The lord of Sharimala
A strange and fascinating series of divine events led to the birth of Manikanthan, who had a glorious destiny. According to Indian mythology, he is one of the sons of the great ascetic Lord Shiva. At the end of a life full of dramatic events, Lord Parashurama himself sculpted and installed an idol of Manikanthan in the hill temple of Shabari. There, as Lord Ayyappan, he is worshipped as the presiding deity of the whole range. This lone temple on the top of the Shabari Hills, deep in the forests of Kerala, attracts millions of devotees from all over the country every year. They travel through dense forests full of wild animals, over steep hills and in inclement weather for a darshan (glimpse) of Ayyappan on Makar Sankranti (a festival which falls on the 14th of January). It is said that the Lord comes down to the Shabari Hills on Makar Sankranti in the form of light to give darshan to his innumerable devotees and that he himself lights the temple lamp. Then, in a moving and beautiful ritual, the pilgrims partake of the prasad and walk backwards down the 18 steps, their faces turned towards the Lord, shining with devotion and ecstasy.