Hindu Kavadi procession in the streets of Victoria on Sunday February 5 |30 January 2023
The famous and colourful Thai Poosam Kavadi Festival and procession will this year take place on Sunday February 5, in the morning.
Due to Covid-19, the Kavadi street procession did not take place in 2021 and 2022.
The Kavadi festival is an annual event of the Navasakthi Vinayagar temple, on Thaipoosam day, attributed to Lord Muruga, the Warrior deity of the hills.
The concept of the kavadi is to carry milk in small pots attached to the Kavadi in procession to finally offer all the milk to anoint Lord Muruga and to pray for his blessings. Men and women follow stringent fasting at least three days prior to participation with all devotion and piety.
More than 25 males are expected to take part in the Kavadi called Poottukavadi, Chariotkavadi, Alagukavadi, Palkavadi, Pannierkavadi. Some of the Kavadi carrying males have their cheeks, tongue, arms and back pierced by steel and silver shrapnels as a form of penance for the deity. Ladies join in carrying pots of milk on their heads.
The procession, after all the rituals such as piercing of the skin and body, starts at 9am and winds its way along Quincy Street, Revolution Avenue, Harrison Street and Lodge Street and ends in the temple. Traditional oriental music will be provided by a group specially flown in from India.
The festival will conclude at noon with special Abishegam, Pooja, Prayers and a common vegetarian lunch to all in the temporary Sri Navasakthi Vinayagar community hall behind the Temple. This piece of land has been earmarked for the construction of a cultural centre.
Thaipoosam Kavadi Festival started in the Seychelles Navasakthi Vinayagar temple in 1993 one year after the opening of the temple on a very modest scale in the inner courtyard of the temple. Since 1996 the Kavadi procession has taken to the streets of Victoria and has increased in quantity and quality so much so that it has become a national festival involving not only many locals but also an attraction for the global tourists to get an insight into the oriental cultural values.
The quality got enriched by a variety of kavadis which the devotees carry and the number involved has added weight to the quantity.
The festival this coming Sunday is the 27th edition and the State patronage is there which is substantiated by the government declaring the kavadi day as a holiday for all Hindus from 1998.
Thaipoosam is a day dedicated to Lord Murugan called by various names such as Subramanian, Saravanapavan, Kumaran, Kandasamy, Shamugar and Skanda who is supposed to be the second son of Lord Siva and consort Parvathi the first son being Lord Ganesh or Vinayagar the presiding deity in the Seychelles temple. Lord Murugan is supposed to be a warrior God with a vel (spear) in his hand. He is considered the destroyer of the evil and the preserver of the good. Lord Murugan whose abode is usually in the hills and mountains, is called Kurunchi Kumaran also. Thaipoosam Kavadi festival is celebrated annually on a large scale in South India, Sri Lanka, Batu caves in Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Mauritius and Reunion.
The Kavadi festival is a visible and powerful assertion of Hindu individuality and a forceful expression of Hindu solidarity in the multi-racial and a multi-cultural country such as Seychelles. Moreover, the festival with a high degree of participation and involvement reveals the inter-religious understanding that promotes religious and communal harmony in the heterogeneous society of the present world. There is interesting evidence on kavadi rituals, puranic mythology, Thamil Bhakthi movement, the relevance of the Saiva Sithanatha philosophy, differences in agamic and popular Hinduism and in addition the ingredients of Thamil culture where all these concepts have their roots this festival speaks to the Tamil/Hindu heartland. It makes clear statement about a proud, shared and continuing heritage, common membership of the great rich and enduring civilisation which includes wider diaspora.
Hindu deities have animals and birds as their carrier and the peacock is the carrier for Lord Murugan. Hence the metal frame of which the kavadi is made is fully decorated with peacock feathers that are blue in colour. Philosophically blue is the colour of the sky and the ocean showing the colour of the Universe.
Kavadi is the central wooden beam representing the human body with the two pots hanging on either side – the good deeds done in one’s true life on one side and the evil on the other side. Carrying this on their shoulders, the devotees appeal to the Lord for forgiveness for the evil deeds and holy blessing for good deeds. Certain devotees in order to show their willingness to offer themselves in the name and service of God in the form of penance and austerity, carry the symbol of Lord Muruga. Vel shaped arrows being pierced all over their body to show their tolerance to suffering inflicted in the name of the God. In turn this prayer is symbolic of the willingness of the person to suffer for another human being, being his family, friends, neighbours or enemies, any fellow human beings and the humility, humbleness towards the Lord and the fellow human beings.
Silver or steel pins in the form of Vel in many sizes are pierced into the skin, back, cheeks and tongue of the kavadi carrying devotees signifying that the Vel destroys all the desires and evils in man and purifies him to be a noble soul. The carrying of the kavadi with all these rituals is a process of purifying the soul. The piercing by these sharp pins and skewers is an art by itself done only by expert hands brought from India. The will-power, concentration and piety of the devotees are such that no pain is experienced and it is strange that not a single drop of blood is seen. It is the strong will, determination and absolute piety preceded by many days of fasting and vegetarian food that helps one to endure this difficult process.
The oriental music troupe brought from Tamil Nadu for this occasion not only provides appropriate music for the kavadi procession but also contribute in no small measure for the easy piercing of the pins and skewers into the different parts of the body. The musical notes and musical vibrations produced always have a soothing effects thus avoiding pain. Murugan represents the bliss and beauty of nature. He is the aesthetic symbol of Thamil culture linked to dance and song. Kavadi songs and dances in chorus from the devotees unify Thamil identity and spontaneity of the kavadi festival along the route of the procession providing a cultural contrast for the Seychellois eyes and for the large number of global tourists, a panoramic view of the oriental cultural pageants.
The Kavadi festival over a span of 29 years has successfully established and entrenched some strong foundations for the preservation, consolidation and further flowering of Hindu Thamil culture in this paradise island of Seychelles. It is worthy of mention that a tradition is put in place that the kavadi festival winds up with common lunch to all. This has a laudable philosophy behind it. It is the noble principle of CARE and SHARE that is being practiced. The lunch, though symbolic, everybody irrespective of their status in society is cared for equality and well and whatever is available is shared by all. All sit down together for the common meal. This high philosophy is common to all religions and if practiced in the true spirit, the world would become a happy place to live peacefully for all.
The grandeur of the temples built by Chola kings reflected not only the traditional cultures of times but also served as sacred places to promote piety, devotion and learning. This applies all the places of worship of all religions. Devoid of sincerity, piety and sanctity such sacred places of worship become a collection brick and stone thus losing its sanctity.
Occasions like the kavadi festival in Seychelles Navasakthi Vinayagar temple unifies all the devotees with a singleness of purposes with piety and devotion, thus helping to achieve the purpose and sanctity of the place of worship which in turn promotes love, kindness and most importantly “global humanism”.
By Veera Pandiyan Pillay