India - Thaipusam Festival

by V.A.Ponmelil (All rights reserved by the author)

Thaipusam Festival

The Hindu people are passionate about their religion, and take extraordinary measures to display their devotion. A good example is the Thaipusam festival.' Thaipusam' is the feast for the son of Shiva, Lord Subramanya. Celebrations of this festival are carried out at almost all the temples of Lord Subramanya. This festival is celebrated chiefly in Tamil Nadu in the month of January/February.

Lord Subramanya is the universal granter of wishes. All those who wish to ask for a future favor, or have to fulfill a vow in return for a granted favor, or to repent for past sins participate in this. Devotees walk long distances, carrying offerings, to reach the temple of the Lord. Many devotees express their thanks by entering a trance, and piercing their bodies with skewers.

There are hair-raising sights of human bodies covered in hooks, which attach huge Kavadis (ritualistic yokes) balanced on heads and cheeks pierced with small spears, wooden tongues and arrows. The most elaborate Kavadis can weigh as much as 80 pounds. Kavadi is a platform ornately decorated with peacock feathers, Christmas decorations and even plastic dolls!

Kavadi (offering) carriers are devotees who have requested favors, have had the favor granted or wish to atone for past misdeeds. Usually, a vow is made to carry the Kavadi for one, three, five or even seven years in succession. Common requests are recovery from illness, success in examinations or business or to beget progeny.

However, very few women devotees pierce their bodies. Most of them carry pots of milk or a pair of coconuts slung across their shoulders instead. Traditional musical instruments are played, and chants of "Vel, Vel" fill the air.
These forms of offerings are overshadowed by more elaborate ones with huge metal frames and bedecked with decorations in the belief that the larger the Kavadi, more the resolution in one’s devotion.

Hinduism advocates that the body should not be harmed as the body is akin to a temple that the soul resides in. Some devotees however, choose to believe that the only way to salvation is to endure a penance of pain and hardship. However, they are able to tolerate this ordeal of pain as they are in a trance-like state. There is no blood and they prepare themselves for this by undergoing specific rites during the preceding month.
The devotees follow austerities and the body and soul is disciplined to refrain from all forms of worldly activities. The devotees overcome any form of pain as their minds are attuned to only one thing – spirituality and liberation from worldly desires.

On reaching the temple, they lay down their Kavadi. Then the milk or honey offering is poured on the statue of the deity as an act of thanksgiving, those with hooks and skewers have a priest chant over them as the metal implements are removed and the wounds treated with hot ash. Surprisingly, there isn’t a drop of blood, or pain and even more amazing, no scarring at all! This reinforces the faith of the devotees even further.


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