Kavadi Attam is a traditional and religious dance of Tamil Nadu during the religious festival of Thaipusam celebrated in the month of “Thai” on full moon day.
The kavadi (“burden”) itself is a physical burden, the bearing of which is used by the devotee to implore Murugan for assistance, usually on behalf of a loved one who is in need of healing, or as a means of balancing a spiritual debt.
Devotees process and dance along a pilgrimage route while bearing these burdens.
Preparation for the dance
The preparations start 48 days before the two-day Thaipusam festival.
They take only one vegetarian meal per day and 24 hours before Thaipusam, they must maintain a complete fast.
The devotees prepare themselves by following strict purification austerities that include:
- Transcendence of desire
- Shaving of the head
- Following a vegetarian diet and refraining from alcohol
- Sexual abstinence
- Bathing in cold water
- Sleeping on the floor
- Constant prayers
On the day of the festival, devotees undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi.
At its simplest this may entail carrying a pot of milk (pal kavadi), but piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers is also common.
Structure of the kavadi
A more elaborate kavadi consists of two semicircular pieces of wood or steel which are bent and attached to a cross structure that can be balanced on the shoulders of the devotee.
It is often decorated with flowers and peacock feathers (the vehicle of God Murugan) among other things. Some of the kavadi can weigh up to 30 kg.
Kavadi outside of India
The ritual Kavadi is carried out in other countries outside India such as Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Reunion Island and Malaysia and also by Tamils in the West: Germany, UK, Italy, France, Republic of South Africa and many more.
For Tamils in India and all over the world, Kavadi Attam is more than a religious ritual.