Kavadi Attam dance & its preparation

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Kavadi Attam

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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For Tamils in India and all over the world, Kavadi Attam is more than a religious ritual.

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