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Thaipusam: A conversation with Melrose Muruga

Pierced by Skanda’s Vel

As thousands of devotees converged into Melrose Temple for the final day of Thaipusam Kavady in tribute to the reigning deity, Lord Muruga, devotees all across the world reverberated with ‘Arogaraa’.

The name “Muruga” is translated in “The Beautiful One”. Muruga being beautiful in thought, word and deed.

He carries the Vel signifying knowledge and wisdom.

Vel, Vel, Vetri Vel

Thaipusam represents the full moon day in the Tamil month of Thai. This is a very important day in the Tamil Calendar as it represents the day on which Lord Muruga destroyed the demon Tarakasura.

His Father Lord Shiva gave Lord Muruga 11 weapons. His Mother, Parvathi gave him his 12th weapon, The Vel.

On the day of Thaipusam, Lord Muruga destroyed Tarakasura with The Vel. Thaipusam is therefore one of the most auspicious days to make offerings to Lord Muruga.

The story behind Thaipusam

Thaipusam is in reverence to the Hindu god.  Devotees must also abstain from meat, alcohol and sex during the month prior to Thaipusam.

The festival is observed in areas of southern India, but it is celebrated with far greater fervour within the immigrant Indian communities of South Africa, Mauritius, Malaysia and Singapore, where historically it is linked to the colonial history of British occupation.

Indians from the region of Tamil Nadu began to immigrate all over the world in search of opportunity in the 19th century, largely to work in foreign lands.

Being cut off from their ancestral villages, labouring long hours for menial pay, many turned to the Hindu god Murugan, son of the Lord Shiva, and who, in various versions of the Hindu epics, is seen as a figure of wrath and war.

To many, Lord Murugan has became a symbol of perseverance and hope.

Discovering absolute peace amongst the pain….

To the unfamiliar and many of the tourists who will visit the Melrose Shree Siva Subramaniar Kovil during Kavady season, the immensely physical pain borne by many kavadi-bearers can be hard to look beyond.

But beneath the vivid spectacle, Thaipusam has a quiet and even tender meaning as a demonstration of love and loyalty, especially among Indian males not ordinarily inclined to displays of emotion.

This religious festival of Thaipoosam is a powerful assertion of Tamil pride across South Africa. 

Here’s Naufal Khan‘s personal journey with a devotee at the temple

On the blistering hot Sunday, I arrived at the gate of the Shree Siva Subramaniar Kovil, that pride of being a South African Indian was omnipresent.

The temple was a hive of activity with men and women busying themselves with chores for the day that promised sheer excitement as Lord Muruga is set to to praised.

On the grounds, Sershin Ramaye, a 28 year old merchant banking executive, was busy adorning his arched wooden ‘kavadi’ with flowers, limes and peacock feathers which he is scheduled to carry. 

Ramaye’s mother explains that her son made this promise to carry his ‘kavadi’ every year until he cannot anymore.

A crowd of family and friends circled him, beating drums and chanting ‘bhajans’ – devotional songs.

All to the beat of the musical instrument the mridangam, cymbals and the cries of Arogaraa, the beat and voices of the bhajan singers rising insistently.

You could notice the change in Sershin’s composure as if he was almost another entity altogether. Sershin kept his focus waiting for Arul or the Grace of God to descend upon him.

The vibrations of the raucously loud devotional music was mindblowing for anyone who was around him. My skin crawled as goosebumps rose on me, I could feel something definitively divine present.

The wafting aroma of strong incense, flecks of camphor dancing in a Tandav in front of us, the crackling sound of cloves with its overpowering smell invaded everyone and anything.

I could sense Sershin was already leaving his body to something else, I scanned the clear sky and could almost visualise Lord Skanda majestically poised on his Mayil (peacock) hovering above.

Finally, the spirit of Lord Muruga engulfed Sershin’s entire being, the ritual has reached a new height. The screams of Arogaraa drove my mind into absolute elation being a Murugan devotee myself.

A medley of fish-sized hooks were first inserted into his bare torso and abdomen.

Gray powder the holy ash known as – ‘vibuthi’ was rubbed across his chest and mouth as the most agonizing part began: the insertion of a thin steel needle through his cheeks, followed by a trident-shaped stud into the tip of his tongue.

No blood was present at each piercing on his body or face, his faith was clearly visible as he accepted each steel piercing into his skin.

Ramaye barely flinched, though his father stood away as the most painful piercing took place, looking worried as his son’s eyes closed and his head slowly bobbed up and down.

Sershin was in absolute joy as he peacocked around summoning his most prized item, Lord Muruga’s Vel. Once in his hand firmly he was now fully in tune with the divine.

Finally, a kavadi was hoisted onto his shoulders and the march began. This was the love for the Divine in his form of Lord Muruga and with this act of devotion a measure of peace is found.

Once prayers were conducted and completed inside the main temple hall devotees streamed out as it was time for the flag for Thaipusam to be brought down signifying the end of the Kavadi celebrations.

The atmosphere was tense and emotions flowed from every person as they screamed out the Divines name followed with ‘Vel Vel Vetrivel’ and ‘Arogaraa’.

Lord Muruga on his palanquin was carried around the Kovil as devotees chanted in unison in praise of the Lord.

Very soon after devotees dispersed with a feeling of inner peace as they had completed their journey like the first devotee of Lord Muruga, Idumban.

If there is one experience you must have either as an onlooker, devotee or just curious. Go seek Muruga at Temples wherever you are, divinity is present whether you wish to acknowledge it or not.

Thaipusam at Melrose Temple in Gauteng

The Johannesburg Melrose Shree Siva Subramaniar Temple flag hoisting for the 2019 Thaipusam Kavady will start at 4pm on Saturday, 12 January 2019.

Daily obayams will be offered.

On weekdays, the prayer will start at 6PM. On Saturdays, the prayer will start at 4PM. 

Thaipusam Main day celebrations

Devotees will have the option to carry paal kodums or kavadies on the main day, Monday 21 January 2019.

In view of the eclipse on 21 January, devotees are required to be at the temple from 10am onwards to collect their kavadies. The decorated kavadies must be ready by 1pm as the main prayer will start then. 

Public day celebrations 

Devotees wishing to carry kavadies or paal kodums on the public day, Sunday 27 January 2019 will need to to collect their Kavadies on 26 January, 2019 from 1PM onwards

Please contact Guru Dayalan on 079 696 6445 for more information on bookings and obayams.

Where to find: Melrose Temple is located on 2nd Street in Melrose. For more information, call +27-79-696-6445.

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