Sabarimala‘s hills, situated 4,000 feet above sea level in the Western Ghats, are engulfed in spirituality and mythologies. Millions of devotees make the trek to this revered temple each year. Two fascinating occurrences – Makara Jyothi and Makaravilakku – are central to the story. While they both occur on the same day, they have distinctive characteristics and have caused heated disputes and controversies all over the years.
Makaravilakku: A Ritual Rooted in History
In order to understand the essence of Makaravilakku, we must first comprehend its past. This sacred phenomenon occurs in Makar Sankranti, which usually falls on January 14th or 15th. After the evening’s puja, a bright light emerges from Ponnambalamedu, a rural mountaintop eight kilometres east of the Sannidhanam. It is believed to represent Lord Rama and Lord Dharmashasta (Ayyappan) meeting at Sabarimala.
The Makaravilakku tradition has its roots in the time when the forest people inhabited the area. During the traditional Makaravilakku ceremonies, the tribals in and around Ponnambalamedu used to light the fire. The practice continued even after their departure, with the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) taking over. Although the board did not play a role in originating the lighting tradition, they did construct a square cement pedestal for it in the 1990s to facilitate the ritual.
Makara Jyothi: The Celestial Star
Makara Jyothi also referred to as a heavenly star, lights up the sky on the first day of the Makaram month, which usually takes place on January 14th or 15th, corresponding with the auspicious Makara Sankranti. During the sunset, following the sacred Deeparadhana ceremony with millions of devotees, the star shines in the southern sky near the Sanctum of Sabarimala Ayyappa temple.
During that time, the bright star emerges over the mountains. However, the precious ornaments of Lord Ayyappa, carried from the Pandalam Palace, are only ceremoniously conveyed to the temple on the first day of Makaram. Devotees believe that the star that appears at this time symbolizes Lord Ayyappa himself, and they worship the light as the heavenly Makara Jyothi.
Makaravilakku: The Man-Made Light
After the Makara Jyothi darshan, a bright light illuminates the mountains across from the temple. This light is believed to originate from the realm of holy beings and sages and is considered a sincere offering (arti) to Lord Ayyappa. The dazzling display is known as Makaravilakku and signifies the culmination of the devotees’ ascetic practices and their pilgrimage to witness the Makara Jyothi.
The Makaravilakku is not a supernatural occurrence but rather a result of human effort. It originates from Ponnambala Medu, located about four kilometres from the Ayyappa temple. During the ceremony, tribal populations from the area light a fire using ghee and camphor and wave it around the idol three times in circles. This illuminated event is what pilgrims consider to be the Makaravilakku. It occurs when the Cyrus star, also known as Makara Jyothi, appears in the sky.
Symbolism and Significance
Makaravilakku, also known as Sabarimala’s soul, represents the union of the sacred. As I said above, it signifies the reunion of Lord Rama and Lord Dharmashasta in this sacred place. Witnessing Makaravilakku is believed to be a powerful spiritual experience for travellers, transcending the borders of the man-made or divine.
While the government has said that Makaravilakku is a man-made occurrence, the unwavering faith of innumerable followers has not changed. The contrast between Makara Jyothi and Makaravilakku is true, yet their significance continues. All of these occurrences, whether natural or man-made, are symbols of Sabarimala’s unwavering devotion. Faith overcomes disagreements at Sabarimala, and the Makara Jyothi and Makaravilakku continue to shine, leading the spiritual journeys of millions.
The Controversy Has Been Explained
For many years, Makaravilakku has been worshipped by followers as a divine phenomenon. However, it wasn’t until 2011 that the Kerala Devaswom Board, in collaboration with the Pandalam Palace, the traditional custodian of the Sabarimala shrine, confirmed that the light seen in the sky was man-made. Previously, it was believed that forest residents in and around Ponnambalamedu would ignite a fire as part of their Makaravilakku celebrations. This practice continued long after the tribals had left, with the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) taking up the responsibility. However, the board did not contribute to the creation of the light.
Millions believe the incidents at Sabarimala are celestial, but they’re proven to be terrestrial. The Makara Jyothi and Makaravilakku ceremonies unite believers on their spiritual journey. Sabarimala remains a beacon of light for those seeking divine blessings.