We’ve all heard a lot about Kavadi bearers but do you actually know what it is and who these people are..!!
Kavadi basically consists of two circular pieces of wood or steel which are bent and attached to a cross structure that can be balanced on the shoulders of the devotee. It is often decorated with flowers, peacock feathers (the vehicle of Lord Murugan) among other things. Some of the Kavadis can weigh up to 30 kg…(Wooooh)
Let’s take a look back at history…
Palani is a small town situated in Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu where the Thai Pusam festival is celebrated with great splendour. The word Thaipusam is a combination of the name of the Tamil month of Thai (January 15-February 15), and the name of a star, Pusam. This particular star is at its highest point during the festival and the brightest one in the sky. The festival commemorates the occasion when Goddess Parvati gave her son Murugani a ‘Vel’ (spear) so he could vanquish the evil demon Surapadman.
As per historical texts, Palani obtained its name from the myth of ‘Pazham-nee’, which literally means ‘You (Lord
Murugan) are the Fruit’. The festival is centered on the Hindu god, Lord Murugan. Myth suggests that Murugan and his brother Ganeshaii were asked to circumambulate the world in a contest held by their parents Siva and Parvati. Ganesha won the contest as he chose to simply circumambulate his parents, for he considered his parents to be the world, while his brother actually went around the world.
Faced with the logical explanation that Ganesha gave, Murugan had to concede defeat and Ganesha won the prized fruit (the Gnana-pazham). Enraged, Murugan left his home and family and came down to Thiru Avinankudi at the foot of the Sivagiri Hill. In order to pacify him, Siva declared that Murugan himself was the fruit (Pazham) of all wisdom and knowledge. Hence, the place came to be known as ‘Pazham-nee’ (‘you are the fruit’) or ‘Palani’, which is a hilly terrain.
abode in the South and commissioned his asuran disciple Idumban to carry them. Idumban was one of the very few asuran survivors of the war between Murugan’s forces and those of Surapadman. After surviving the war he had repented and became a devotee of Lord Murugan.
So if you happen to visit the shrine, you’ll see that the Idumban shrine is halfway up the hill where every pilgrim is expected to offer obeisance to Idumban before entering the temple of Dandâyudhapani. Since then, pilgrims to Palani bring their offerings on their shoulders in a kavadi. The custom has spread from Palani to all Muruga shrines worldwide.
Muruga, in his aspect as Lord Dandayudhapani, stands for tyaagamor renunciation. Eschewing all worldly possessions, the only apparel he has chosen to retain is a loin cloth called kaupeenam. His bhakts, however, never tire of offering him costly garments and enriching his wardrobe with luxurious royal clothes which are used to adorn him when his devotees yearn to see the Lord in the vesture of a King.
The Kavadi-bearer continues begging until the baskets are full or the avowed quantity is reached, and then offers the Kavadi to the Lord. Some keen devotees undertake to walk barefooted from home to one of the shrines of Lord Muruga, bearing the Kavadi all the way, and collecting materials for the offering. He has to walk a hundred miles some times!
The people who place the articles in their baskets also receive the Lord’s blessings
The size and structure of the Kavadi vary in contemporary practice but they are all linked to the offering of a pot of holy milk. Large Kavadis are decorated metal structures carried with support from a waist-band and shoulder rests, usually with metal spikes extending upward and outward from the supports.
Later, pilgrims started piercing their cheeks and tongue with sharp spears as a part of their penance. The miniscule piercing spears are representative of the spear which the Lord Murugan holds in his hands.
The festival is now celebrated among the Tamils for about ten days at Palani and starts with the flag hoisting at the Mariammanv temple on the first day. The next five days of the festival are filled with various rituals. The seventh day is observed as the chariot festival, where the temple chariot is pulled by a number of people circumambulating the hill. The full moon day of the month of Thai signifies the final day of the ten-day long ritual, and that particular day is known as the Thai Pusam day. Throughout the festival, the carrying and offering of Kavadi to the deity is observed along with the act of performing Kavadi Attam
Types of Kavadi
Below is the simplistic description of each type of kavadi. Each has its own significance and depending on the person carrying and their vow, they can decide which one they would like to follow.
The Paal Kavadi is usually filled with fresh cow’s milk and is carried on the shoulders of the individual up the 272 steps leading to Lord Muraga’s temple inside the caves.
Thol Kavadi is the type of kavadi usually carried on the shoulder of devotee’s. It has a semicircular top, and is usually adorned with peacock feathers, glitters, simplistic decorations and flowers. At Thaipusam, a small brass pot with blessed milk is attached to the Thol Kavadi. An inverse “T” wood or steel frame serves to balance the load on the shoulders of the devotee.
This form of kavadi, the Alavu Kavadi involves piercing of the tongue or cheek with spear, often known as the Vel. The main concept of this type of kavadi is to prevent the person immersed in the ritual to not speak and derive at that point in time, perpetual endurance, energy and focus towards Lord Muruga.
Koodam Mulle Kavadi
Koodam Mulle Kavadi involves offering to the deity in the form of small pots of milk or fruits (like apples, oranges, lime) which are then tied to the hooks. These are then pierced to the body of the devotee.
Vette Mulle is one of the major forms of kavadi where the devotee will have hooks pierced to his body which are then attached to lines of rope. The rope is pulled either by another person (as a form of penance) or is tied to a chariot to be pulled.
This is the most well known kavadi and most of often seen at the Thaipusam festival. The kavadi is beautifully decorated with peacock feathers, flowers and other colorful ornaments. At the heart of this kavadi is usually a statue of a deity which the devotee chooses to carry up the 272 steps leading to Lord Muruga’s temple inside the caves. Attached to this kavadi are hooks or spears, which is then pierced to the body of the devotees. A small pot of milk also tied to this kavadi as part of the offering. The frame is usually lightweight however, as the decorations are mounted, the weight can increase significantly. The true test of any devotee is mind over matter at this stage.
The largest Thaipusam celebrations take place in Mauritius, Malaysia and Singapore. It is a public holiday in several states in Malaysia, including Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Selangor, Penang, Perak, Kedah, Johor, Negeri Sembilan, Mauritius, Singapore and Reunion.
So next time there is a Kavadi bearer at your doorstep then do offer some milk or food to him, as you never know where the returns of this offering show up in your lifetime.
I bet you didn’t know all this…
Happy Reading 🙂