Sabarimala is a Hindu pilgrimage center located at the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Western Ghat mountain ranges of Pathanamthitta District, Perunad grama panchayat in Kerala. It is one of the largest annual pilgrimages in the world, with an estimated 50 million devotees visiting every year.Sabarimala is believed to be the place where the Hindu God, Ayyappan, meditated after killing the powerful demoness, Mahishi. Ayyappan's temple is situated amidst 18 hills. The temple is situated on a hilltop at an altitude of 468 m (1,535 ft) above mean sea level, and is surrounded by mountains and dense forests. The dense forest, (Periyar Tiger Reserve), around the temple is known as Poomkavanam. 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, andKarimala, remnants of old temples survive to this day on remaining hills.
Sabarimala is linked to Hindu pilgrimage, predominantly for men of all ages. Sabarimala pilgrims can be identified easily, as they wear black or blue dress. They do not shave until the completion of the pilgrimage, and smear Vibhuti or sandal paste on their forehead.
The oldest historical account available about Sabarimala which at that time was known as Churulimala, can be found in the writings of Xuanzang. Like most of the Hindu temples of Kerala, Sabarimala was also a Buddhist shrine before converting it to the Ayyappa temple. The writings of Xuanzang reveals that idol of the Buddhist shrine was that of Avalokiteśvara, who is according to the beliefs of Buddhism, an avatar of Bodhisattva. According to the Amarakosha, the word Sastha orDharmasasta is one of the eighteen synonyms of Gautama Buddha. Also the recitation "Ayyappa saranam" originates from the Buddhist recital "Buddham saranam gacchami (I go to Buddha for refuge). The Mudra shown by the idol of Ayyappa and the yogic position also may have a connection to Vitarka mudra and Lotus position in which Buddha is depicted generously.
Until the 10th century AD, the main religion of Kerala were Buddhism and Jainism.Following the attack that took place between 10th and 12th century AD, Hinduism established itself in Kerala. The legend of Hariharaputra (son of Vishnu and Siva) is probably the result of the compromise between Vaishnava and Saivas streams of Hinduism. There is no clear evidence as to when the pilgrimage to Sabarimala began. After the installation of the temple, it was mostly unreachable for about three centuries. One of the kings in a later generation rediscovered the original path to reach Sabarimala. He had many followers with him, including the descendants of the Vavar family. They refreshed their resources at Erumely and this marked the beginning of the famous Petta Thullal at Erumely. They laid down their arms at the place today known as Saramkuthy. Those who are on their maiden visits to Sabarimala thrust arrows at this place. The temple was then renovated. In 1821 AD, the kingdom of Pandalam was added to Travancore. 48 major temples including the Sabarimala temple were also added to Travancore. The idol was erected in 1910]. In 1950, a fire broke out which destroyed the entire temple and had to be reconstructed.