The annual pilgrimage to the
in Kerala attracts nearly 50 million people. The pilgrimage is also famous for the worship of Ayyappa’s Muslim warrior friend Vavar and it is this aspect of the Sabrimala Pilgrimage that William Dalrymple, historian and internationally acclaimed writer of travel books, explores. Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple
The cult of Lord Ayyappa is notable in that it recognizes no distinctions of caste or creed. All pilgrims eat and travel together; and more remarkable still, at the small hill town of
, all the pilgrims -- the vast majority of whom are Hindu -- pray not only at the temple but also at the town's mosque. They do this in memory of the legendary assistance given to Lord Ayyappa by a Muslim warrior named Vavar. In a country that sometimes seems irreparably divided along lines of religion, this was something remarkable. Erumeli
"Vavar was a good friend to Lord Ayyappa," said Sakkara Swami. "He had an army and he and his fellow Muslims helped Lord Ayyappa kill the demon Mahisi and all the devils who were threatening the world." Prakashan said: "In memory of their friendship we visit the tomb of Vavar on our way to see the Lord. Every pilgrim must stop here and seek Vavar's blessings. This is our tradition."
"All the Muslims welcome these people," I was told by the grey-bearded imam, Hajji Abdul Karim, who was sitting quietly with his prayer beads in a corner of the rush-matted prayer hall. "Every year at the start of the pilgrimage season we make a procession from here to the temple, where the Hindu priests receive us. Then we all go on to the church, where the Christian priests make us welcome. We have never heard of anyone opposing any of this." "It doesn't sound very Islamic," I said.
"We Muslims believe in only one God," said the imam. "But we respect all religions. The Hindus respect Vavar, and we believe also that he was a great saint. So where is the problem? They believe what they believe. But if they come here we must be hospitable and make them welcome." "But all over so much of the rest of
you find different religions fighting," I pointed out. "That is exactly why this place is so important," he replied. "It's not just India . The whole world is fighting about religion. But this is a place where you can show the light of peace, a place that brings all religions together. All human beings are equal here. There is a lesson here for everybody." India
Petta Thullal at Erumeli
Vavar Temple at Sabarimala