Post 1 The Preperation
Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (January/February). It is mainly observed in countries where there is a significant presence of Tamil community such as India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia. I was fortunate enough to be in Penang this year when the festival was taking place. The picture post that follows is divided into 3 parts, but all from one festival day. The festival itself lasted for 3 days over a weekend.
Waiting at the bus stop for a bus to the festival starting point I strike up a conversation with a man from Singapore who travels with his temple community every year to celebrate the festival. He very kindly offers to take me to the preparation ceremony for their nominated Kavadi for the 2016 festival. He explained that of all the regions and communities that attend the festival the Singaporean group is the most committed to the true requirement of The Kavadi Attam (“Burden Dance”) as their devotee is speared to the flesh front and back, but also carries a metal temple on his head weighing some 25 kilos. He explained that most others preform Kavadi Atam light, using waist belts to hold the metal spines and polystyrene temples on top of their heads. I cannot overemphasise the difference and importance inherent in this given the 36 degree heat and high humidity. The nominee then has to carry the entire enterprise though this scorching heat and humidity from the starting point, a walk of some 10 kilometres, to the base of the temple Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Kovil which itself then involves climbing some 513 steps to reach the temple. In preparation for the devotee will fast for anything up to 48 days prior to the festival day although my Singaporean friend tells me they fast for 2 weeks. Detailed explanation of Kavadi Attam below.
The Kavadi Attam (“Burden Dance”, also written as cavadee) is the ceremonial sacrifice and offering performed by devotees during the worship of Murugan, the Hindu God of War. It is often performed during the festival of Thaipusam and emphasises debt bondage. The Kavadi itself is a physical burden through which the devotees implore for help from the God Murugan. Devotees prepare for the celebration by cleansing themselves through prayer and fasting approximately 48 days before Thaipusam. Kavadi-bearers have to perform elaborate ceremonies at the time of assuming the kavadi and at the time of offering it to Murugan. The kavadi-bearer observes celibacy and take only pure, Satvik food, once a day, while continuously thinking of God. On the day of the festival, devotees will shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi (burdens). At its simplest this may entail carrying a pot of milk, but mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers is also common. The simplest kavadi is a semicircular decorated canopy supported by a wooden rod that is carried on the shoulders, to the temple. In addition, some have a small spear through their tongue, or a spear through the cheeks.
The description of Kavadi Attam above is sourced from Wikipedia
We took the ferry from Kedah on the mainland to Penang Island
Preparation and offerings for the Kavadi
The devotee who preformed the Kavadi Attam in 2017 recives blessings prior top the start of the procession.
Blessing a child
One of his assistants check the pins top make sure they are all securely anchored in place.
The entire body frame is held in place by metal pins anchored in his chest and back but he is also speared through his cheeks with further adornments hooked into the face.
He will be accompanied on the pilgrimage drum and the Nagasvaram a large double-reed aerophone.
Local devotees await the procession
The Singaporean group reach the main road and the beginning of the long pilgrimage to the temple. A devotee smashing coconuts on the roads to symbolise “the breaking of one’s ego to reveal purity inside”.
I take my leave at this point and make my own way alonmg the route at a slighl;ty faster pace.