The famous Sabarimala temple in Kerala dedicated to Lord Ayyappa had been in the news for many reasons. The temple stands tall on the religious map of India as a symbol of endurance with a sense of belongingness and collective community efforts for Dharma. Even in the fast-paced modernity, the Sabarimala pilgrimage brings down the folks close to nature and the commune.
The tale of renovation work of the Sabarimala temple after it had to succumb to fire in 1902 is also worth telling as it shows how erstwhile Hindu rulers and the community as such suffered for the gods and their abode. On those days the temple was made of wood with a thatched roof. The unfortunate fire was caught from the burning of camphor during the makaravilakku rituals. However, the chief priest was able to protect the murti of Ayyappa by risking his own life in the fire. He didn’t leave his grip on the murti until he was found immersed in water by the devotees on the next morning. Such is the wonder devotion can reveal. This accident deeply touched the then-ruler of Travancore, Shri Moolam thirunal Ramavarma who was an ardent devotee of Lord Ayyappa. He took a vrata of 53 days and rushed to the sannidhanam.
The construction work was started in Kollam under the direct supervision of the Maharaja. The Royal family had to sustain huge debt as their treasury was continuously exploited by the British as after entering into subsidiary alliance treaty with the British during the invasions of Hyder Ali and Tipu, the politico-administrative scenario of Travancore had turned upside down. The British didn’t allow any money to go into Travancore’s coffers since they feared that a strong Travancore might overthrow their authority in Kerala. Earlier victories of the Travancore Kingdom against the Dutch in Battle of Colachel and against Tipu at Nedumkotta had intimidated the British. A few Travancore soldiers under Vaikom Padmanabha Pillai defeated a much larger army of Tipu and second time a Nair Commander Kunjikutty Pillai, drowned the army of Tipu in flood after he destroyed the dam at Aluva.
So to collect funds for the temple restoration project kanikka hundis (temple donation pots) were kept. Within a year, the entire expense for the temple project has been raised. Hindu society has been happy to donate to the needs of the temple during maharaja’s time as they are now. The reconstruction project of the Sabarimala temple was a mass movement. The Tantri Kandararu Prabhakararu conducted the punapratishta (reinstallation of the deity) in 1904.
The temple and the surrounding forest areas have been under the radar of external elements after the British colonials started clearing the forests of the Western Ghats and established cash crop plantations. The newly opened forest tracts were given to the Christian families who were ardent supporters of the colonial rule. Slowly in the course of time, the area around Sabarimala temple also became private plantations.
The torching of Sabarimala temple happened on 16th June 1950 was a wanton atrocity. The Murthi of Ayyappa got cut by an axe. The investigation report of the CID reportedly hints a possible involvement of some dominant neo aristocratic non-Hindu entities around the area. However, the investigation never led to any solid action against the perpetrators. Following the 1950 arson, Sabarimala temple underwent significant renovations and refurbishment. Later in 1969, the dhvajastambha (flag mast) was installed. Although the temple as we see it now is renovated the structure, the sanctum or the main shrine is the same as that was built by Shri Moolam Thirunal Maharaja of Travancore in 1904.
So to sum up, Sabarimala Ayyappa temple is a Hindu temple which serves as the embodiment of dharma not just in that area, but among millions of Ayyappa bhaktas across the globe. The temple persists to this day as one of the wealthiest and most famous temples in Kerala, and hence, it has been in the middle of undue disputes of late.
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