Thai pusam

I owe an apology to all avid readers of this Blog for not placing my ‘posts’ on a regular basis. On an average two write-ups in a month was quite in order. But recently the last ‘post’ that came up on 24 March (Sri Rama navami day) was practically stranded as it was not followed up with other posts. That gave rise to mild apprehension in the minds of many devotees who wrote to me personally requesting me to continue this blog.

Well, I had not decided to ‘discontinue’ it but due to the need for more time in my personal pursuits of scriptural study, I had to stop writing. But I can see that it produced indeed negative effect on me in that when I sat to type out my ideas, (to honour the devotees’ requests?), I had to squarely face what is called a ‘Writer’s Block’.

However as one of our senior monks, Revered Swami Prabhanandaji Maharaj who is presently the General Secretary of our Order, well known for being a prolific writer and deep thinker, once told me that to get over the ‘block’ one has to continue writing every day without fail. Even merely copying a passage or two from any book will help in the removal of the block as thoughts would start flowing reading the ideas. I have seen him how after mangalarati and his personal sadhana in Belur Math, he would sit and write every morning. I do advise children ‘Write, write; right will you be’. I should have practiced it!

So I place here the recent one, practically adapted from some of the info collection that I had. This was prepared under pressure of running out of time for printing of Jyoti, the quarterly magazine of our Centre, published from South Africa.

Hindus have a large number of religious festivals. The essential purpose of holding a variety of celebrations is to make the human mind understand that Life itself a celebration. Moving from place to place in the process of doing a pilgrimage is again to make us understand that the power of God is every where.

Lord Muruga
Lord Muruga's lovely sanctum in Port Elizabeth, SA

One such celebration is Thai Pusam. Thousand of devotees of Lord Muruga who is otherwise known as Skanda, Subramanya, Kartik, throng the places where He is worshipped. In the Bhagavad Gita Sri Krishna, while enumerating the God’s glory says that ‘ senaninamaham skandah’ – I am Skanda of the warrior-chiefs. (Ch X – Verse 24)

Thai Pusam is celebrated on the day of the Pusam star in the Tamil month of Thai, which falls between January and February. Devotees in their colourful clothes come in families and express their brimming joy keeping of course to the rules of the sacred nature of the festival.

What is Kavadi?
The grand ritual of this festival is to carry Kavadi. What is Kavadi? It is an arch (made of wood or iron) on a wooden base. Peacock feathers and colourful flowers are used for its decoration. In it, is placed a picture of Lord Muruga. Two pots, usually filled with milk, are hung at both ends of this wooden base. The devotee carries this Kavadi on his shoulders to the temple, which is usually perched on a hill, where the milk is poured over the statue of Lord Muruga within the temple’s sanctum sanctorum. The Kavadi is carried after the observation of austerities like fasting, sleeping on the mat spread on the floor, eating only vegetarian meals etc lasting anywhere from a minimum of a week to the recommended 48 days.

Kavadi dance
The bearers of Kavadi dance along the route they travel to reach the temple. Those accompanying them break out in song or chant mantras. As the lead singer renders the songs, usually drawn from the kavadi chindu, a collection of songs specifically written for kavadi carrying, others in the group pick up the chorus or simply shout “Vel, Vel” at the end of each line.

Tinesh kavadi
a devotee shouldering Kavadi...courtesy image : TG

The twists and twirls done vigorously by the Kavadi dancers so as to balance the kavadi on thieir shoulders keeping to the beat of the mridangam (drums used in Carnatik music) and the melody of the nadasawaram (a conical wind instrument) is a scene of delight to the onlookers. The more experienced dancers show their artistry by shifting the kavadi over their shoulders, head and chin without using their hands. The kavadi aattam, a tandava (or masculine form of dance), produces a feeling of joy in the dancer as well as the spectators.

What is Kavadi Chindu?
Kavadi chindu is a generic name for a variety of Tamil folk songs. They are light compositions in Tamil, light only in the tunes, which could be sung even by children but the words potent with depth of meaning. They are popular for being simple, emotionally satisfying and spiritually appealing. The songs have stanzas but no pallavi, anupallavi and charana divisions and mostly are in praise of Lord Subramanya and are steeped in bhakti. The Kavadi Chindu relies heavily on folk music. In music concerts Kavadichindu finds a place at the tail end among the ‘tukkadas’. The ‘mudugu’ or the quick rhythmic tempo is a distinctive aspect of ‘kavadi chindu’. The songs are meant to be sung by people who carry the kavadias as an offering. This charming variety of Tamil folk song was composed and popularized by Annamalai Reddiar. He was born at Chennimalai in Tirunelvelli District of Tamil Nadu. A person of vivacious personality, he is stated to have led 
a reckless life and had spiritual transformation by developing bhakti to Lord Muruga and died in his young age of twenty-six.

Do you want to listen to some of the compositions of Kavadi chindu? See here and listen to some lilting tunes!

Thai Pusam signifies the day Lord Muruga received the Vel (spike) from His parents Siva and Parvati. According to Skanda purana, Lord Subramanya used this Vel to vanquish Tarakasur.  The demon symbolizes ego, action and its fruits and also ignorance. The weapon Vel cleaves these three limitations and frees the soul from bondage. Union with Muruga is the ultimate result.

In South Africa

The early Tamils who came to South Africa, despite vast improvements in their material life kept up the ancient practice of carrying Kavadi that brings them a definite social identity. The tenth day of Thai Pusam, being the last day attracts devotees to various Murugan temples. Nowadays Hindus irrespective of Language they belong to, carry Kavadis. One can see the Kavadi carriers pierce silver and gold pins through their tongues, cheeks and body. It is estimated that about 4000 kavadis are taking on that single day all over South Africa. The Seval Flag (Rooster insignia) considered holy is hoisted at the beginning of the festival. There are at least two major Kavadi festivals in a year around January and April.

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18 thoughts on “Thai pusam

  1. Adarneeya Maharajji,
    Saadar Pranaam!
    I remember the incident of Thakurji calling Master Mahashay as peacock being addicted to Opium. It seems we are also addicted to VEDANTA IN PRACTICE in the same way!
    Though after a big gap, we have got a very good “dose of opium”!!
    After reading about THAI PUSAM and specially about KAVADI, I think this is something similar to KAVAD in North. In the month of Shravan people fill GANGAJAL in small pots, put these pots on a KAVAD and does JALABHISHEK at BAIDYNATH JYOTIRLING.
    This also reinforces the Sharat Maharaj’s theory that in ancient times there was a national life in WHOLE OF INDIA including NORTH and SOUTH. Like GAYATRI, GITA, GANGA, GAU, GURU were worshipped throughout the country.
    To get information on various festivals and cultural practices is in itself a binding factor for Nationalism and Patriotism.
    Once again my humble pranaam!
    Mumbai, India


    1. ||Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
      Dear Bharat
      Well, thanks for the enjoyable pun! I never knew that this blog has become a opium! If thats so, then its time to think seriously to stop it as we don’t approve of any maadak dravya!
      My sincere apologies for keeping the blog stranded!
      From today I hope to keep my blog updated.
      I may add here that besides being the ‘binding factor’ in bringing out the chord of nationalism and patriotism, the various festivals among the Hindus have an ennobling effect in raising us from brute to human level and then with culture it transforms into divine. There are indeed many similarities in Kavadi practice as followed in North and South. Vedanta preaches looking for oneness in the variety.
      Please do visit from time to time.
      May Mother be with you!
      Swami Vimokshananda


  2. Om Namo Narayanaya
    Pranam to Swamiji Maharaj!
    Thanks to Maharaj for the enlightening information on the highly popular festival of Kavady. It was such a joy to learn of this post!
    Whatever the content of Maharaj’s posts may be, it establishes a much needed connection between reader and Maharaj. I would describe it more as in elixir, an ambrosia for the soul than a heady dose of “opium” as Brother Bharath lovingly refers to Maharaj’s blog! But it is no less addictive.
    Such is the power of Maharaj’s words.
    Hari Om Tat Sat.
    Sister Nirmala
    Ladysmith, SA


    1. ||Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
      Dear Nirmala
      Thanks for your wise words! Indeed, I cannot refute your saying that this blog “establishes a much needed connection between reader and Maharaj.” But to maintain this “connection” I will have to keep up the “bandwidth connection” which went to the ‘capped’ limit recently and I was helpless for a few days which, in turn, ‘ice-capped’ my enthusiasm to write!!
      As Master says the world is full of dualities. The Hindu mythology refers to a story of ‘churning the ocean’ and you know what all came about. One variety was ambrosia and another was poison! So if this blog is whether opium or elixir to some, then, to some others it may be the latter too. Nevertheless, it becomes an addiction as one professed atheist wrote to me that he regularly goes through my posts though he was not in a position to agree with what I post!
      May Mother be with you!
      Swami Vimokshananda


  3. Revered Maharaj,
    Om Namo Narayanaya,
    We are indeed happy to once again have an update on Maharaj’s blog. It was truely missed.
    As Vedanta preaches looking for oneness in variety – Kavady is an annual in our household. I was pleasantly humbled and blessed to also see a picture of my youngest brother Tinesh Govender, in this post.
    Thank you Maharaj for your continous spiritual education and guidance.
    Yours at the feet of Sri Ramakrishna,
    Durban, SA


    1. ||Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
      Dear Yash
      Thanks for your nice sentiments!
      Yes, I am happy to know that you and your brothers do carry kavadi. Any ritual in Hinduism has got deep inner significance. Have you ever wondered how carrying the kavadi may indicate that we, every one of us is actually carrying every time the burden of our past karmas? Unless we perform our karma as surrender to God, we shall be bound to our actions eternally. Piercing one’s own body may figuratively indicate that are we not piercing our mind with worries, problems and concerns? All come to an end when we alight the kavadi from our shoulders and take rest in the lap of God.
      May you be blessed!
      Swami Vimokshananda


  4. Revered Maharaj
    And the wait has, as always, been absolutely worth it. Patience really does pay. This is a beautifully written article on a subject which I knew nothing of till now. Thank you Revered Maharaj…
    Really enjoyed reading this wonderful article.
    Please accept my humble regards!
    New Delhi, India


    1. ||Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
      Dear Skendha
      You are welcome. Our country is so vast that there are any number of localised celebrations which indeed are difficult to know of. Even the cultural practices sometimes seem to differ wide off the mark not to speak of the mannerism. I remember once just when I had joined Kanpur Ashram in 1971, after night supper I was strolling within the campus along with some other brahmacharins. Now in Chennai, we boys were used to wear dhotis and while doing free walk we used to fold to knee length and because of habit I just did so. (You must have seen in TV news etc of men in South India walk even in the streets with knee length folded dhotis! It is absolutely normal.) And I never expected such reaction from my co-brahmacharins from North who took that as offense. It took some time for me to realise that such practice was not desirable and to make them understand what I did was just a normal one!
      So, in Life we continue to learn about one another. And in South Africa every moment is a learning experience for me. And there are hilarious situations often occurring due to my ignorance of the local customs and practices! Oh! sometimes I use those instances in my lectures when people laugh heartily! Of course, many devotees here say that I have become a SA Indian in my English delivery!
      And what happened to your interesting blog? Today when I tried only Blogger official page is displayed. Did you delete it? If you had done so, then I shall miss some emotional writings.
      With prayers
      Swami Vimokshananda


  5. Revered Maharaj
    True it is indeed..!
    How diverse is the country and the various rites and rituals that adorn it.
    I have also enjoyed reading your personal experience of confrontation with this cultural gap.
    Thank you once again for your kind query about my blog. I have not deleted it though I did not find any time or inspiration for it lately. Maybe I have not yet found my writing space.
    But I am truly glad to delve into this holy space of yours for warmth and knowledge tinctured with spiritual light.
    With sincere pranam
    New Delhi, India


    1. ||Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
      Dear Skendha
      Most welcome!
      May Mother Saraswati Bhagavati be “nihshesha jaadyaapahaa”!
      with prayers
      Swami Vimokshananda


  6. Pronam Maharaj
    I was in fact missing your blog so much that I even came on the blog two times to check if there is anything new and maybe I did not get the e-mail or something.
    Thanks for restarting it Maharaj…it is so nice to read your blog.
    Jai Maa!


    1. ||Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
      Dear Gayatri
      I am indeed moved by the devotees like you who have personally written to me as well as telephonically requested to continue this blog. You know very well that Master’s Wish alone will be done.
      with prayers
      Swami Vimokshananda


  7. Revered Maharaj
    Thanks for giving us the information on Kavadi. Its wonderful to know how much devotion and sacrifice goes into this wonderful spiritual festival of Kavadi.
    We did however miss your inspirational writings.
    Love and best wishes from
    Anoop & Family
    Newcastle, SA


    1. ||Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
      Dear Anoop
      Yes, Anoop! Kavadi in South Africa is something special. I remember last year when I was on that kavadi day in Newcastle what a gathering of Murugan devotees in the procession I saw! You clearly explained to me that more and more Hindi-speaking devotees are also joining in that festival thus uniting every one in the name of God. Thats really wonderful!
      I am indeed moved by the devotees like you who have personally written to me as well as telephonically requested to continue this blog. You know very well that Master’s Wish alone will be done.
      with prayers
      Swami Vimokshananda


  8. Revered Maharaj
    Please accept loving pranam at thy feet!
    Visiting Maharaj’s blog is like being in Maharaj’s holy company. A blessing indeed! More importantly, the knowlege that is derived is wonderfully refreshing and elevating!
    It is truly inspiring to see our young lad Thinesh taking part in the Kavady fesitval. I am certain that performance of austerities of this nature will only bring one closer to the Lord and more energy and power will flow to do good works.
    With humble pranam!
    Pietermaritzburg, SA


    1. ||Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
      Dear Avithaa
      Thanks for your appreciative words! But all credit go to Master in whose hands I am trying to be an instrument.
      Yes, Tinesh has a religious bent of mind. You will be happy to know that he has become an active member of the Hindu Forum in his University. He tries to bring in more and more like-minded students for the Satsang at his place. May Godspeed him!
      Swami Vimokshananda


  9. || Sri Ramakrishna Sharanam||
    My salutations at the feet of Master, Holy Mother, Swamiji and Revered Maharaj.
    Aum Namo Narayanaya!
    Dearest Maharaj
    Your post is welcomed like the long awaited rains quenching the thirst of the parched lands.
    Maharaj! this blog serves as a vaccine for the disease and pains of the mundane world.
    Thank you for returning your divine thoughts to this forum.
    With love always
    Tongaat, SA


    1. ||Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
      Dear Yogan
      I am indeed moved by the devotees like you who have personally written to me as well as telephonically requested to continue this blog. You know very well that Master’s Wish alone will be done.
      with prayers
      Swami Vimokshananda


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