Mauritius is quite some kind of a multicultural melting pot, with a curious blend of Indian, Chinese, British, French, and African influences. Peaceful coexistence among the people has created a friendly society, while the diversity has added color to the continent through various cultural activities and religious festivals. Thaipoosam Cavadee is one of the most popular festivals, among the Tamil descendants in Mauritius.
Along with the fire-walking and sword climbing ceremonies, Cavadee ranks among the most spectacular events in the land. It is usually celebrated in the 10th month of the Tamil calendar which falls between January and February.
Kodi Etram: 10-day Purification Period
A flag hoisting ceremony known as Kodi Etram is celebrated in grand style with incantation, devotional music and pomp, ten days before the Cavadee. Rituals are performed in the kovils (temples) everywhere while the flag remains flying until the festival ends. A 10-day soul cleansing period of purification strictly is observed by the devotees through fasting, penitence and prayers. Family members also participate by observing a rigorous vegetarian diet. Prayers and texts from the Hindu scriptures are read daily at home and kovils for the purgation of passion and desire.
KAVADI: The Burden of Devotion
The kavadi is symbolic of the mountains and is a physical burden borne by the devotee on the shoulder to the kovil to entreat Lord Muruga, the Tamil war deity for help and solace. Made by the devotees themselves, the kavadi is an arched bamboo structure, firmed with rods and decorated with flowers, coconuts leaves, lime, peacock feathers and other adornments, with pots of milk hanging at each end.
On the main day, the devotees are dressed in fuchsia or saffron, while the men are often bare-chested with just a loin cloth. They are accompanied to river banks or sea by their relatives for the ablution rituals, where the officiating priests join them. Fires are lit for self-purification and to sanctify the Kavadis, while fruits, milk, rose water, incense, etc. are offered.
A chariot carrying the image of Muruga is then pulled back to the kovils in a procession, while the kavadi carriers gyrate hypnotically to the sound of devotional trance music. Instead of kavadis, the women and children carry brass pots of ‘sacred milk.’ Most devotees have their cheeks and tongue pierced through with tiny spears known as vels, while some men have additional piercings on chests, legs, abdomen and backs.
For those who choose not to be pierced, they cover their mouths with a scarf to maintain their vow of silence, devotion and meditation. At the kovils, once the vels have been removed and offerings brought to the feet of the deities, devotees and visitors are served a vegetarian meal called prasadam on banana leaves.
Thaipoosam is derived from two Tamil words: Thai or Tai (the 10th month), and Poosam (the highest position of a star).
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