Thaipoosam Cavadee Celebration in Mauritius  
Mauritian Tamils celebrate the Thaipoosam Cavadee to demonstrate with dignity and fervour their affection and allegiance to Lord Muruga. The date of the celebration is fixed according to the Tamil calendar and occurs in the months of January and February

. Devotees fast for ten whole days before Cavadee. On each of the ten fasting days devotees gather in the temple to offer worship.

On the night preceding the Cavadee celebration devotees prepare their Cavadees. The Cavadee is constructed with sculptured wood and decorated with green leaves (mostly of medicinal value), banana tree bark, V-shaped coconut shoots and flowers of all colours. They vary in shape and form according to the devotees' imagination and dexterity. Some may take the shape of a peacock, others that of a temple but the commonest one is the arch with the shape of a spear protruding in the middle.

At dawn on the tenth day of fasting, the penitents assemble at the temple before moving in procession to the river for the rites of purification. After bathing in the river the penitents change into saffron or crimson-hued loin-cloths worn in the traditional manner. The male devotees do not cover the upper part of the body. Sacred ash is smeared on their forehead, shoulders, joints of arms, wrists, torso and chest.

Offerings including small silver needles are placed on a plantain leaf in front of the Cavadee. Camphor is lit, and incense is burnt as part of a brief ceremony to invoke Muruga's blessing. The priest and his attendants now go from one Cavadee to another, pouring fresh cow milk from a can, into two small brass pots. The pots are immediately covered with a plantain leaf and a small piece of cloth; they are then tied to each side of the Cavadee.

In a supreme spirit of devotion and self-sacrifice, the penitents have their bodies pierced with the needles. The needles pierce the skin in symmetrical arcs and patterns on the chest, the back, the torso, the arms, the thighs. In some cases, in accordance with the penitent's vow, a longer needle is driven through the cheeks and another needle is driven straight through the tongue forming a sort of mouth lock. The devotee is thus unable to utter anything, communicating only through gestures.

Some Cavadee carriers bristle with needles set in an elaborate pattern with interlinking chains. Others are pierced with hooks to which limes are suspended. Yet some others draw a small chariot by means of chains fixed to hooks which have been dug into their sides. And then there are a few who have their foreheads pierced. Female devotees have either the cheeks or the tongue pierced. They carry a big brass pot filled with milk on their head. Devotees who do not have any part of their body pierced wear a piece of saffron-dyed cloth around the mouth instead. Each chariot carrier holds in one hand a rattan stick which stands for Muruga's mace. All the needles, big or small, are sharp and pointed at one end, with the other end shaped like a spear. They stand for the vel (spear) that Lord Muruga always carries with him. The needle-shaped Cavadee is similarly in honour of the valorous Muruga.

When the piercing ceremony has been completed, at a signal from the priest, the procession starts to move. The devotees carry the Cavadees across their backs like a yoke. A few choose to walk all the way to the temple on wooden sandals studded with nails. It is always the Kovil Cavadee (i.e. the temple Cavadee) that leads the procession. It is always this Cavadee that enters the Kovil first. Preceding it by a few paces another devotee carries one or two wooden maces. In some places, Lord Muruga's big long needle is carried.

The procession headed by Lord Muruga's chariot slowly makes its way to the temple, followed by groups of young men and girls, often dressed in yellows and greens and garlanded with golden flowers, playing Kummi and Kolaattam. The former is played by striking the two palm the hands against one's partner's palms, at regular intervals. The Kolaattam is played with two sticks. There are special rhythmic songs for these. The Kummi and Kolaattam groups may either lead the procession or follow at the end. Thus a touch of gaiety is given to an otherwise austere procession. People who are unable to participate wait on the route to make offerings and receive blessing. People also open their taps to let water flow on the roads. Many others pour bucket-fulls of saffron-mixed water over the body and feet of Cavadee carriers. Sweetened water with lime is offered to the followers and passers-by. These little gestures of piety are held in great ecstasy since they bring to the doer the blessings and pardon of Lord Muruga. The Cavadee carrier is considered to be a pure soul and worthy of worship so his feet are touched in veneration.

No stranger is allowed to join the procession. Most devotees walk bare-foot. Nobody smokes or eats anything on the way. Continuous reading is kept on. Religious songs are broadcast from loudspeakers mounted on car roofs. Now and then, if the penitent expresses such a wish, a close relative is allowed to carry his Cavadee in order to provide a temporary relief.

Each region has between forty to a hundred Cavadees. In bigger places like Port-Louis there may be six to eight hundred. The procession is long and slow. Since January and February are summer months, the heat is oppressive. Arrangements are made with local Municipalities, District Councils or Sugar Estates to have the routes doused with water from water-lorries.

When the Cavadees enter the temple, they go thrice round the courtyard. At this juncture, babies who are to be blessed are laid on the ground and the Cavadee-carriers step over them. Men and women of all ages prostrate themselves. Some carriers accomplish the three rounds on their knees.

Once inside, the Cavadee is dismounted, and the needles removed. Sacred ash is sprinkled on the devotee amidst shouts of Arogara (Glory to God). Not a single drop of blood comes out. The devotee experiences no pain. After this the devotee brings the two brass pots filled with milk to the priest. The milk always remains pure, fresh and wholesome in spite of the heat and the arduous journey.

The milk is poured over the deity from head to foot. A little of this milk is collected in the brass pot and given back. This blessed milk is drunk and shared by everyone with deep veneration. Now and then the deity is washed with water. People rush to take this water in their cupped hands and drink it. There is great joy on everyone's face. An act of great sacrifice has been consummated and Lord Muruga has blessed everyone.

In the outer yard of the temple temporary marquees have been erected. Vegetarian food is served to everyone, irrespective of creed and community. At about four o'clock, a big ceremony is held to request Lord Muruga to shower His Grace upon one and all, including the other people of the country. After the ceremony, Cavadees are taken home. This time relatives and friends are allowed to carry them. Carriers choose their partners for the Cavadee dance and the Cavadees start weaving and rocking, sinking and rising, bobbing and twirling to the rhythmic beat of the drums in the hot sun. Yes, it is a dance of joy and liberation. By vanquishing their fears and desires the penitents have earned the grace of God. The Cavadee is no longer a yoke, it is a crown.

The next day devotees again gather at the temple to take part in a brief ceremony which ends the very elaborate and austere festival called ThaipoosamCavadee.
Picture Gallery

A Cavadee procession

Laying the offerings in front of the Cavadees

Children participating in the procession

A prayer spot by the river side

Cavadee gathering at the river side

Preparing for the ritual bath in the river

Proceeding with the piercing ceremony

Silver needles in symmetrical archs

The Kummi group

The Kollaatam group

A devotee carrying a Cavadee and pulling a chariot

A penitent wearing nails-studded sandals

A Tamil Kovil (Temple) in Mauritius

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