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Photographer's Note

An elderly couple on Sabarimala Pilgrim in their traditional black dress, ignoring those three wheelers waiting for passengers as they decided to walk another 140Km. as their 41-day penance. A scene from a small town in Kerala during the Sabarimala pilgrim season.

Millions of Ayyappan disciples visit the famous temple of Lord Ayyappan every year from all around India. The main pilgrimage season is from November to January. The temple is opened for brief periods at the commencement of each Malayalam month and during certain important Malayali festivals. Tourists and foreigners, as well as women between the ages of 10 and 50 (approximately age at puberty and menopause), are not officially allowed entry to the main temple.

The 41-day penance imposed on pilgrims (which include abstaining from sex, non-vegetarian, and rajasic foods, wearing a unique black outfit (shirt and dhoti) with beads around the neck, practicing utmost cleanliness, not uttering any curses, etc.), the arduous trek up to the shrine, and the fact that the Ayyappan worshipped at Sabarimala is supposed to be a celibate hermit.

Sabarimala is a pilgrim centre in Kerala in the Western Ghat mountain ranges of India. Lord Ayyappan's temple is situated here in the midst of 18 hills. The area is in the Sahya hilly regions of Kerala in Pathanamthitta District. The temple is situated on a hilltop at an altitude of 1260 m/4135 ft. above mean sea level, and is surrounded by mountains and dense forests. Temples existed in each of the hills surrounding Sabarimala. And is one of the most visited piligrim centres in the world with an estimated 4.5 - 5 crores devotees coming every year. The world's second largest annual pilgrimage, after Haj in Mecca, is reported to be to Sabarimala.

The pilgrimage to Sabarimala is a singular example of one where pilgrims, without consideration of caste, creed, position or social status, go with one mind and one `mantra' dreaming constantly of the darshan of the presiding deity at the Holy Sannidhanam.

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