India is a country of spirituality. Temples are the visible embodiments of the One Infinite, all pervading, Supreme Source of Energy, Creativity, Love, Beauty and Truth. Consequently, the country is dotted with temples dedicated to various deities of the Hindu pantheon, which are all, in truth, but various manifestations of the very Self within. Some of the temples like the Sri Venketeswara temple at Tirupathi, the Meenakshi temple at Madurai, Viswanatha temple at Kasi (Varanasi) are world famous. While these temples are open to devotees all the year round, there are temples which are thrown open to devotees only during certain periods in a year.Amarnath and Bandrinath temples in the Himalayas belong to this category. Perhaps the most popular and prominent temple of this kind is Sri Dharmasastha temple at Sabarimala in Kerala, Southern India.
The presiding deity of Sabarimala is Lord Ayappa or Sastha, one of the most venerated deities of Hinduism. Situated high up in the Sahyadri Mountains (Western Ghats) at an altitude of more than 4000 ft. above sea level and bordered by eighteen hills and vast lush green tropical forests all around them, with a variety of plants, animals and birds, the place is a veritable paradise for nature lovers. The last lap of the pilgrimage to this hill shrine even now has to be undertaken on foot through thick forests and this adds to the passionate intensity of devotion the pilgrims experience. It is estimated that more than 5 crore devotees undertake this pilgrimage every year and thus is the second largest annual pilgrimage centre, next only to the Haj pilgrimage. Devotees come not only from all parts of the country, but also from abroad.
Lord Ayappa is believed to be the Deity just suited to Kali Yuga (the modern era) and He is invoked by millions of devotees to bestow both material and spiritual benefits. There are incidents galore in the lives of ardent devotees testifying the benevolent and merciful acts of the Lord.