthodox Church.
Parumala. Parumala is renowned for the presence of the tomb of St. Gregorios (Parumala Thirumeni), the greatest orthodox saint of India belonging to the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. Parumala Thirumeni is the first declared saint of The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and the first Canonized Indian Saint. The church is recognized as major International Christian pilgrimage center.
Kalloppara St. Mary's Church. St.Mary's church at Kalloppara stands in close proximity to the Bhagavathi temple within one complex as an example of the communal harmony of the place. There are two pre-Christian era granite slabs inside the church with some inscriptions in ancient Pali language. There are several Hindu-Christian wall-paintings all over the place.
Manjinikkara syrian Orthodox Church. Mar Ignatitus Elias 111, the holy Patriarch of Anthioch of Damascus, while on his state visit to India, died at this place in 1932. His mortal remains are kept in the church at Manjinikkara. Pilgrims from other parts of India and foreigners, visit this place frequently. The Church celebrates a festival in February every year which is attended by thousands.
Maramon Christian Convention Banks. Maramon is famous for the International Christian Bible Convention held here, on the vast sandy beds of the River Pamba. Started in 1896, the Maramon Convention is held annually by the Mar Thoma Evangelistic Association (MTEA), the missionary wing of the Mar Thoma Church. Though a religious convention of Christians it is attended by people belonging to all communities. The seven day convention takes place in February, have daily disclosures on various Biblical themes. Addressed by speakers of international repute and attended by devotees innumerable, this is one of the largest Christian conventions in the world and largest in Asia, with more than 1 million attending the programs. The centenary celebration of the convention was held in February 1995.
Charalkunnu. Charalkunnu is a picturesque hill station from where one can have a panoramic view of the low lying areas including river Pamba. Much of the hill station is least exploited, hence ideal for those who seeks quite and idyllic holidays without much commercialization. The erstwhile Marammath Guest Palace of Travancore Kingdom, now serves as a major accommodation for tourists here, as other accommodation options are less.
Kakki reservoir. Kakki reservoir, set in sylvan background, is an upcoming 'tourists' destination. The splendid artificial lake offers exhilarating boating experience . The surrounding forest abounds in tigers, elephants, deers and monkeys, offers a wonderful wild life insights.
Konni Elephant Sanctuary. Konni is the gateway to the forest bordering the district. It is here wild elephants caught from the forests were brought here and put in wooden cages known as Anakoodu to be tamed and trained for work. It is situated 11 km away from Pathanamthitta. An elephant training college and elephant research center operates here.
Perumthenaruvi Water Falls. Its a small, yet beautiful water falls, which is a popular picnic spot.
Mannadi Dalawa Memorial. Mannadi has a memorial dedicated to Kerala's most cherished national hero, Velu Thampi Dalawa, ousted Prime Minister of the erstwhile Kingdom of Travancore raised the first organized armed rebellion against the British in 1807 regarded as the first major armed mutiny against Britishers in India. It was here, Velu Thampi committed suicide after losing battle against British Army, in order to avoid capture. An ancient Bhagavathi Temple with exquisite sculptures is also nearby, from where Velu Thampi planned several of his attacks against Britishers, who shook the foundations of British Empire in South India. The Kerala Institute of Folklore and Folk Arts are also close by with large display of traditional folk costumes and murals.
Kaviyoor Rock Temple. The only surviving ancient cave temples in Kerala, built in ancient Tamil Pallava style, which is more of cultural interest than religious purpose. The temple is dedicated to Monkey God- Hanuman, hence today one can see hordes of monkeys dominating the temple and its surroundings. A regular feast for monkeys is a rare interesting sight for outsiders.
Vijnana Kala Vedi Cultural Centre. Established in 1977 by a French woman, Louba Schild, under the Indo-French cultural programme, this institute is dedicated to preserving the arts of Kerala. Everything from singing to dancing to cooking to community living is taught here. Large number of foreigners, particularly French nationals camp here, for learning Schild's Mohiniyattom, in which she has specialized.
Muloor Smarakom. Muloor S.Padmanabha Panicker (1869-1931) who was a famous Malayalam poet and an important social reformer of the century was born at Elavumthitta 12 km away from Pathanamthitta. His home at Elavumthitta is preserved as a monument by the Department of Culture, with several original manuscripts.