Post 2 The 10 kilometer walk to the Temple
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.
By now it is getting close to midday as we set off on the 10 kilometer walk to the base of the temple Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Kovil. The sun beats down from overhead and the air hangs heavy amidst the humidity of the atmosphere and crowded streets. Everywhere is a riot of colour and sound as speakers pump out a rhythmic and hypnotic beat. Soon i find myself carried along by the sway of the music as we make slow walk to the temple. The pain and the endurance of the Kavadi Attam participants now clear to see, yet none that oi have seen falter. It must also be said that Thaipusam is not just about, or centered, on Kavadi Attam although given the visual spectacle of the bondage of hooks and hanging adornments this is a major draw for tourists and spectators. Thaipusam is very much a family based festival. Indeed on the plane from Singapore to Penang (which was mostly full of families heading to Penang for Thaipusam) I struck up a conversation with one man who was not in favour of the Kavadi as he felt he sent out the wrong message of this important Hindu festival and as such was a distraction. The pictures here tell the rest of the story far better than my words can describe. Suffice to say it has to be one of the most fascinating and exhilarating experiences of my life.
Each participant has a team of friends making sure they are ok whether it be quenching thirst or readjusting spears and pins. Each one of the cups seen in this picture is attached to the devotees body by means of a hook pierced through the skin. There are also a number of hooks lodged in his back each roped and held and pulled by the parson at back (see picture above) adding greatly to the strain and endurance of the participant.
Some do Kavadi Attam light preferring to support the frame to their bodies by means of a waist belt. However this is still a long and painful slog for all Kavadi Attam participants.
These pictures demonstrate the force used in pulling on the hooked ropes. This participant also has a very large spear pierced though his cheeks.
There is also much dancing along the way with all getting caught up by the atmosphere and hypnotic beats being pumped out from speakers along the way.
In this picture you can see some of the hooks used to secure the pots to the pilgrims body
This truly is a festival of celebration.
The streets a riot of vibrant colour.
Taking the first of the 513 steps to reach the temple.
As we make our way up to the temple on the opposite side of the bank those on the way back down.
This woman carries a milk gourd on her head which she will have carried for the 10 kilometer walk and use as an offering at the temple.
By now the pain and sheer physical exertion is taking its toll.
Almost there, but in need of a rest before the final steps to the top.
The view from the top. We reach the temple taking 513 steps to get there.
The cool interior of the temple is a welcome relief from the heat and fatigue of the journey.
Many have carried offerings of milk which are taken to an inner sanctum by the temple attendant.
After the temple and back out in the glaring sunshine and heat time to find your shoes.
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