Ok, I warned you guys that this is a different kind of festival. Western minds just do not understand it at all, and I’ll try and explain but I’m sure many people will come away shaking their heads. I’m still shaking mine, and I was there.
I had previously said the Tamil Hindus do this as a form of pennance, but that is not really true. This is thanksgiving for prayers answered, or in hope that future favors will be granted. Now, not everyone who participates pierce themselves or carries a kavadi. Many simply carry an offering of milk or flowers but some get quite extreme. The newspaper here even billed Thaipusam as ‘the world’s most extreme Thanksgiving’. The devotees are making offerings to Lord Murugan who is the son of Shiva.
Two more points I guess I’ll make about the festival and then get to posting some pictures. First, the people participating in these rituals are not from a remote tribe in the hinterlands. These people are engineers, doctors, lawyers, and students. Yes, students. Many young people participate and many are giving thanks for good grades and getting into a good university!
The second point is that the kavadi bearers are said not to experience pain during this as they are in a kind of religous trance. This is true, they definitely appeared to be in a trace but I did see some scars that I assume were from previous years.
Oh, a third note on Thaipusam: I read that it is celebrated mainly by Tamil Hindus outside of India. In fact, the celebration at Batu caves is the biggest of it’s kind with over a million devotees and curious onlookers. I don’t know why it is not celebrated as much by Hindus in India.
Here are the throngs of devotees headed up the steps into Batu Caves. We got caught in the crowd and and went up also, once you are in the throng you can’t get out.
Here is one of the elaborate kavadis. You can’t see the guy carrying this one but you can imagine how heavy they are.
Pretty crowded at the bottom of the stairs. This is not a place for people who have a fear of crowds and being trampled.
This is one of the kavadi carriers. Quite an elaborate burden.
Now for the mortification of the flesh photos. If you are interested in seeing people with hooks in their bodies click and check ‘em out.
Ok, this one isn’t too bad, sure he has hooks in his back but it’s just bells hanging from them.
These are pretty big hooks. You can’t see what he is pulling, but it is a big cart that’s got to weight a couple of hundered pounds.
This was the most disturbing sight to me. This guy can’t be more than 16 or 17 and he was definitely is a trance state with is tongue out wagging back and forth. What was he pulling? His friend (maybe his brother or cousin) who has the job of pulling back the whole journey to provide resistance.