Sabarimala (0929 North 7706 East) is situated in the midst of 18 hills, in a bowl of land blessed with a small rivulet named `Urakuzhi Theertham’. The area is in the hilly regions east of Kerala bordering Tamilnadu. Elevation above mean sea level is approximately 1260 Metres/4135 Ft. Temples existed in each of the hills surrounding Sabarimala. While functional (and intact temples) exist at many places in surrounding areas like Nilackal, Kalaketi, Inchiparakotta and Karimala, remnants of old temples are visible in the remaining hills.
As advised by the Lord, the Raja of Pandalam constructed the Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala. It is also believed that there already existed the DharmaSastha temple at Sabarimala, one of the 64 temples established by Parasurama, and Lord Ayyappa merged into the deity there. The King (Raja) of Pandalam renovated/ reconstructed the temple, supervising the work by staying at Perunadu. He constructed an Ayyappa temple there also for performing his daily pooja of the Lord. Deities of Malikappurathamma, Kadutha swami and Vaver swami were installed as also the ‘pathinettampadi’ (holy 18 steps) and ‘bhasmakulam’.
Sannidhanam is the area where the Ayyappa temple is situated. At Sannidhanam, devotees climb up the holy 18 steps to reach the Sanctum sanctorum. Arrangements are made for the devotees to crack coconuts on the right side of the steps. Now cracking of coconuts on the 18 steps is prohibited for safety reasons. The Malikappuram temple complex, sub temple of Vavar, Neyyabhishekam counters, prasadam counters, information centres, telephone and post office facility etc. are visible in and around Sannidhanam.
The Eighteen Steps: The Holy eighteen steps that lead to the shrine have been figuratively called Ponnu Pathinettampadi. ”Ponnu” as an epithet denotes the holy touch of the Lord’s feet. But now the epithet ”Ponnu” has become literally true because the steps have been covered with gold coloured Panchaloham. Only those who observe 41 days penance and carry ”Irumudi Kettu” can climb these divine steps. Climbing the 18 steps from the foot of the temple to reach the sanctum sanctorum for holy darshan is considered an important privilege of every devotee. The Pathinettampadi (18 steps) represents the eighteen stages one has to pass through to attain ”Moksha” (salvation).
Malikappurthamma: Malikappurathamma is also known as Manjamatha. In importance She is next to Ayyappaswamy. The Manjamatha kovil is situated on the northwestern side of the main Sree Kovil. It is connected to Sannidhanam by an attractive fly over. The temple of Malikapuram faces east, while the Kochukadutha Swamy shrine faces west. The Nagadevas are there in the premises of Malikappuram Temple, whereas the abode of the Navagrahas on its north western side.
Bhasmakkulam (Place for sacred dip): One sacred place for bath at Sabarimala is Bhasmakulam. This is on the western side of the Sannidhanam. Pilgrims get purified by their dip in the holy water here. Legend says that Sabari entered the fire in the presence of Sri Rama and as a result her mortal remains were consumed. This pond has its name derived from this legend. The water in the pond is ever kept fresh and clean in spite of the constant use by pilgrims. Using oil and soap here are prohibited.
Neythoni: For those pilgrims who do not wish to take back the ghee they bring inside the coconut, there is a container called Neythoni(Ghee Canoe) into which they can pour out the ghee. It is placed near the Sreekovil. No payment is required for depositing the ghee in the Neythoni.
Urakkuzhi Theertham: The next place consecreated for holy bath is Kumbalam Thodu with Urakuzhi Theertham in it. This holy canal is about one km North of Malikapuram. This place is believed to be the most sacred place where Dharmasastha revealed himself in his Viswaroopa. Here there is a waterfall and a small creek in to which the water drains.This creek is named Urakuzhi. It seems to be a small hole. But when one sits in its bosom, it appears to be spacious enough to give a cool dip. It is believed that a bath in the Urakuzhi theertham washes off all the sins.
Coconut Aazhi (Homa kundam): There is a Homakundam (coconut aazhi) close to the main shrine in front of the pathinettampadi. A Homakundam is erected toward north-east of the holy 18 steps. After removing ghee for Neyyabhishakam the pilgrims throw the remaining coconuts into this sacred fireplace.
Makarajyothi: The most glorious sight at Sabarimala is the ‘Makarajyothi’. It is actually the shining of a star in the evening of the day on which the Sun passes from the Equator to the South – the most auspicious moment in a year. On the Makaravilakku day, the ”MAKARAJYOTHI” is seen at Ponnambalameedu situated towards east from Sabarimala. Thousands of devotees reach Sannidhanam to have the sacred darshan of Makarajyothi.