As I was walking along the street with Richard on the way back to the yacht we met a procession of people coming towards us and making a very loud racket by beating on drums. People were dancing and then I saw the strangest thing, men with 3m metal rods punched through their chins and then I saw they had huge fish hooks through their back skin and they were pulling small delivery trucks along the road. At time they would stop and people woud come and kow-tow their feet for good luck I assume. I also saw one old grandma putting a young baby for one of the men to step over. Also for god luck I suppose. At the end of the procession I could see a horse cart with a Sai Baba statue being pulled by a devotee. All the time the drumming went on and on.
Later on I would learn from my guys that this was the celebration of the 9th day after the Hindu New Year and also the 1st full moon of the year. It is called Chaitra Navratri or Chitra Purnima. I have taken the liberty of reproducing an explanation below of said festival written by Sri Swami Sivananda. Nowhere could I find any explanation of the kavadi (piercings) that was being done.
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The psychological effect of this worship, done on the very first full moon day of every year (Chaitra is the first of the twelve months), is to vividly remind us of the higher power that maintains a constant watch over every act of ours on this earth-plane. This memory serves as an invisible check on one’s conduct. The conception of the Chitra Guptas as located within each shoulder is a powerful inducement to keep oneself engaged in constantly doing good actions only.
The term Chitra Gupta means “hidden picture”. A true picture of all our good and evil actions is preserved in the ethereal records. The Hindu personifies it for the sake of worship. The real significance of the worship of the Chitra Guptas is beautifully brought out in the following story connected with it.
Brihaspati is the Guru or preceptor of Indra, the king of the gods. Indra disobeyed Brihaspati on one occasion and the Guru relinquished his task of instructing Indra in what he should and should not do. During the period of the Guru’s absence, Indra did many evil deeds. When the compassionate Guru resumed his duty again, Indra wanted to know what he should do to expiate the wrongs he had done in his Guru’s absence. Brihaspati asked Indra to undertake a pilgrimage.
While Indra was on pilgrimage, he suddenly felt the load of sins taken off his shoulders at a certain place (near Madurai in South India), and he discovered a Shiva Lingam there. He attributed the miracle to this Lingam and wanted to build a temple for it. He had this constructed immediately. Now he wished to perform the worship of the Lingam; the Lord Himself caused golden lotuses to appear in a nearby pond. Indra was greatly pleased and blessed. The day on which he thus worshipped the Lord was Chitra Purnima.
When you perform worship on the Chitra Purnima day, remember this story. If you have intense faith, if you feel with a contrite heart that you have committed sins on account of ignorance, if you pray with faith and devotion to the Lord to forgive your sins, if you resolve never to commit them in the future, and if you resolve to be obedient to your Guru and never to flout his counsel, then your sins will be forgiven. There is no doubt about this. This is the significance of the above story of Indra. Meditate on this story on Chitra Purnima day.
The Hindu scriptures prescribe elaborate worship of the Chitra Guptas on this day. The Deity is invoked in an image or a kalasa (vessel filled with water) and then worshipped with all the rituals and formalities of the worship offered to God’s image. Meditate on Chitra Gupta, reciting the following verse:
Chitra guptam mahaa praajnam lekhaneepatra dhaarinam;
Chitra-ratnaambara-dhaararn madhyastham sarvadehinaam.
Then offer ritualistic worship with incense, camphor, flowers, etc. Feed some Brahmins, the poor and the needy. Give bountifully in charity and receive the Lord’s blessings.
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The whole thing resembled very much the Thaipusam celebration and the Tessagan Kin Ge in Thailand (which I saw earlier and posted a blog abt). As far as I know Thaipusam is banned in India because of the blood and gore involved in the piercings and I suppose also the risk of disease. It is still being celebrated in Singapore and Malaysia though.
I'm not very well versed in hinduism, so I apologize for any mistakes I have made in this posting and gladly take corrections from those who know better.