THE biggest gathering of Hindus from around the Eastern Cape will meet at the Shri Subramanier Aulayam temple in Upper Valley Road on Sunday to celebrate the annual Thai Poosam Kavady festival.
The festival is one of the biggest on the South Indian calendar in South Africa and is celebrated on the day of the full moon in the month of Thai (January/ February) which is the 10th month of the Tamil calendar.
The festival started with a flag-hoisting ceremony on Friday. The flag has a drawing of a sevel (rooster) which symbolises the rising of the sun in the east, and the dawn of learning and of knowledge which will destroy all ignorance.
The 10-day fast or sadhana, between the hoisting of the flag and the festival, is the clearance of one’s mind, body and soul. By fasting and going to the temple and praying for the 10 days devotees become spiritually charged and uplifted to carry their Kavady. The flag also serves as a reminder that one should start fasting and attending the services at the temple.
The Kavady prayer and penance is observed over the 10 days by devotees who have to abstain from all pleasures including alcohol. They also have to observe celibacy and maintain a vegetarian diet.
The Kavady procession is seen as an outward demonstration of mass devotion to God in the form of Lord Muruga.
The word Kavady translates in Tamil as a pole slung across the shoulder to evenly distribute the weight of whatever is carried, usually in bundles on either side of the pole.
The carrying of Kavady at the festival symbolises the carrying of one’s burden and placing it at the feet of the Lord, or giving thanks for what the Lord has done.
The Kavady carried in a religious procession also has a pole with a semi-circular arch. The arch is decorated with flowers and palm leaves. The loads attached to the ends of the pole are brass vessels filled with milk or other offerings. Peacock feathers and a vel (spear) are also attached.
A vel is strong, straight and pointed, representing our spinal cord running through the spinal column, to the top part of our brain, which is the highest point of knowledge. It is the spear of wisdom, penetrating the intellect, seeking ultimate reality.
Ancient tribes in India started the Kavady festival by worshipping the rising sun. They believed that the sun could not only provide heat and light but it could symbolically consume all sin and redeem devotees.
That is why devotees are dressed in yellow during the festival.
There are various types of Kavadies. Some of these are Manjal (turmeric powder) symbolising worries and debts, Pushpa (flowers) symbolising progress and success, Paal (milk) symbolising good life and prosperity, Thayier (sour milk) symbolising sickness, Illanier (tender coconut) symbolising conceiving, Then (honey) symbolising truthfulness and honesty, Vibhoothi (holy ash) symboling blessings.