Friday, February 01, 2008

Following the Vel


I was fielding questions on Thaipusam for the last 2 weeks and the night before it got even more hectic ending with a conference call to confirm our meeting spots. We left home at 4.45am and reached the first spot at about 5.15 met the rest and headed straight to BC. There were so many empty parking spaces which played to our benefit as we got to park really close to the temple.

Trance Intense IN trance

I was taking along a few first time Thaipusam visitors who weren’t Indians, so it was fun to watch their reactions. One was all excited, another stunned, another was cautious at first, she’d hold on to another friend everytime we moved but that was only for the first 30 minutes after that I had to look for her as she’d be right at the front of the kavadis.

As we were meeting the rest only at 7 we decided to head to the river and get some shots. Darn we could have stood at the shower point forever, never knew watching people shower in their cloths could be so fun. ;p

Cleansing to fulfill vows Curious

We met so many friends on the way, lost a few to the kavadis with some calling us up to check on where we were heading every now and then. You try keeping 15 people together. I’d be walking and suddenly turn to check only to find everyone still at the last kavadi we saw ;p

By god's grace Calm Praying Light IMG_6669thaipusam1 Getting ready to dance

We finally reached the location my friend and his group of kavadi bearers were getting ready at. No more babysitting work for me coz I told the gang once I get you to the group and you know who we’re following you guys are on your own.

Each kavadi bearer goes through a month of fasting and prayers. In the last 3 weeks heading to the day, they take turns attending prayers and bhajan (devotional songs) sessions at each home. I believe god is a vibration that acts as booster to get you through life, you find him through hope, devotion and faith, regardless of which religion you’re from, it is this vibration that continues to keep you devoted. Each prayer session is a rampage of vibration, you can feel the power seep through you and revitalize yourself.

Thaipusam 2008 I surrender to you Time to contemplate Vel If stares could burn .... Thaipusam 2008 Pensive Lost in a trance Thaipusam 2008

The day before Thaipusam, they pick up their kavadis that had already been cleaned and spruced from their storage places and head of to Batu Caves where they will spend the night to beat traffic and the hassle of getting there on time.

Preparations On the morning they’ll start getting ready while their friends make sure every single screw is in place and nothing will jut out while they do their dance. A very essential part of the process is making sure the vesthi they tie is secured to their body and so someone helps them to make sure it is in place and will not loosen up while they’re walking.

Then we head up to the prayer spot. My friend and his team normally do the prayers in the centre of a circle of their kavadis that are placed at the end of the road, away from most of the crowds. Emotions are predominant, tears normally overwhelm them as they pray in thanksgiving to the vows that were fulfilled, for the journey theyre about to take and for the strength that they will need to partake in that journey.

Its interesting to watch them as each of the hugs the other before they take the kavadi, seeks the blessing of their parents, and awaits the group leader to initiate them into their trances. Then the piercings begin so effortlessly you wonder are they really getting pierced, believe me they are!

Rampage of vibrations

I cannot explain how these kavadi bearers carry their kavadis which are normally around 70 kgs in weight. Take my friend he is one of the thinnest in the group, all bones so its amazing to watch him carry the kavadi, dance with it and up the 272 steps. Carrying the kavadi is a team effort, while only one person lives the last month eating a vegetarian diet with only one meal per day and sleeping on the ground, he needs the support of family and friends to get him up there. He doesn’t need help walking but everytime he sits down he needs a few people to balance the weight of the kavadi so he doesn’t topple down, and then there’s someone carrying his stool, his water.

Support The rest are continuously offering morale support by chanting vel vel to push him forward and rubbing down his legs in between the walks. So the journey becomes very personal for us, coz we are praying for him, praying that he manages to fulfil his vow and reach up without any problems. And there is gods grace – this year we headed up later than usual and the heat was really burning down our backs and imagine what these kavadi bearers were going through.

After removing his kavadi he tells – there was one point on the steps he was telling god, you’re really pushing me too much, you can’t do this and the very next second a gush of wind pushes his kavadi up and lightens his burden. He turns back expecting one of our friends to be standing at the back but there was no one there.

It is amazing to watch them get into a trance – each in his own way, some turn into fierce characters while my friend starts laughing. Yes the variety of emotions are amazing. Each year is never easier, each year provides a different experience for them, a different obstacles. He is after all lord muruga, the most mischievous of Hindu gods. He tests his devotees to the brink of their limits and gently gives them the boost they need.

Contemplating life? Blessing Thaipusam 2008 Thaipusam 2008 Salutations Thaipusam 2008

I came back with my own souvenier, my friend suddenly sat down before the rest could hold him and I saw the kavadi begin to topple from the weight and without thinking I braced its weight on one side with my arm while screaming that its toppling. We caught the kavadi in time not before it scraped my arms but id rather it was one of us who got injured then see my friend topple coz that could seriously injure him.

Collective prayers always works. Devotion and determination are 2 of the most powerful emotions in the world. Devotion drives you to do things that are unthinkable by an outsider whose watching it from the sidelines, determination pushes you to do the unthinkable.

Effortless The first timer who watches them get pierced first gets stunned by the number of piercing and then gets confused of why they aren’t bleeding. I cannot explain why they don’t bleed, but every single piercing on that day those not draw blood while my gash drew continuous blood. They pierce them up continuously as if they’re merely tickling them.

Note to self : next time make sure you eat something while you’re waiting for them to get ready – you are not supposed to do a non food walk in the middle of extreme heat!

Rest The support Thaipusam 2008 Perspective Thaipusam 2008 Final

Yes at one point when I reached the top, after the euphoria ended I suddenly felt faint, the body was drained and I needed to energise. I sat at a corner and offered my prayers a song for Muruga.

Thirumaal maruga vinai theertaruval,
varuvai umaiyal maganeh vahruvai …..
muruga muruga vadivel azhaga
varuvai varuvai arulvai kumara … muruga muruga…

Last dance Dancing to the beat Thaipusam 2008

It works like a charm everytime – this is something else I can never explain, the vibration that travels through me when I offer one of these songs in prayer. Music has always been my method of prayers, I’d pick the quietest time at a temple and sit at the corner, eyes closed, mind projecting the image of the god presiding at that temple and the soul sings the melody. The vibrations are sometimes so strong I finish with tears in my eyes unable to get up as I need to hold in the vibrations.

And so ends Thaipusam 2008 – a festival I cannot live without. Sounds of drums that travels through your body and swirls of kavadi’s that enchant you.


Jeevan said...

The Thaipusam in Malaysia is seems like equal to the Sabari Malai Devotees here, who follows strict devotion for Iyyapan .

While reading I feel it beautiful you’re helping to your friend in bearing kavadi :) Thanks a lot for these wonderful pictures and detailing your experience dear.

take care.

praveen said...

hey dear,

Nice account of how Thaipusam is celebrated here. I personally love the shower shots, too bad I was just too lazy to move my butt out of bed that morning..lolz

Balaji S Rajan said...

WOW! Wonderful coverage. You are turning out to be a great journlaist Visithra. Excellent photos. I liked all the photos. You have captured them very well. You seem to be very creative. No wonder you are a Saggi!

Deepslux said...

Hi Visithra. I know my comment is nothing new but I decided to drop a line here anyway to say that you are such a fantastic photographer. Nice shots you have got on your page. Not everyone has this gift of taking good pictures. Keep up the good work and looking forward to see more great shots in future.

Have a great day.


visithra said...

Jeevan : indeed – they are nearly similar
Thanks dear – glad u enjoyed it

Praveen : heheh yeah u lazy pig it would have been fun too – u would have bumped into a certain someone ;p
Balaji : journalist? Wow not really – thanks – actually am not a saggi ;)

Deepslux : welcome here ;)

Comments are always welcome – thanks ;) and thanks for leaving a name – but im curious do I know u? u googled my name

U have a great day too ;)

Anonymous said...

I love your photos and your posts. I was in KL too for Thai Pusam. We had to get up at 2am to be leaving the hotel at 2:45. We had puja at the ashram at the base of BC before starting.

Pixelated Mo said...

woah.... that good bath shots....

amazing pics Vi....

--ur biggest

Anonymous said...

Hi Visithra,

Nope, we both do not know each other.:-). I 'discovered' your page when I was looking for some kolam pictures in order to get an idea on what kolam I can put in my office for Deepavali. I was pretty impressed with your photography skills, so I decided to leave you a comment during my last visit here.I guess this solves the mystery :-).

Have a great day and weekend ahead, and once again keep posting the beautiful pictures you have taken :-)

Deepa (Deepslux is my self appointed nick)

visithra said...

vegeyum : thanks ;) so did u enjoy thaipusam and kl?

need to drop by ur blog -urs is pretty interesting ;)

mo : thanks ;)

deepa : ahhh ok that explains - sometimes ppl write stuff that seem a bit too familiar so i tend to check ;) glad u enjoy the blog - have a nice weekend ;)