Thai Poosam Kavady Flag Raising - 22 Jan'18
Ever year thousands of Hindus gather around temples in Durban to observe the Kavady Festival in worship of Lord Muruga, a deity in Hinduism. It is a Hindu festival and tradition that was carried over from India where Hindus observe a fast and carry a kavady which is a semi circular structure, decorated with flowers, ferns palm leaves and a vel (spear like weapon that Lord Muruga holds in his hand), lime, sacred ashes and peacock plumes (the peacock is the vehicle of Lord Muruga) and bearing brass vessels of milk. This kavady is carried on the devotee’s shoulder from a river or ground to Lord Muruga’s shrine at a near temple during the Kavady Festival. The festival is a South Indian tradition that is observed during the Tamil Month of Thai (mid January till Mid February). It is then called the Thai Poosam Kavady and again held in April. Temples around Durban partake in this festival and draws thousands of devotees from their local community.
The significance of the Kavady Festival
As humans, we are bound to commit sins and we need to better ourselves and create harmony within and among ourselves. In order to do this we need to recognize and pinpoint our wrong, we need to confess and be willing to repent for our sins. A vow to carry the Kavady is an admission of our sins and a willingness to change. Many devotees also take the vow to cure their illnesses.
The observation of the festival
Nine days before the actual procession, Lord Muruga’s flag is hoisted at temples around Durban. The devotees start observing a strict fast, abstaining from meat, alcohol and sexual contact. The Kavadies are loaned out to the devotees by the temple for a minimal fee. On the tenth day the Kavadies are washed and decorated with flowers, ferns, palm leaves and other greenery. At an auspicious hour the Kavadies are hoisted on their shoulders and carried by the devotees in a procession to a near river or grounds. There the Kavadies are washed with rose water and holy ashes. The peacock feathers, lime and the secret vel are tied to the Kavady. Two brass vessels of milk are also tied to the Kavady, one at either end. The main prayer starts before twelve o’ clock where the devotees sing, chant while some devotees go into a trance and have silver pins, needles and hooks pierced into their tongue, cheeks and bodies. The amazing thing is that they shed no blood or feel no pain. Soon the return journey begins where the Kavadies are carried back to the temple and off loaded at Muruga’s feet and the vessels of milk are poured over his shrine and becomes blessed milk called Abishegam milk which is given to the devotees. The devotees take light refreshments of milk and fruits and return home. On the third day therafter the fasting is concluded with the lowering of the flag.
Kavady is held twice a year in Durban at most of the temples. Thousands of people partake in this festival by taking vows to carry Kavady or to give milk and vegetarian meals to the people that join the festival.