Kavadi is the ceremonial sacrifice to Lord Murugan or Subramanya which is celebrated in South India, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Singapore, Malaysia, Reunion Island and the largely Hindu diaspora in the western countries. Kavadi has its deep roots in Bhakti-Hatha-Raja Yogas from the time of Adi Yogi, Shiva. The Kavadi bearer goes through strict austerities for self-purification of mind and body.
In Canada, Kavadi is celebrated at the Sivavanda Ashram’s Ayyappa Subramanya temple in a small village of Val-Morin, Quebec.
VIDEO: The Kavadi procession at Subramanya Temple, Val-Morin, Canada
The Glory of Kavadi:
Kavadi represents sadhana, devotion and courage which are all part of the essence of yoga. From the start to the final offering day, the bearer practices Bhakti yoga through devotion, Raja yoga with concentration through meditation and Hatha yoga by building physical endurance. The devotee in the entire process destroys their ego and demonstrates courage, faith and endurance by bearing the Kavadi and the Vel.
According to legend, Lord Subramanya is the embodiment of Lord Shiva’s light and wisdom and devotees pray to him to overcome the obstacles they face to conquer evil. The person who performs Kavadi, goes through the actual physical burden to seek help from the divine.
What is Kavadi and Kavadi Attam?
Kavadi is a weight-balanced shape made of a heavy wooden stick which stays on the shoulders. It is decorated with ornaments, flowers and peacock feathers. The brass bells attached to the kavadi announce the moving Kavadi-bearer who has often taken the vow of silence through a piercing in the tongue or cheek. Kavadi Attam is a ceremonial sacrificial dance performed by the bearer to Lord Muruga.
Photo: Kavadi Attam, the ceremonial burden dance
How does the Kavadi-bearer prepare for the celebration?
The Kavadi-bearer has to observe strict rules from the day he decides to take up the Kavadi to the day of offering. The person has to perform daily ceremonies and customary practices in a spiritual environment. Often the bearer wears saffron clothing and will wear Rudraksha-malas around the neck. The Kavadi-bearer observes celibacy and leads a satvic life during the preparations for the final offering day.
Photo: A Kavadi bearer pierced on the back
Kavadi festival in Val-Morin:
Kavadi around the world is celebrated during the Thaipusam/Thaipooyam festival in the month of January or February. The word Thaipusam (in Tamil) is a combination of the name of the month, Thai, and the name of a star, Pusam/Pooyam.
Photo: Sivananda Ashram, Val-Morin – Airfield
The annual Kavadi festival in Val-Morin happens every year in the month of July. Thousands of people participate in the day-long event which starts at the temple and is then followed by a procession. Lord Muruga, the main temple deity is taken in a chariot pulled by hundreds of people and circles the main streets in the town of Val-Morin. The devotion and energy is so high, that men, women and children walk along with the procession with no signs of pain or strain.
Photo: The chariot of the procession
The Kavadi-bearers often pierce the ‘Vel’ or ‘Spear’ through the tongue or cheeks. This shows us the sadhana, devotion, courage and the endurance of mind that it takes.
Photo: A ‘Vel’ pierced on cheeks
The bearer is seen always dancing in ecstasy with no signs of pain or burden. The Kavadi procession terminates after the tour around the town with the drum and the priests chanting various hymns.
Photo: The concluding ritual by breaking the coconut
As Swami Vishnu envisioned, the Ayyappa Subramanya temple was built in 1992 on a mountain close to the Sivananda Ashram complex. Today, the temple stands as a pillar of worship, practice, unity and peace for thousands of people.