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’.
The legend behind Malikappurathamma is that Leela, daughter of Galavamuni, under curse of her husband Dathan, was reborn as Mahishi, an “asura’ female with a buffalo’s face. Upon having killed by Lord Ayyappa, the curse was revoked and the beautiful woman rose out of the corpse. She thanked the Lord and prayed to be with Him as His wife.
However, the Lord told her that He is a ‘brahmachari’ and so her desire would not be fulfilled. However, He allowed her to remain in Sabarimala, a little distant from His abode, as His sister – Malikappurathamma. The Vaver temple at Erumeli, the beginning of the forest route was also constructed. Various rituals were fixed, believed to be on the advice of Agasthyamuni. Legend also says that Parasurama himself came down to install the Ayyappa deity. The ‘vrutham’ and other practices to be followed before and during the Sabarimala pilgrimage were also prescribed as dictated by the Lord. Arrangements for monthly poojas were made.
Once in a year, during Makaravilakku, the Raja visits Sabarimala along with the holy ornaments (Thiruvabharanam) from the Palace, which are, adorned on the Ayyappa deity and ‘deeparadhana’ conducted. It is at this time that the ‘jyothi’ appears on the eastern horizon. During Mandalam-Makaravilakku season, by custom, nobody starts on pilgrimage after the Raja of Pandalam sets out for Sannidhanam on 28th Dhanu, along with the Thiruvabharanam. In addition, pilgrims are restrained from going to Malikappuram after the ‘guruthi’ there on 6th Makaram.
The period of Ayyappa is considered to be somewhere between 300-400 M.E. (1125-1225 A.D). Since Pandalam was assumed by Travancore in 1820 A.D, the administration of all the temples within the kingdom, including Sabarimala was done by Travancore govt., which was subsequently handed over to the Travancore Devaswom Board after Independence. As per the Travancore State Manual ” the understanding arrived at when the particular temples were founded and endowed are followed”. Thus the Raja of Pandalam even now continues to function in the dual status of the father of the Lord and the founder of the temple.
The important pilgrimage season in Sabarimala is from 1st Vrischikom to 6th Makaram M.E. (mid-November to mid-January). Devotees irrespective of religion, cast, creed, nationality or social status are equals in His abode and are all addressed by His own name, namely ‘Ayyappa’. In fact, the pilgrimage includes worship at Vaver temples at Erumeli & Sannidhanam, managed by Muslims. This stands as a glittering example of Hindu-Muslim unity. However, women in the age group 10-50 shall not go to Sabarimala. Other women devotees are permitted to trek the hill and are called as ‘Malikappurams‘.