51 day long vritha (voluntary act of continence) in connection with Sabarimala pilgrimage begins on the first day of malayalam month vrischika. A large number of pilgrims visit the Lord Ayyappa Temple of Sabarimala during the 62 day long pilgrimage period. Those who wish to visit the Lord Ayyappa Temple strictly follow the customary abstinence. This voluntary control lasts 51 days. The devotees should take 102 holy bath during the penance period. He should compulsorily withdraw from non-vegetarian food and observe “Brahmacharya” (self control of overall sensual pleasures). Vrischikam or Vrischika Masam, is the fourth month in a traditional calendar and is highly auspicious month. This begins on November 17 and ends on December 15. The vratam begin from the first day of the month. Vrischikam 1 is also known as Mandalakalam Arambam. In the ancient days, 51 days vratam the devotees had strictly followed. At present 41 days vratam is strictly following.
This 51 day long vritha commemorates the annual visit of the King of Pandalam Palace. According to the legend, Lord Ayyappa incarnated to kill Mahishi (the demon princess) Mahishi had attained a gift that she should not be killed by none born out of woman’s womb. So, in order to kill Mahishi, Lord Vishnu disguised himself as Mohini and led the life of a husband and wife with Lord Siva. During this period, they gave birth to a divine child. Immediately after his birth, the Lord Siva adored a bell around his neck and calling him Manikantan. Then, they flowed the child away through the river pampa. The King of Pandalam Palace named Raja Rajasekhara Pandyan, who had been taking penance for a child, saw this baby. He took him away to his palace and looked after as his own child. He named him Ayyappa.
Ayyappa is known as Hari Hara Sutan, because he is the son of Hari (Vishnu) the saviour, and Hara (Shiva) the destroyer. Sri Ayyappa belongs to Pandya Royal Community. He was the head of clan. Lord Ayyappa is also known as Dharma Shasthavu, Kerala Puthran.
In the meanwhile the Queen gave birth to a male child. Traditionally, the elder child of the Palace would be the heir. But, the Queen could not think of Ayyappa, a foster child become the legal heir of the Palace. So she pretended to be ill and asked for milk of Leopard to cure her illness. Thus Ayyappa was deputed to the forest in search of milk of Leopard. On the way he met Mahishi defeated and killed. A few days after, Ayyappa returned to the Palace leading a group of Leopards, including a milking one. Then the mystery behind the birth of Ayyappa was revealed. Soon he went back to Sabarimala, and vanished himself in the sanctum sanctorum of the ancient Sastha Temple there. In the meanwhile, the King of Pandalam had a revelation that he along with his train should visit him at Sabarimala every year on the day of Mandalam Makaravilakku.