Jainita Dadlani | January 21, 2014
Each year, on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (which falls somewhere in January or February), the streets of Little India come alive with a visual spectacle that draws huge crowds who come to witness Hindu devotees celebrate Thaipusam.
The festival is in honour of Lord Murugan, the Tamil God of war and victory and preparations begin 48 days before Thaipusam with devotees cleansing themselves through prayer and fasting. The highlight of the celebrations is ‘Kavadi Attam’, a ceremonial dance performed by devotees carrying ‘Kavadis’, elaborate structures that are balanced on devotees’ shoulders and hooked into their skins. Devotees make vows to take on the physical burden of the ‘Kavadi’ as a form of debt bondage in exchange for Lord Murugan’s blessings and help in overcoming obstacles.
This year, Thaipusam was marked on 16 January. Yellow barricades lined the street as traffic marshals directed both vehicles and human traffic to make way for the devotees’ procession.
Devotees arrived early at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Perumal Road, which is the starting point of a 4-kilometre pilgrimage to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Tank Road.
Offerings were made and preparations undertaken by devotees making the pilgrimage.
Family members and well-wishers showed up in full force to show moral support and to help devotees assemble and put on the ‘Kavadi’. In recent years, many non-Hindus have also begun to participate in the ‘Kavadi Uttam’.
Hundreds of devotees worship Lord Murugan by taking on burdens in exchange for blessings and help in overcoming challenges in their lives. Women and children traditionally carry pots of milk on their heads while men carry elaborate ‘Kavadis’ of various shapes and sizes. Mortification of the flesh is also common with many devotees piercing their skin, tongue or cheeks. Family and friends turn up in full force to accompany the devotees on their pilgrimage. Some chant devotional songs and play percussion instruments, while others provide moral support as the devotees display tremendous endurance in overcoming their physical pains.
Colorful Kavadi and devotees in the colour saffron, which is associated with sacrifice, religious abstinence, quest for light and salvation.
Devotees go all out on designing their Kavadis, making each one unique. (Left) Kavadi decorated with the “Om” symbol and an image of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, parents of Lord Murugan. (Right) Kavadi decorated with feathers of a peacock – the vehicle of Lord Murugan.
Supporters of devotees walk, sing, dance and play the drums; many devotees enter a state of trance during this time.
Looks like you made a move and your account activated successfully!