Sabarimala, named after Sabari, an epic vestal known for her austere penance to attain Lord Rama’s blessings, and now world-renowned for the Ayyappa temple perched on it, is a beautiful hillock of the Periyar Tiger Reserve on the Kerala side of the Western Ghats. Originally a cult spot of the local forest-dwellers’ protector deity, Ayyanar, it became a small shrine of Ayyappa around the 15th century.
Legend says Ayyappa was a prince of the nearby ruling house and had done penance until he was dissolved into the tutelary deity, worshipped by the local avarna castes. An insignificant shrine inside deep forest, obviously with no daily rituals, it used to be visited only annually during the Makara Sankramana (January-February), by tribal people like Malampantaram, Ullatar, Mannan, Narikkuravar etc, a few avarnas settled along the fringes, and some pilgrims from Tamil Nadu. A temple priest (Potti) engaged by the Panthalam ruling house officiated the ritual on the day. Subsequently surrendered to the Travancore ruling family, the shrine came under the management of the Travancore Royal Devasvom Commisssion (TRDC), constituted in 1810 by Rani Lakshmi Bai (1810-1815) on Col Munro’s advice, primarily for revenue interest.