When the apex court delivered its verdict on Sabrimala in 2018, women of all age could visit, worship and offer prayer to Lord Ayyappa at the Sabarimala Temple that is surrounded by 18 hills in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala. The temple is believed to have been founded by Sage Parshuram.
Lord Ayyappa is the presiding deity at Sabarimala residing in the hilly forest in Naishtik Brahmachari (eternal celibate) state.
There are different versions as to why menstruating women were not allowed to enter the Sabarimala Temple. According to puranic and oral traditions, Lord Ayyappa was born out of the union of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu, when the latter was in Mohini form.
Lord Vishnu took the form of Mohini to have destroyed a deadly demon Bhashmasur and acquire the elixir (amrut) for the gods during the great churning of oceans. Legend has it that Lord Shiva got swayed by the charm of Mohini and Lord Ayyappa was born of their union.
While Lord Ayyappa was still a minor, a lady-demon had created havoc in the down south. She had got a boon from gods that she could only be defeated by the son born out of the union of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. As it happened, Lord Ayyappa defeated her in a battle.
Upon her defeat, it was revealed that the demon was actually a beautiful young woman who had been cursed to live the life of a demon. The defeat set the woman free who, in turn, proposed to Lord Ayyappa.
He refused to say that he had been ordained to go to the forest and answer the prayers of devotees. But, the young woman was persistent. So, Lord Ayyappa promised to marry her the day kanni-swamis (new devotees) stop visiting him with their prayers at Sabarimala.
The woman agreed to wait for him at a neighbouring temple. The woman is also worshipped today as Malikapurathamma at a neighbouring temple. The legend goes further saying that in honour of Malikapurathamma, Lord Ayyappa does not receive any menstruating woman. Also, the women chose not to visit Lord Ayyappa for it would be an insult to Malikapurathamma's love and sacrifice.
There is another story.
According to the other version, Lord Ayyappa is a historical figure. He was born in the royal family of Panthalam, a small kingdom located in Patthanamthitta district of Kerala. Sabarimala Temple is located in the same district.
He grew up in the palace of Panthalam. The relics of the palace still exist. Ayyappa is said to have grown up into a lovable prince for his subjects for he cared for the well being of the people living in his kingdom.
A small continent of intruders led by an Arab commander called Babar or Vavar attacked the kingdom during the time. Ayyappa defeated Vavar, who thereafter turned into his devout follower.
As Lord Ayyappa resides at Sabarimala, Vavar lives in the spirit in a shrine at Erumeli, a place situated on the 40 km trek to Sabarimala temple. Vavar is said to protect pilgrims going to visit Lord Ayyappa.
As per this legend claiming historicity of Lord Ayyappa, the presiding deity of Sabarimala Temple took a vow to answer prayers to every devotee walking up to his shrine.
Given the arduous task that he undertook, Lord Ayyappa shunned all worldly desires including contact with women. Many believe this was the reason why menstruating women were barred from visiting Sabarimala Temple.