Sittirai Cavadee Festival

TRAVEL

EVENT

Sittirai Cavadee Festival

WHERE

Quatre Bornes, Mauritius

WHEN

03-05-2015

Our guide, Raj, picked us up early Sunday morning, we were told this was a relatively small festival, but as parking could be an issue, it would be better to beat the crowds. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect from the festival, it was a last minute decision to go, but the moment we arrived we knew it wasn’t going to be a low key event.

Describing Sittirai Cavadee as small was perhaps in reference to Maha Shivaratri, in which almost half the island comes together to honour Shiva. This was a smaller affair, however as one of the most important festivals for the Tamil community, it was attended by a not insignificant percentage of the islands 1.3 million citizens, perhaps 100,000 people.

We were told the festival was in honour of Murugan, who is the embodiment of Shiva’s light and wisdom. Devotees pray for assistance in overcoming obstacles in life, as he is the divine vanquisher of evil. If devotees receive assistance they are compelled to make an offering, this can come in many forms, most obviously in the carrying of ‘cavadees’: large wooden structures, and most dramatically in the mortification of flesh, by placing spears through the cheeks and tongues.


‘the festival was in honour of Murugan, who is the embodiment of Shiva’s light and wisdom’


Staging Area

Our first stop was the staging area, which gave our first impression of the festival. Not knowing exactly what to expect, it was an overwhelming experience. The area was packing shoulder with participants, family members surrounded devotees, who were preparing for the ‘burden dance’, another meaning for ‘cavadees’.

Brief cries of anguish emitted occasionally from those being pierced with small spears, now through the cheeks and tongues of people all around us. A few of the devotees were lost in religious fervour; screaming or mumbling, nothing we could hope to interpret. All the while, other devotees wove precariously through the crowd, carried their cavadees; now decorated with leaves, flowers, fruits and photographs of saints. In the growing heat, it was a feverous experience

We chose not to photograph extensively in the staging area, as we felt with the proximity it would be an imposition on the devotees going through the preparation process. Instead we waited for them to assemble for the procession to the temple.


‘A few of the devotees were lost in religious fervour; screaming or mumbling, nothing we could hope to interpret’


Festival

In honour of Lord Muruga, and his assistance, thousands of devotees now made their way to the hillside Siva Subramanya Temple. As the crowds progressed we began to understood the term burden dance. While wielding their huge, carved wooden structure, the devotees danced as they made their way to the temple. Some could just manage a shuffle, under the burden, but other were more expansive movements, which caused the flowers to fluttered on their cavadees, and piercings to jingle against the skin and glint in the sunlight.It was in these movements you got a true sense of the sacrifice, devotion and celebration.