Sabarimala is a Hindu pilgrimage centre located at the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Western Ghat mountain ranges of Pathanamthitta District, Perunad grama panchayat in Kerala. It is one of the largest annual pilgrimages in the world, with an estimated over 100 million devotees visiting every year. Ayyappan's temple is situated amidst 18 hills. The temple is situated on a hilltop at an altitude of 1260 m (4,133 ft) above main sea level, and is surrounded by mountains and dense forests. The dense forest, (Periyar Tiger Reserve), around the temple is known as poongavanam. Temples exist in each of the hills surrounding Sabarimala. While functional and intact temples exist at many places in the surrounding areas like Nilakkal Kalaketty, and Karimala remnants of old temples survive to this day on remaining hills.
The shrine at Sabarimala is an ancient temple of Ayyappan also known as sasta and Dharmasasta. In the 12th century, Manikandan, a prince of Pandalam dynasty, meditated at Sabarimala temple and became one with the divine. Manikandan was an avatar of Ayyappan.
The customs of the pilgrims to Sabarimala are based on five worshipping methods; those of Shaivites, Shaktists and Vaishnavites. At first, there were three sections of devotees – the devotees of Shakti who used meat to worship their deity, the devotees of Vishnu who followed strict penance and continence, and the devotees of Shiva who partly followed these two methods. Another name of Ayyappa is Sastha. All these can be seen merged into the beliefs of pilgrims to Sabarimala. The chain the pilgrims wear comes from the Rudraksha chain of the Shaivites. The strict fasting, penance and continence is taken out of the beliefs of the Vaishnavites. The offering of tobacco to Kaduthaswamy can be considered to be taken from the Shaktists..