The Tamil celebration of Thaipoosam Cavadee was celebrated in Mauritius on Saturday and I decided to wake up early and wander down to a small kovil (temple) in the north.
Last year, we were in France during Cavadee and so this year I wanted to try to experience it as much as I could in my own local, non-Tamil, non-Hindi, ‘I-have-no-clue-what’s-going-on’ kind of way.
This meant doing lots of reading about the holiday beforehand and asking many questions to some of the local people whom I used to work with in downtown Port Louis.
My book of Hinduism that I purchased in the States before arriving, doesn’t even mention Cavadee or Lord Muruga, who is the main Hindu deity of the festival. Apparently, this publication’s focus is only on the Hindus in the North of India.
Hinduism, as I have slowly learned, is a massive sprawling religion and I had no idea just how varied it was until I moved to Mauritius. Wowza. My on-line research made my head spin.
I would start reading about Lord Muruga and Cavadee in Mauritius when suddenly I would find myself reading about Subramanya, Skanda, Kartikeya – just some of his MANY other names. I started clicking away on the different names and discovered a bit about the Chinese Hindus in Malaysia and about how the world’s tallest statue of Muruga is actually in Kuala Lumpur (interesting fact). The information was coming at me from all over the place. I needed some focused answers.
And so, I’d like to give a HUGE shout-out to the two wonderful, young women who answered all of my questions regarding the holiday in Mauritius. I received some concrete information, did not make a fool of myself and was at the temple on time. Merci.
Here are a few rapid, super-quick, attention-deficit-disorder items about Cavadee that I learned and other items I noticed on Saturday.
To any Mauritian who may be reading this: If I have incorrectly stated something, please – by all means – add a comment to correct or add to the item. Be patient with me. I’m trying my best to understand. But, remember how long it took me to remember many of your names? Baby steps, folks. Baby steps. 😉
- Before the high- holiday on Saturday, people may choose to fast for 10 days prior. There are prayer services at the temple on each of these days, as well.
- The celebration is to honor and show devotion to Lord Muruga.
- Lord Muruga is considered to be a god of war; therefore, many of the symbols used to identify him are war-like. For example, he carries a spear or sword.
- He rides a peacock (very cool in my opinion).
- The outside of the temple is decorated the night before the celebration. I saw dried palms tied into shapes, prayer flags and fresh flowers which were all strung together to make garlands that were then strung around the temple. Large posters of Lord Muruga were also hung outside the temple’s main doorway.
- The celebration of Thaipoosam Cavadee is held on the full moon during the Tamil month of Thai. Here in Mauritius the first full moon of the year was shining brightly over the weekend.
- There is a procession from the sea or river to the temple during the morning of Thaipoosam Cavadee.
- Some of the people in the procession carry a cavadee or pull a decorated cart.
- Many of the cavadees that I saw were carried on the shoulders and were shaped into an arch with a pointed top. They were decorated with green leaves, lots of flowers and pictures of Muruga.
- The color of the day is this gorgeous hot, vibrant pink. Men, women and children may wear this color.
- Some people may rub sacred ash on their bodies and others may pierce themselves with small silver needles with a flat, diamond shape on the end. When I was doing my research before the holiday, I read that men would pierce their backs and chests with needles and that some men and women would pierce a needle through their cheeks and through their tongues. At the procession that I saw, I really didn’t see many people with pierced cheeks or backs.
- Many of the women and children had hot pink scarves tied around their heads to cover their mouths.
- Some women and girls carry small pots of milk on their heads.
- The procession that I saw started with a small group of girls playing the Kolaattam, songs sung and played by banging together two sticks.
- The road for the procession is kept wet by water trucks dumping water along the route.
- I was told by the local police and by others that the procession would leave the sea at around 9 a.m. and arrive at the temple around 10 or 10:30 a.m.
- The temple had some great music playing from early morning when I arrived (7 a.m.) until after the full procession reached the temple (11 a.m.).
I went alone to the temple and my personal Cavadee experience was rather interesting and exciting – that is, until the mobs of tourists started to arrive.
These tourists, in my opinion, could have tried to be a tad less obvious. It was one of the few occasions here where I made certain to mention that I was an American and that I was a lone ranger for the day.
I was enjoying the morning just hanging outside the temple chatting to the police, listening to the temple music and watching things quietly progress from the side of the road.
It was hot and getting hotter by the hour so I was sticking to the shady areas while snapping the occasional photo. A few people actually posed for me while I took some photos in front of the temple (merci! to the gracious women that allowed me to indulge my admiration of bright saris in the sunshine by clicking away).
And then, just when it felt like the sleepy morning was finally starting to wake up, the tourists came.
Now, I realize that I am kind of like a tourist here, or at least I definitely look like a tourist complete with my big ol’ camera slung over my shoulder and I had been hanging out there since 7 a.m.; but I just would never do what some of these tourists were doing.
As the mini-buses started to drop them off by the side of the road, some of the tourists took off their shoes and went inside the temple to walk around and to take photos. No one objected to this and it wasn’t a big deal.
Maybe it’s because I’m a P.K. or maybe it’s because I think it would be odd to have a mini-bus of people dropped off at the church on Christmas Eve or Easter during the church service, come inside and start walking around taking photos, but I never go into any structure and wander about when it is currently in use for a religious holiday. It’s just my take.
Personally, when there isn’t a religious service or ceremony going on, I see no problem with entering sacred buildings as long as you follow the rules for entry. But then again, I grew up crawling underneath the altar and sneaking bits of communion wafers out of the church storage closets in between services. I may have a rather skewed angle on this.
But grazing about during a religious, festival day in the middle of devotions while wearing a bikini and a sheer beach cover-up? Well, that just seemed slightly obnoxious.
Because I’m feeling kind of ‘listish’, I shall continue and offer a few simple tips to tourists experiencing Cavadee in Mauritius:
- Wear pants. Heck, just wear proper clothing. In fact, maybe even snaz it up a bit just like everyone else. After all, it is another culture’s religious holiday not a ride at a water park or an attraction at Euro Disney.
- Observe proper parade etiquette. As a procession watcher, you should stand at the side of the road and watch. You should not, as so many of you seemed to think, stand in the middle of the procession and block it while taking head-on snapshots.
- Take off your shoes when you enter the temple and shoes or no shoes, please do not try to scale the temple ground walls.
- Do not smoke and snack while watching the procession or while roaming around the temple grounds. I know what it’s like when a snack attack hits, but just try to hold off for an hour or so. The pool bar will still be open when you return back to the hotel.
- If you see someone who appears to be praying, please just let them pray. Do not lightly tap them on the shoulder to ask questions. They don’t ‘work’ there and are not taking a ‘break’.
- Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a religious or spiritual person, try to understand that this stuff is really important to some people. There is a reason for it all.
The people who belong to this particular temple in the north are obviously used to the masses of tourists that come to descend upon them each Cavadee and have clearly adapted as necessary.
Thinking back to the festival and to other encounters I’ve had here, I now find that respect and understanding, even if it’s just a little bit, is what I’m after these days.
Perhaps, it’s easier for me to see the details now or maybe the heat has just slowed me down to the point of being able to sit quietly and observe from afar for hours at a time.
When you really just sit back and gently watch people in different cultures while letting go of what’s comfortable to you, I think you begin to gain a very subtle respect from the people who you are quietly interacting with. It’s as if everyone starts to feel the same unspoken vibe of the situation even though each person is witnessing it with his or her own unique view.
At least, that’s what my heat-soaked head thought was going on at the time. We could have all just been experiencing some sort of collective misery about the blaring sun and the steaming pavement.
Right before the procession came down the tiny lane next to the temple, I was squatting Indian style (hurrah for yoga!) by the side of the road watching two women put the shoes back on the feet of a toddler who had accompanied them inside the temple. He was squirming around and not making the task any easier.
I made the tiniest of grins and continued to watch different people coming and going to the temple. When the shoes were successfully on the young boy’s feet, one of the women came over to me and gave me a banana from the basket of fruit that she had taken to the temple as an offering.
Maybe there was a limit put on banana offerings at the temple or maybe she just decided to keep a few extra.
While all the tourists rushed about creating a rather large presence and energy that could not be ignored, I squatted in the heat by the side of the road and ate my little banana.