The world famous Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple in Kerala remains continuously open only during the famous Makaravilaku – Mandala Puja season (November – December – January). In 2014, the date of opening of the Ayyappa Temple for Mandalam season is November 16. The two month pilgrim season, popularly known as Mandala Kalam, attracts millions of devotees to this hill shrine dedicated to Sastha or Ayyappa. The annual pilgrimage begins in mid November and ends in mid January with the Makaravilakku.
The Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple is located in the forests of the Sabari Hills of the Western Ghats at an altitude of 914 meter. Pamba is the important base camp on the way to Sabarimala temple and from here one has to trek 5 km to reach the temple.
A pilgrim visiting the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple during the Mandalapooja period observes certain austerities for 41 days. The pilgrim should abstain from non- vegetarian habits, should not indulge in sex and should wear the special Rudraksha mala.
Some people don’t shave or cut their hair during the period. Some ardent devotees only wear black or saffron dress and avoid wearing foot wears.
Pilgrims set out in groups and each carry the Irumudikkettu, a cloth bundle containing traditional offerings to the temple which includes coconut, ghee, malar, rice etc.
People of all religions can visit the Sabarimala temple and there is no restriction of caste or creed. But there are certain restrictions on women. Only those women who have either passed their fertility age and those before reaching the stage of puberty are allowed in the shrine.
Free food is provided during the period in Pampa, the base camp before the trek to the temple.