Pathanamthitta, known as the ‘Pilgrim Capital of Kerala', is home to many places of worship which date back centuries. If you’ve been to the district during the winter season, chances are that you’ll have heard the chant ‘Swami Sharanam!’ at least once. That’s the time of year when male pilgrims head to the Dharma Sastha temple at Sabarimala, the abode of Lord Ayyappan, situated on a hilltop at an altitude of 468m along the Western Ghats amidst dense forest.
The Vavarunada is also visited enroute to Sabarimala as it is the shrine of a Muslim saint called Vavar, or endearingly called Vavarswami, believed to have been Ayyappan’s companion. Devotees come from neighbouring states as well, dressed in black, dark blue or saffron, barefoot and on fast. The months from November to January see heavy footfall at Vavarunada as devotees head to Erumeli where the shrine is situated to pay their respects before bathing at the banks of the mighty river Pamba and making the long trek to Sabarimala. The Parumala palli or St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s Malankara Orthodox Church also sees pilgrims from across the globe attend its festival every year. It is also a time of religious harmony as households provide water to pilgrims who participate in the procession to the church.
The district is also rich in culture and heritage. The temple festival season in February-March is when the Padayani ritual dance is held, drawing large crowds apart from Onam when the Aranmula Boat Race, the oldest river boat race in Kerala, is held followed by the grand feast known as Valla Sadhya.
Pathanamthitta shares its borders with the districts of Alappuzha, Kottayam, Kollam and Idukki districts in Kerala and also with Tamil Nadu. The district was formed on November 1, 1982.
The Western Ghats form a backdrop for its dreamlike, mystical setting. In recent times, eco-tourism spots such as Gavi and Adavi, heavily forested areas with their own distinct features, have become popular among tourists. More than half of the total area of the district is covered by forest. The jungles are wildlife habitats for tigers, elephants, gaur, deer, monkeys, Indian giant squirrel, lion-tailed macaque, barking deer and bears that roam the reserve. It is also home to the Malabar grey hornbill and Great Indian hornbill apart from Indian peacocks, sunbirds, woodpeckers and kingfishers.
The hilly terrain and the climatic conditions make the region suitable for rubber plantations which are a source of livelihood here. Paddy is cultivated in the wetlands with tapioca while pulses are the dry land crops cultivated here. Coconut, banana, pepper and ginger are the other crops grown in the region. Farmers also grow cashew, pineapple, sugarcane, cocoa and spices. The land has rich freshwater resources.