There is an incessant flow of devotees to Sabarimala. Once the sacred chain is worn, the pilgrim becomes one with the lord. Therefore, sanctity of the 41-day penance is of prime most importance.
The penance for pilgrimage should start on the first day of Malayalam month Vrishchikam and those who plan to go earlier should start the penance accordingly.
First-timers should observe 51 days of penance as against the 41 to be observed by senior pilgrims. All men who observe the mandatory penance are eligible for sighting the deity (darshanam), but women above the age of 10 and below 50 were not traditionally permitted inside the temple.
Wearing the chain
As a symbol of observing penance, one has to wear the chain with lord Ayappa's image on the pendant. The chain has to be first sanctified at a temple or by a senior pilgrim before it is worn. The best days to wear the chain are Saturdays and Uthram - the birth star of lord Ayyappa.
The chain may be made of basil (Tulsi) or Rudraksha. Once the penance begins, one has to take bath twice a day and observe strict celibacy.
The mantra to be chanted while wearing sacred chain:
Jnana mudram shasthra mudram, guru mudram namamyaham
Vana mudram shuddha mudram rudra mudram namamyaham
Shanta mudram satya mudram vrata mudram namamyaham
Sabaryashrama satyena mudram paathu sadaapimem
Gurudakshinaya purvam tasyanugraha karane
Sharanagata mudrakhyam tanmudram dharayamyaham
Sabraya chala mudrayayai namastubhyam namo namah
I offer my salutations to the symbol of wisdom, the learned texts, the preceptor, the forest and purity. I offer my salutations to the symbol of peace, truth, penance; may the Truth of Shabari's hermitage ever protect this symbol.
After seeking and securing the compassionate grace and blessings of my preceptor, O Lord, I will wear this symbol of my complete surrender seeking refuge in You. I offer my salutation to the symbol of pure intellect, the celestial beings, and auspiciousness. O symbol of the Shabari Hill, I offer my salutations to you again and again.
If penance is broken
Without penance of 41 days one should not visit the temple. However, if by some reason the penance were to be broken, one has to start it all over again and observe without any lapse for the entire 41 days. If the pilgrim is polluted for some reason, he has to ask for forgiveness, sanctify himself with Panchgavya and chant the name of lLord Ayyappa 101 times.
The person who has visited the temple the maximum number of times shall be accepted as the guru or the team leader. The guru should tie and close the holy kit in which the offerings are carried.
The guru can be given offerings on eight occasions.
They are, while wearing the chain, before receiving the holy kit from him, before starting the customary ecstatic dancing as a form of worship by pilgrims at Erumeli (Pettathullal), while beginning the trek through the forest to the temple, when the guru sanctifies and hands over the stone collected from river Azhutha, when the guru places the holy kit on the pilgrim's head after taking bath in river Pampa and after the sacrificial offerings to ones forefathers, while picking up the holy kit after the visit to the shrine and while removing the chain after the trip.
Ghee that is carried in the coconut in the kit is used for ghee abhishekam (anointing the deity with ghee).
Sacred ash, milk, honey, panjamritam, tender coconut water, sandal paste, rose water and water are required for anointing the deity with the eight aforementioned fluids (ashtabhishekam).
Sandal and rose water are used for kalabhabhisekam.
Lotus, jasmine, basil, chrysanthemum, nerium oleander (arali) and crataeva (koovalam) are used in pushpabhishekam.
The counter for this is situated on the right side of the beginning of the long roofed pathway. There are counters near Malikappuram temple, near the temple tower, near the platforms near Sabari Peetham and Karimala.
Free food (Annadaanam)
There are five spots were free food is served in the temple surroundings. Near Malikappuram temple there is a devaswam-run annadaanam counter. Every day as many as 5,000 people are given free lunch comprising of rice, sambhar, avial and so on.
The Ayyappa Seva Sangham provides free food three times a day -- upma, lunch and gruel (kanji). Shree Bothanatha Trust provides medicinal rice porridge (aushadha kanji) from 10 in the morning till night. Trusts such as Paropakara and Akshaya have also got permissions to provide annadaanam in the temple premises.
At Pampa, Pampa Devaswom, Ayyappa Seva Sangham and Pampa Vigneshwara Sadyalaya Samiti also offer free food.
While removing the sacred chain
One can remove the sacred chain on returning home after the pilgrimage. A lamp must be lit when pilgrims return home. They should enter their homes chanting the Lord's name. The holy kit should be kept in the prayer room or the place from where it was tied by the guru and handed over.
The following mantra should be chanted while removing the chain and placing it on the photo or idol Ayappa:
Apoorva machala roha
divya darhsna karana
shastra mudratwaka deva
dehime vrata mochanam
Preparing the holy kit
Articles required to prepare the holy kit include coconuts, ghee, black dhoti, black towel, camphor, rice, rice powder, rice flakes and puffed rice, turmeric powder, incense, dried grapes, silk, betel leaves, arecanut, rose water, cork, coins, white towel, bed sheet, papad and a string.
The front compartment of the holy kit will contain offerings to be made at Malikappuram temple and Lord Ayyappa. The rear compartment will contain the pilgrim's eatables. The front compartment signifies spirituality while the rear one stands for material life.
The guru will seal the kit in front of a lighted lamp. The coconut, shorn of its fibre, is emptied first by drilling a hole at its mouth and is then filled with ghee and closed with a cork and sealed with the wet papad while the pilgrims keep chanting the Lord's name.
Coins and arecanut need to be kept on the betel leaves and tied with a thread. The ghee-filled coconut is to be put in the kit first, followed by the betel and arecanut pack to be offered to Kochukadutha Swami (Lord Ayyappa's disciple and chieftain).
The pilgrim whose kit is being filled has to chant the Lord's name and take three handfuls of rice to be put in the kit. The two compartments of the kit have to be tied separately and then a common knot will keep the two intact.
After that all the elders are given dakshina (a token offering of betel leaves, arecanut and a coin). The black cloth has to be tied around the waist and the pilgrim has to keep the bed sheet on his or her head over which the kit is placed and tied with white towel.
Finally, the pilgrimage begins after the offering of dakshina to the guru.