At Connecticut…

On Friday, 1st Nov, Swami Vimokshananda left New Jersey for Connecticut. Ranjitda of Moorestown arranged transport. Ms Vellachi Arunachalam accompanied the Swami during the 3-hour travel. The Swami expressed that he was overwhelmed at the charitable nature of Chettinad people who came abroad from India and their contributions in building temples in foreign lands should be etched in golden letters. He told her that he was happy to meet her who belonged to that wonderful community.
The Swami reached the home of his hosts Debashis-Nibedita at Connecticut by late evening. The next day, the Swami was taken to Wilton Hindu Temple where the Skanda Sashti Festival was on.
Swami Balgopal Maharaj, a Vaishnavite sadhu and Incharge of the Temple duly welcomed him. The Swami witnessed the orderly puja done to Lord Muruga in the big size image and also at the utsava vigrahas. The Festival saw surging devotees visiting the temple throughout the puja time. The puja included abhishekams (pouring milk, honey, vibhuti, and sanctified water etc), carrying kavadis on the shoulders, taking the pal kudams (milk pitchers), chanting of powerful bija mantras of Lord Shanmukha through Shatru-samhara trisati archana (floral offerings) using “sha-ra-va-na-bha-va“ in a unique rotational method.
After the noon prasad, Swami Vimokshananda was taken to Hicksville of Long Island to witness the Mata-ki-Chowki function held at Sai Durbar Temple. Thereafter, both the Swamis with accompanying devotees reached the home of Kamal Raj where Swami Balgopal Maharaj performed an hour long puja and hawan.
It was indeed a hectic program-filled travel on that day.
On 3rd and 4th Nov, the Swami was the guest of his sister-disciple Rakhidi at Shelton. The members and others met the Swami at her home and held a Satsang.

The Swami conducted a discussion where he outlined the importance of experience in religious life. The Swami returned to Moorestown in New Jersey on 5th Nov with Debashis-Nibedita, visiting on the way the Vedanta Society of New York. On 6th Nov, Soumen-Sushmita saw off the Swami at the Philadelphia airport for his return journey to Dublin.

For more photos on this event please click here.

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!

Mythology
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.