Indian subcontinent is renowned for its religious,cultural and linguistic diversity. India doesn't have National language, each state has its own regional language and cultural practices. Being a secular nation it is quite common in India that people of one faith participating in another religion's festivals.
In this post , I would like to document my experience of a religious festival called "Paal kudam" (milk pot ) happened in a town called Karaikudi in Tamilnadu State of India.
During the festival over hundred thousand people carry milk pots over their head and walk for few kilometers from one small temple( starting point -Muthalamman Temple ) to the main temple (Endpoint - Muthumariamman Temple) to pay tribute to the goddess.
Personally i'm against such religious superstitions. When there are millions of people starving to death in one part of the world,wasting such huge quantity of milk in the name of religion is not acceptable to me. I'm of the opinion that if you can't stop the practice then at least donate the milk or use in a better way for humanity than pouring over statue.
During my travel, i was assisting my journalist friend who was covering the festival procession for the local news. I volunteered to assist him for two reasons. As a part of this Hindu religion festival, quite number of people carry a spear pierced across their mouth to express their gratitude and seek blessings. I used to wonder how it is being done without a drop of blood !
Second reason was that, the man who does the piercing is a muslim named Sadiq. Local news need to cover him for secular headlines. As i said earlier it is quite common in India that people of one faith participating in another faith's festivals.
Finding Sadiq in such a big crowd was itself a daunting task . There were others too who does piercing for generations but most of the locals prefer Sadiq over them. Sadiq and his disciples laid their shed in main street near starting point where thousands walk and they were quite busy setting up various kinds of sets for pilgrimages for low money relatively.
Found a place to stand amidst crowd near their team and started conversing with his disciples. Their team brought over 75 spears, fire pots , 101 milk can set etc and they continuously do setting up for 3 days without rest. People pay and do the setup and start walking towards main temple. In the end point ,Sadiq's second set of disciples undo the set and bring back to the starting point. They are washed and reused for next pilgrim like a cycle.
Now that i gathered information, i was ready to observe and click next piercing from start. After taking bath in temple pond devotees start their procession. An old devotee came next for piercing. While he prayed ,his relatives put garland and sought blessings from him. Drums were played at high intensity,some women lost their consciousness and started behaving like as if goddess have got in to them.
Chill bath,followed by high intensity drum beat and prayers.. all these preparations appeared to me like artificial simulation of spirituality. I was the only person amidst that crowd not feeling anything spiritual but was in a clicking spree to capture what happens next. Suddenly the devotee shook his head (considered as divine acceptance ) and he was made to sit on a stool.
Sacred ash (called viboothi or thiruneer in Tamil) was applied on his cheek and quickly a big steel spear was inserted from one end of the cheek. While one of the disciple held the spear in one end, Sadiq quickly pulled the spear inside mouth.
In the next second, he applied the ash on the inner side of other cheek and started piercing out. Initially, Saidq held the spear in single hand to find the center balance point and a lemon was inserted to that point to mark as center.
From the other side another disciple kept pulling the spear till the midpoint. Sadiq checked the balance by placing lemons on both side of the cheeks .
Believe it or not all this happened under 45 seconds. By the time,devotee came back to his senses from momentary unconsciousness, the piercing was already done.
I was bewildered by these events. It was like, as if i witnessed a fastest surgery without any blood drop ! Next , disciples started decorating the spear with a grand set with spikes.
Flat steel plates with holes were inserted on both ends of the spear. Spikes were inserted through the steel plate holes and pinned near waist cloth belt. Disciples were busy with final decorations with garlands and other items over the set.
Once the decoration is done, Sadiq gave a final touch up and once again ensured the balance. He also asked the devotee whether the balance is comfortable as well.
After confirming the balance, Sadiq applied ash on the devotee's forehead and murmured a prayer. That old devotee stood up and started walking and the team got ready for the next devotee in queue.
That's it ! I finally witnessed how the piercing is being done and as well as able to spot Sadiq and capture few clicks for my friend. Interesting part is that, after preparing the pilgrims with their sets for three days, Sadiq and his disciples as well does grand piercing on last day and perform worship in main temple. Like all devotees,irrespective of his religion Sadiq and his team too takes a vow to remain disciplined over 40 days to do the piercing.
In my opinion Religion should not be enforced on children. They will end up blind faith followers than seeking reason. They have their right to follow any religion of their choice when they come of age but budding minds should be nurtured with quality education than religious superstitions.
Milk pots, pierced spear across mouth, fire pots , burden dance ( known as kavadi ) etc... devotees choose a form to express their gratitude and seek blessings. There are some harsh inhumane forms as well like hanging like a bird in a vehicle.
No god will wish to see his/her devotees harming themselves to seek blessings. Religious habits get passed to children more from mother's beliefs than father. In my opinion, if a rural mother is empowered with education and employment,she won't cling to heaven and hell religious superstitions. If a mother, being root of a family takes a practical intellectual path,superstitions will fade away in next generation. This type of festivals insists the need of women education & employment in rural parts of the world.
On the other side, such festival offers employment to lot of people. Milk vendors, flower shop, garland,textiles,etc.. especially drum players from all over the state gets three days of employment. Festivals bring family together and improves local business for sure,but its high time to move away from superstitions and to start spreading love & happiness. Humanity before religion.
If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed. ~ Einstein
This was altogether a different travel experience for me to witness such things in close proximity. Taking photographs amidst thousands of people was really challenging.
Your feedback and comments are appreciated.
See you soon with another travel post.