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Why Sabarimala devotees go to this 16th century church & pray to Saint Sebastian

St. Andrew’s Basilica is an example of religious harmony, a characteristic common to many churches and temples in Kerala.

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St. Andrew’s Basilica in Arthunkal is an important church. It is the largest shrine dedicated to St. Sebastian in the world. Originally built by the Portuguese in the 16th century it celebrates ‘Arthunkal Perunnal’ the feast day of St. Sebastian who is known for healing serious illnesses and protecting followers from accidents. This amazing festival has made Arthunkal one of the biggest and most famous pilgrimage centres in Kerala. On the 10th of January each year thousands of Christian and non-Christian worshippers come from all parts of southern India to take part in the eleven-day celebration which begins with music and fireworks.

Crowds at St Andrews church
Crowds at St Andrews church | Photo: The Churches of India | Niyogi Books

The famous statue of St. Sebastian was sculpted in Milan in 1647. It is a startling image of the saint’s body pierced with arrows. Seen just once a year, the statue is particularly moving and powerful to the faithful. The rest of the time it is kept hidden. St. Sebastian was shot with arrows on the orders of the Roman Emperor when it was discovered he was a Christian. During the festival the standing statue of the saint in an elaborate gold case is placed on a palanquin, a large mobile altar and carried at the head of the procession which makes its way from the church to the beach and back. It moves at a slow pace surrounded by worshippers and each year an eagle is seen flying high in the sky, seeming to follow the procession. Many devotees perform particular penances during the procession such as crawling or rolling the one kilometre between the church and the beach. This astonishing ritual known as uralal nercha is to show their respect and gratitude. Some hold gold or silver tokens, ambum villum, made in the shape of bows and arrows and even human limbs while others give a range of diverse offerings.

Interior of St Andrews church
Interior of St Andrews church | Photo: The Churches of India | Niyogi Books

Each day the large area surrounding the church comes alive. Dozens of stalls sell a variety of food, sweets, drinks and even household goods such as plastic buckets and brooms. Long lines of women and children holding gaily coloured silk umbrellas sit patiently on the sand waiting their turn to see the statue of St. Sebastian while groups of drummers and jugglers entertain the crowds well into the evening. By nightfall the lights decorating the facade of the church begin to glow and revolve in concentric circles. The combination of the lights, heat and dust, incense and the smell of the ocean create a hypnotic atmosphere. This is when one experiences India’s intense religious passion and fervour.

Exterior of St Andrews church
The exterior of St. Andrews church | Photo: The Churches of India | Niyogi Books

The church welcomes Hindu pilgrims who worship Lord Ayyappa at the famous Sabarimala temple, 160 kilometres away. The Sabarimala festival is one of the largest Hindu pilgrimage sites in the world. Over fifty million people of all denominations visit each year. After returning to Arthunkal the pilgrims pay their respects to St. Sebastian, who they believe is the brother of Lord Ayyappa. They then bathe in the pond attached to the church or swim in the ocean. St. Andrew’s Basilica is an example of religious harmony, a characteristic common to many churches and temples in Kerala.

Excerpted with permission of Niyogi Books from The Churches of India by Joanne Taylor.

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  1. Hi All.. For the kind information of the author and all who commented here, I think I can tell you the true story. I am from Arthunkal and I belong to the very old Nair family of Puliyamkottu very near to Arthunkal church.It is my ancestors who offered land to build the church here. Our ancestors had a temple here and worshipped Lord Shiva. There was a pond nearby where ‘Arattu’ utsav was conducted every year. The place where this was conducted was known as ‘Arattungal ‘. This name later changed as arthunkal as you see now.Later the financial conditions went bad and temple was ruined. The church was built later. Some of our ancestors changed to christianity and we still maintain good relationship with them. The remains of the temple were there nearby till 1980’s. But now it is all removed. Might be our ancestors visited the the temple before going to sabarimala and the practice continued even after. Later all these cooked up stories as brother and all evolved. But past is past. Let us live peacefully in harmony in our beautiful world.

    • To all the Ayyappa devotees and other hindus claiming that this article is fake as they’re mentioning about St. Sebastian and Ayyappa being brothers,
      At the end of the day we’re all humans and most importantly we’re malayalees; and we are bound to respect each others religion irrespective of whether its Hindu, Muslim or Christian. By respect, i mean even though the article might not have the proper information about the history, we’re obliged to “speak and comment” in a respectful manner. Disrespectful comments on others religion won’t solve the problem and of course the article won’t be deleted if you speak ill about Christians. There are many other famous malayalam websites which have the same information about St. Sebastian and Ayyappa being friends.. I mean if they were friends why can’t we just agree afterall both Christians and Hindus respect these saints/Gods!
      Its a humble request to please read the website of online manorama regarding this belief! It says,

      “Cherthala: With the Malayalam month of Vrishchikam setting in, almost all the temples across the state see a steady flow of Sabarimala pilgrims. And many travel to Arthunkal Basilica as part of the pilgrimage. Here’s why they do it.

      The belief

      Lord Ayyappa, it is said, used to be very friendly with St Sebastian. They were so close that the two were considered brothers by people of both the religions. It is this ideal of religious harmony that draws Sabarimala pilgrims to Arthunkal Basilica.

      The ritual

      Thousands of Sabarimala pilgrims travel to Arthunkal, offer their prayers at church, remove the sacred chain that they had worn around their neck to mark the vow to undertake the pilgrimage (called ‘mudra’. It may be sometimes worn on a string). They take a customary dip in the pond outside the church too.”

      And if this comment hurts your feelings I’m so sorry but you should learn about how we should NOT talk about other religions in a disrespectful way! Thank you.

  2. This news is utter nonsense! there is only one connection for Lord Ayyappa with another religion, That is Muslim. and still it continues through his devotees, Vavar swami in Erumeli mosque.nothing to do with Christian faith


  4. Bull shit.not worthy to comment. Successive governments in Kerala destroyed great culture of Kerala to encourage non hindus

  5. Kindly read up before trying to write and publish something. You should be more responsible while trying to write about how 2 religions are related.

    It is not so easy to convert hindus, we know what we believe in. we are free to worship, but it does not mean you can create fake stories for publicity.

    Hindus are the only people who dont mind entering any place of worship and still come out as hindus. We are tolerant and have survived for thousands of years.

    First read about the origins and roots of your new born religions. Then you will truly realise who you really are worshipping – the same Parabrahman.

  6. I am from central Kerala and from from the same district where Sabarimala temple is located. I have visited the temple 25 times but have never heard of such a relationship between Lord Ayyappa and St.Sebastian (being brothers). It’s like saying I am the brother of Emperor Ashoka who lived centuries before me.
    It’s just an attempt to attract Sabarimala pilgrims to the church & make money out of them. There is a description of king Vavar (a muslim ruler of that times) in the story of Lord Ayyappa. Also, there is a place dedicated to Vavar at Sabarimala where we all pray.
    But, linking Sabarimala temple & lord Ayyappa to Christianity & claiming that Ayyappa devotees visit & offer prayers at St.Sebastian church is totally ridiculous, mischievous & with bad intentions and one which is intended to hurt Hindu sentiments.
    If that is the case, there are 100s of small & big churches enroute Sabarimala. Why don’t Ayyappa devotees go there? Why at this church alone which is no where on Sabarimala route?
    Publishers have the basic responsibility to seek the genuineness of a news article which comes to them, before putting them in public domain. Hence, it’s advised to remove this article without any further delay.

  7. May be it’s the other way around. These Church devotees want to visit Shabarimala, but stopped by brainwashing molesting Christian priests. Is the writer smoking some high class weed, to say this saint is brother of Lord Ayyappa. Visit Shabarimala once and take a file in river Pampa, your sins will be washed off.

  8. So, out of curiosity, how much did they pay you to sell ur flithy soul to satan and write a satanic version about Hindus and Hinduism? And how do you look at yourself for being so cheap?
    May ur soul rest in the place it deserve, hell.

  9. You badly need medical help.Dont do this, kerala is a wonderful harmony of culture and religion,pls dont taint the social fabric with such irresponsible writing. Have some more freaking thoughts, do discuss with your family before you push it on public domain,may be they can help.

  10. How much are you getting paid for this fake news, gosh when did lord ayyappa had such a sibling…?
    It looks like once pilgrims to Sabarimala start coming to this church after seeing your fake news your stalls gets money and a platform to convert and handover bibles as Prasadam to devotees..

  11. Oh my God there is no other joke than this
    He is brother of Ayyappa Swamy haaaa…
    Ayyappa is 9th avatar of maha vishnu ad almost 5000 years before.

  12. Was suprised to see the article… At one point thought why I was not aware.. I’m 39 yrs today and I’m visiting sabarimala from the age of 3… Hv my memories of going all these years with elders in my family and friends.. Hv never heard any story till date.. Sad we hv to struggle in our own country to safeguard our cultures and custom… U will be labelled as Hindu terrorist., communal, narrow minded.., illiterate and what not if u raise any voice.. There should be a legal way to sue this journalist who is spreading lies..

  13. There is nothing related with Christianity in this article. It seems to be a poor attempt to encourage religious harmony and sadly it has hurt more people.None of activities in this church have to do anything with the Bible. It is also very sad to see how Christianity is viewed by others because of how it is projected by those so called Christian’s.

  14. If the things goes like tommorrow you would say there will no sabarimala its st thomas church.. Iam a ayyappa devotee from pandalam (birth place of Ayyappa swami) itself i dont here about it since my childhood but about 3 to 5 years ownwards there is such a fake believes intentially propagating these missioneries through newspaper social media..

  15. Yet another attempt made for conversation. Yup…. a religious practice doesn’t need marketing. Just for the sake of money they dare to do anything. Let those people go through the book of Mr. Holger Kersten , “JESUS LIVED IN INDIA”.

    It will lead to say that he meditated at Kashmir and attained salvation. So, it is deemed that Jesus was a devotee of LORD SHIVA.

  16. The comments so far have been hilarious. Allegation of God stealing and protectionism. Looks like now people have to protect God’s and not the other way around.

    Seen some other articles stating the same as this one.

  17. Christianity is bankrupt of ideas rituals forms of worship etc etc they are trying to copy hindu texts rituals scriptures etc etc to pose as if christianity is born in India this is nothing but stealing of intellectual property of Hindus and hindu forms of worship instead of beating our breasts can any sincere hindu file a suit against these stealing of hindu intellectuals property rights by Christians and their henchmen?I am 70 years old and can only suggest this I would like to ask this print editor who is waxing so much on religious harmony one simple question show me one single Christian who has exhibited pictures of hindu gods along with jesus!do Christians accept that u can reach salvation through hindu dharma also?when the answer is in the negative whom u are trying to fool.and hoodwink?

  18. I have nothing against Ayyappa devotees visiting any other mosque or church. But linking this church with Sabarimala as an age old custom is too much of religious trespass. Us there any acceptable authority to uphold this contaminated story? You want to mislead the faithful? You want Hindus and Christians to fight for religious rites and rights? Panchalimedu hills are already burning with intolerance and one-upmanship by vested interests. Don’t add fuel to the fire

  19. How much were you paid for
    publishing this calumny? Many Hindus don’t mind worshipping another faith. Don’t make it a custom. Who is this reporter Taylor? Does she know anything about Lord Ayyappan? She ought to get her facts correct. This is a tailored story with some unhealthy intent. Please delete this rubbish.

  20. Is there any option to report against this news or article ? Or what s d procedure to take legal action against Print ? If anyone knows please inform me… These kind of bloody medias should b taught lessons… What will u get if whole Bhaarat would b Christian ?
    Bloody all Christian countries have already fought 2 world wars… This s ur unity.. bloody missionaries… Here converting dumb moron Hindus by fooling them…

    • Please consult a good lawyer. I appreciate your sincere feelings in the cause of hindu dharma and for upholding hindu dharma values

  21. Fake story..I goes to Sabarimala every year…never ever heard of this story. The Christians have no history and they are trying to steal everything from Hindus as conversion strategy. After temple design, yogi, tulabaram, sacred lamp, Vishu kani, temple possession.. dead cheap community…can only compared to multiple father syndrome

  22. I think This print’s owner is a liberadu, pseudo secular or a converted in a mission to convert ignorant people in South… Ayyaappa swami is d son of Mohini form of Shree Hair Vishnu after kurma Avataar during Sagar manthan or churning of cosmic ocean… Do u know how many years that would have been done ! Must b lacs of years before… The Christianity came to earth just 2019 years before.. what kind of propaganda this print s doing I just can’t understand… To convert people missionaries paid to print.. or print may b d part of d Christianity conversion missions… This s worst thing doing by these hell people.

    Ayappa swami brother or Friend of st.sebastian.. 😂😂😂😂😂 what d hell !

  23. All bullshit lies of Christianity. And ofcourse we know the “ThePrint”, who owns it and who funds it. Stop propagating blatant lies. No one will buy it. Keep it under your kosher backdoor.

  24. It can not be believed at all. During my 80 years of life I have not heard about this belief . I have gone to Sabarimal several times. Somebody is giving some story with a hidden agenda. Readers should not Through it out with the contempt it deserves.

  25. It is ridiculous and utter nonsense. The Hindu beliefs never endorse any Christian brother to any of it’s incarnations. Now the rogues are trying to steal the Lord also. The Horrible Christian thugs !

  26. Cheap way to establish some belief on acccount of others….. false story
    Yes this church is near to me. They are providing shelter for refreshment for ayyappa devotees for sometimes…. thats it. Some vested interest people are cooking stories

  27. I’m a Hindu ayyappa devotee …This is fake story … Ayyappa devotee’s never go to this church during sabarimala pilgrimage. Personally I know many Christian friends who goes to sabarimala each year , even they will laugh at this fake story !!!
    ‘The print’ is taking money from church to spread this news I guess !!!

  28. There is no such thing. Ayyappa devotee only pay respect to vavar as friendship. Wha the hell are you trying to create fake news. You will soon landed in the hell. Why so cheapskate trying to attract hindu devotee and converting them is your motif. No worries real hindu and Ayyappa devotee will not convert to christainity and so claim paradise awaiting . Hahaahaha damn cheapskate

  29. Dear Joanne Taylor,

    My suggestion is kindly dive deep into Hinduism before scripting a nonsense.
    What’s a sick narrative ” brother/friend”.
    Either you/Print editor have a very wrong intention to propagate this fake story or you both have a limited edition knowledge. We Ayappa devotee will not buy tis.

    Better luck next time.

  30. People in distress go-to any worship centre irrespective of their religion , llike Christians go-to Sabarimala !Ma y Hindus give offerings to Churches & take shares of festivals, like Christians or Muslims give to Hindu Temples, Afterall they believe in one God ,as Supreme power. Like we eat food with hand, fork/K ife, spoon, chop sticks for phisical growth we use different religion for spiritual growth. The true believers respect all other religion & human as God not dogs or Cows ! It is time for Christians to keep away from religious propaganda as some religions bring Dogs &Cows as God to worship centers for their political gains & to instigate communal riot in the name of Dogs, Cows ,Bulls, etc .

  31. Very sad and bad, really a fake story..I am visited Sabarimala since 1997 to 2018 and may be this year,till now I never visited the said church,…. I will or not visit this church as it is not part of Sabarimala yatra….

  32. Christianity in India, especially in Kerala is a danger version. They are spending a lot of money all over Kerala & all over India for conventions and creating new stories for establishment.

    Everyone knows Christianity in Kerala is not more than of 300/400 yrs of history, but these new mafia is trying to establish a history here for foreign saints like St. Sebastian, St. Thomas etc.

    Where ever they see forest land or vacant land, they will put a cross and claim that its there land. They have already encroached thousands of acres of lands of noble brahmins of Kerala and the temple’s.

    Now, they are able to get there agenda spreading to other south Indian states like Tamil Nadu & Andhra.

  33. Sabarimala is this planets number one pilgrimage and Ayyappa has lived during 5000 BC. The back dated history will not be taken up by Indians anymore! The dates mismatch with case of St. Sebastian and even Vavar. Sanatana Dharma whole heartedly accepts this church or St. Sebastian. Because this is the only religion which is not tied to a single holy book or Messiah. However the fake stories of associations will not work. Sorry!

  34. I’m a Christian and my home town is very close to Arthungal. However, I’ve never hear of Ayappa devotees coming there either. Ayappa did however have two close friends, Vavvar and Peter. Velankanni on the other hand is know to attract people from the Hindu and Muslim communities as well as Christians. The tale goes that Velankanni church was actually built by a Hindu man at the request if St. Mary. Yes there are several Christian factions that are out looking to convert people, but understanding is that the Catholic Church is not one of them. It’s mostly the new age Christians like the Pentecostal groups that are trying to do so to increase their following and of course their collections. It would be great if The Print did better research before publishing their stories.

  35. Dont post such fake stories , this is the height of christian missionaries attempt to convert Hindus.

  36. From the advent of man they believed in a higher God to fulfill their needs. Each civilization followed different gods and they believed their deities had given them relief. It is the belief that gives them relief .Hence everybody is free to have their belief a d one man does not grudge another. Religion should not be a bar for inter religious Faith’s and it is a unifying factor.

  37. I think its high time such media houses are taken to task for propagating false information on Hindu religion . Its very alarming that time and again they are
    sureptiously are robbing us of our culture

  38. Stop all this blasphemous writings ,,it’s all bullshit stories ,,utter nonsensical and very hilarious too ,,

  39. I am a 65 year old Hindu from (Pala), Kottayam dist where Sabarimala is situated. I have never heard such a story in my life time. This is an effort to attract the devout Ayyappa bhakts to the church, get their donations and win over their faith to Christianity.
    Shame on such cheap gimmmicks.

  40. Ok why the hell was this false news on my google news recommendations . Wow I was searching for false news the other day maybe that’s why.

  41. The Print always bluff. This is another way of spreading chritianity. How much you got from the church for writing this article. You cannot fool hindus any more.

  42. I have been going to Sabarimala for nearly 38 years. I have never heard about all these nonsense. This is another cheap way canvassing and conversion.

  43. This is bullshit story. Lord Ayyappa have friend vavar and Ayyappa devotee visit the mosque to pay respect and not church. Dont try to create stupid story. Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa

  44. This is a wily attempt by crusading christians to wean indian pagans away from their way of life Earlier they burned down the Ayyappa temple at Shabarimala.
    Then they tried to cultivate crosses around Shabarimala and the controversy was settled by giving the christians lsnd to establish an ecumenical church near Shabarimala.
    Now they are at their appropriation bid.
    This Arthunkal church is rumoured to have been established after destroying a Shiva temple.

    • It seems its another attempt to appropriate hindu tradition. I will not be surprised if u will see a cross inside ayappa temple within a decade.The same temple that was demolished by christian fanatics in 1956

  45. Actually St. Sebastian was not the brother of Lord Ayyappa, they both were friends as they attained knowledge in weaponry in the same gurukul.

  46. Never heard of sabarimala devotees visiting a church, leave alone this church. Christians have been systematically taking away the hindu form of worship, rituals and symbols. Looks like this is another form of encroaching and establishing their rights on Sabarimala.

  47. How nicely put to persuade more Hindus to be drawn to churches. Would not be surprised if the next article actually projects Lord Ayyappa as a Christian god

  48. Finally a non polarised , unbiased article focusing on the religious harmony in India. It’s rare to find these sort of articles nowadays. Thank you

  49. Exactly, Christians and other religious people also visit Shabarimala temple. That’s the harmony in India.

  50. I am a Hindu Ayyappa devotee. Who told U St.Sebastion is a brother if Ayyappa. Any proof. Who told U this. Don’t spread fake news as a parts of marketing. We respect all religious. That doesn’t mean all of them are relations.

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