Monday, January 28, 2008

The Journey of a Kavadi Bearer Thaipusam


Preparing the kavadi, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.

This would be my second Thaipusam experience. Last year I came never expecting the number of crowds and hectic pace that went about throughout the day, I was disoriented partially by the smoke and incense as well as from the fervent emotion and energy the people exuded. I was crowded worse than sardines in their can and blasted brown by t he sun. Yet I loved every moment of it. This year it was more subdued, whereas when we got there previously by 5am to find not a single parking space for miles and a sea of people stretching way past the main gate, this year we got a parking space 5 minutes away from the main temple and the crowd were visibly less. We expected as much after Visithra told us that the crowd that came to greet the chariot procession was 1/5 the normal crowd that the same would hold true for the actual Thaipusam event at Batu caves as well and true enough it was such. It was due to the rumours spread via SMS that many stayed away and the FRU were heavily present even as they were hidden away under the underpass. It was also a sign of protest at the administrators of Batu Caves for their part during the Hindraf protests that many decided to boycott the events or find alternative venues. But it is sad that politics and religion had to be caught up in each other.


Shankar, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.

I had many shots already from the previous outing with Flickr and this year I shot more conservatively deciding to focus on the elements that I missed previously such as the ritual bathing, the inner temple where the kavadi bearers end their journey as well as keep closer to the group I was following for a more personal shoot rather than just random shots. Again Visithra's friend was walking and bearing the kavadi along with his family. It was a pleasure to meet Shankar and it was an honour to be able to walk by him and offer our support as he made his journey of faith.

The devotee's journey begins long before the actual day even arrives, fasting and abstaining for a month to cleanse the body and mind in preparation. Many find different reasons to carry the kavadi, some for forgiveness of wrongdoing, some as a form of thanks for good luck received and blessings, others as a test of faith but whatever the reason the journey is both enriching and grueling. Looking at the kavadi its a huge structure of steel decorated with idols, peacock feathers, pictures of deities and holy symbols. Someone told me the structures weighs nearly 70 kg and bear in mind that the devotee is strapped to this with the weight bearing on his shoulders and mid drift. The morning begins with the prayer from the priests accompanied by chanting and sprinkling of blessed ash and incense. Makeshifts altar of paraphernalia and offerings are piled before the kavadis as the priests goes to each and offers a blessings.


The initial prayers and blessing by the priest, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.

The faithful can be seen as calm as they stood in front and prayed. They are not alone as the journey is not one that is done alone but with your family and friends giving you support and the will to carry on and it is this aspect of the ritual that truly awes me seeing family members cheering them on ,encouraging them to take the next step and helping support the kavadi as the bearer rests even massaging aching limbs. The bearer sometimes looks worried as the metal braces are strapped on and tightened. But all melts away as the priest arrives and offers a blessing. Touching his hand on Shankar's forehead the anoints it with holy ash and mutters a prayer and in a few minutes he was in a trance and in that same moment a close member will go forward and pierce the skewer into his tongue. Another friend helps insert hooks adorned with flowers or fruits on his back.


Prayers before his journey, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.

All the while music from the accompanying musical group plays loud and constant. The cacophony drowns out everything else and even now the tune still rings loud and clear in my ear long after the actual events. Shankar soon stood up and the walk begins. A group of 5 kavadi bearers and their entourage soon made their way to the Batu Caves temple. Along the way they started dancing and swinging all the while with the weight of the kavadi on them yet it seems as it was weightless. Yet the journey is not easy, each makes stops as they walk and helping members will arrive to provide stools for them to sit, trickle water to quench their thirsts and support the weight of the kavadi to avoid it toppling. Soon enough Shankar moves but still the pace was slow and the sun was shining ever hotter as it got nearer to noon. The way up the staircase was even more grueling, lining up to wait while the front moved and navigating the tall kavadi under the archway was a trial in itself. The 272 steps also offer its challenge and many times we witness some that almost gave up but encouragement and massages from family members soon allowed them to stand and walk on.


Giving blessed ash to the devotees, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.

The cave temple was crowded as ever when we got there. Finally it was ending and the devotees awaited their turn as the priests put them out of their trance and back to normal. The skewers were taken out and the devotee was none the worse for wear except maybe more tired. His friend who later carried the kavadi down the steps was tired out and wondered how Shankar actually managed to carry the weight all the way up. It does speaks volumes at the huge amount of faith and belief that makes thousands of Hindus carry out this act of faith each year. To those who missed it, I would ask them to visit Thaipusam at least once and you'll see how diverse and beautiful the ritual is.


Priest blessing the kavadi, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.


Family portrait, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.


Shankar in front of the kavadi, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.


Traditional musicians, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.


Offering prayers, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.


Prostrating before the kavadi, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.


Friends and family give support and motivation by walking with the devotee and lending a helping hand when needed, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.


The metal brace strapped onto Shankar, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.


A friend helps to apply the roses onto Shankar's back, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.


The monk applies ash on shankir's forehead to begin the trance, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.


A skewer being pierced into the tongue of a devotee, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.


Tying a sash on the idol atop the kavadi, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.


The group accompanying the kavadi bearer, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.


Giving thanks and prayers, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.


Shankar making his way slowly step by step as the weight of the kavadi bears down on him, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.


Interior of the Batu Caves Temple, Thaipusam, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia.

1 comment:

Ego Kornus said...

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if your alright with that.
Gonna give you all the credit and a link to this blog.
Tell me what you think of that
Thanks already!