South Africa Thaipusam

Experience by Heather L.

Yesterday I went to Temple with Baby to celebrate Thai Poosam Kavady, or just Kavady. Kavady is a Hindu religious festival dedicated to Lord Murugan that is celebrated by Tamil people. Although Baby converted to Hindi after marrying her husband, she still celebrates the Tamil occasions as well. I went to Temple not really knowing much about Kavady. Throughout the ceremony, baby and our friends: Uncle Andy and Auntie Vassie explained certain things to me, but I really wanted to do justice to my description of the ceremonies and what they mean, so most of my information I got online from However, I thought it would still be nice to share my personal experiences, and then provide information on what Kavady is and what it means to people.

I really didn’t know what to expect going into it. Baby and I fasted for ten days and we went to the flag raising ceremony last week. In addition, Baby had mentioned that people get pierced and go into trances and that her sister used to carry the chariot. (she would be pierced 108 times and these piercings (hooks) would then be attached to a large chariot with a shrine of Lord Murugan. So, basically I knew that I was in for a unique experience…but it was sooo much more than that.

When Baby and I first arrived we dropped off milk which was to be distributed to the devotees. As I was waiting for Baby, I watched the procession of devotees carrying their beautifully decorated kavadies down the street. (Kavady is a pole slung across the shoulder to evenly distribute the weight of whatever is being carried, usually in bundles on either ends of the pole. The carrying of kavady symbolizes the carrying of one’s burden and then resting it at the feet of the Lord – from They were adorned with marigolds, roses, carnations, and peacock feathers (in honor of Lord Marugan’s favored animal; the peacock). Each person carrying their own mini-float., like a big fourth of July or homecoming parade! We then went into the temple to offer our tray of fruit and money as passad, and then followed the kavady bearers to where they were going. Apparently, devotees are supposed to go to a nearby river, but there wasn’t a river nearby, so we went down the street and began the celebration under the shade of a beautiful and big camphor tree.

When we arrived, each person processed in and laid their kavadies on the ground in front of them. The priest was chanting as the devotees processed in. When all were gathered, they began blessing each kavady with seven different substances. I can’t remember them all but from what I do remember, it began with water, then rose water, then camphor oil, then a chili mixture of sorts, then ashes, then two colored powders: one yellow and one red. At the end of the blessings, the devotees carried little brass jugs, which they filled with milk. Some people had larger jugs, which they carried on their heads, but the smaller ones were tied with strings to the base of the kavady. The next thing that occurred is people lit camphor which was placed on banana leaves, along with offerings of banana and other fruit. (also called passad). When the fires were lit, a group of young musicians began chanting and playing the drums and that is when people started going into trances…

At first, I was intrigued by the people in trances, then fascinated, and then in complete awe of their devotion and euphoria. It was so beautiful. Some of the people in trances began getting pierced: one lance through the tongue, decorated with a carnation, and various hooks through the skin all over their chest, back and arms. Each hook had fruit hanging from it, some were apples and some were whole coconuts! The people didn’t even bleed and their eyes were wide and they were swaying in rhythm with the drum beats. Some of them had their cheeks puffed out to mimic the face of Lord Hanuman (the monkey). We went up to each of the people in trances and were blessed by them. They placed their hands on our foreheads and placed ashes on our foreheads and cheeks. I looked into the eyes of one of them and I was overcome with a sensation of sorts. I can’t explain it, but it felt kind of like a high in a way…but I got scared of the feeling, so I didn’t let it overcome me. I’m not kidding either…I felt complete happiness of sorts.

Anyway, Baby received a special blessing from the one and he told her something about her future. Apparently, they can predict things that are troubling you and if you do have something troubling you, they can take it out. I watched one man pass out after getting blessed and the young man in a trance (with apples hanging from his bare chest) brought the man to his feet and placed is hand on his forehead and held it there. Then he held up three fingers. A man standing by translated it to mean that the older man was affected by something and to rid himself of it he had to perform some kind of ritual three times. Altogether, I think there were about eight people that fell into trances, I was blessed by four of them.

After some time, we processed back to the temple, the devotees with their kavadies. On the way, Baby, Auntie Vassie and I stopped for milk: it was pink and tasted sweet…I liked it and drank three cups! When we reached the temple, the devotees carrying kavady went around the temple three times to the accompaniment of drums and chanting. They were dancing and everyone was so happy. Then they went into the temple for a prayer…and we went and got food. (after every ceremony, a family from the temple prepares a meal for all of the participants) we had vegetable breyani, dhal, and salad. (YUM) After dinner we went back into the temple for prayer and got our tray blessed, then went home.

It was beautiful to witness, I felt so at peace afterwards, like nothing in the world could possibly bother me. I hope to be able to carry that feeling with me throughout the next eight months here. According to what I read on Wikipedia, the celebration of kavady is for those who seek truth, and funny enough, I have been having a lot of inspiration lately to look for the truth of what I am doing here and why I chose to come all the way to South Africa to work for free and give up the comforts and freedom of my life back in the states…maybe I’ll actually find it now.

Kavadinfo Note

We like to thank Heather for her contribution here.
Here you find her blog.

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