Thursday, April 26, 2007

Fishing in Mocambique

For a while now I've been thinking - what the hell happened to that fishing story from Mocambique with Øyvind? I am so sure I wrote about it somewhere, but can't find it anywhere in all the articles. I've felt that I never got to rub it properly in for Øyvind... He being such a fishing enthusiast... whilst I'm pretty much waiting for wireless fishing to become a reality. To tell a long story short, I got fish and he didn't... I just need this excuse of an article to brag about my catch also of course.

It was pretty much thanks to the cyclones that the diving was kak, and we decided to give fishing a try instead. So, we went fishing with Wayne from Simply Scuba and Michael, a german tourist that seemed to be part of the furnishing of the place.

We were sitting there in the boat watching a shark leap out of the water... and some dolphins and flying fish riding the waves when suddenly something starts to scream. It was such an annoying loud sound that disturbed the peace and tranquility completely in the boat... the sun and the waves had made me nice and sleepy. Then this f**king screaching sound from my reel that had to ruin it all! Then as I'm slowly coming out of my sullenness... I realize that this sound is actually what we've all been waiting for!

Something down there is making an effort to run away with my bait... Not just away! To me it seems that this thing wants to eat in peace at the bottom of the sea, coz it's pulling down, down and down. After a hell of a lot of pulling it suddenly stopped... either it hit bottom... or it's tired. My turn now, so I started to pull back up again... "Hurry", Wayne tells me, "... or else the sharks will beat you to it"! Apparently it's a common problem that you only get half the fish out of the water... or just the head. So I'm working my rod like never before now... I don't want those sharp and nasty teeth to come anywhere close to my fish! No no, don't get any funny ideas... we're talking strictly about fishing here. That was unintentional!

Then the line is pulling out again... still down and down before it suddenly stops dead again. "Ahhh... there you go", a very disappointed and resigned look from Wayne and Michael. This was for sure the shark finishing my fish... killed it and ruined my trophy... I visualize only the skeleton left on the hook... but that is surely not the shark way! They bite it clean cut off and gobble the bones and everything... leaving whatever is left of the fish dead or at least unable to pull more line and fight back at all... I continue to pull in my direction... and something is still there?! Something with it's own will intact that doesn't agree to come up. Maybe the shark is still struggeling to bite off the spine of my fish or something. I decide to fight on until all my line and whatever else is out of the water. It's like football (soccer)! The match is not over before the referee blows the final whistle. I know this, coz I used to play football... and quite good at it too!! Wayne and Michael is like those old guys that always used to stand on the side of the field with their negative and sarcastic remarks when things weren't looking too good. "I told you!", or: "what did I say"! I'm not a quitter though!! Never was on the football field... and not now when it comes to fishing either. I'll show them! So I keep pulling and pulling something out of the abyss.

It's heavy, and I'm getting tired. As it comes closer now I can see that it's pulling sideways as well. This gives me new courage and motivation... My fish is still there! Maybe it's not about going down to the bottom for lunch any more... rather to escape the sharks... crossing and zigzagging in the water. Hold on fishie... I'll come to your aid and save you from those savages around you! What a bloody dilemma for my fish down there though! Between a rock and a hard place I'm sure... or between a pinnacle and a hard place in oceanic terms. No time for elaborate explanations though... communication is a problem in any event. Even with a thick wire, we're far from 3G or even GPRS here! I have to cut right through... make a decision and stick to it... Explanations later, when the heat of the battle is over. So I pull and I pull... until it's in the surface and Wayne can hook it with his handy tool and get it into the boat.
It's beautiful! Not a hair or a fish-shell is crumpled by shark teeth... so the sharks are safe of my wrath for this time. After about 15 minutes of eternity we managed to land it in the boat. Now it's writhing and jumping and trying to bite with it's nasty teeth as soon as I try to get near and unhook it. What kind of gratitude is that now after saving you from the sharks?! Bloody sardine!! It's a Cuda/Cuta though... or a Kingfish in english I think. Related to the Barracuda and part of the Mackerell family they tell me. Nice, shimmery and sleek it looks... but no manners whatsoever. So we give it a few well directed knocks to the head - and it's over! We're stating an example... that this is not acceptable behavior to all it's friends that are gonna follow.

We keep fishing! Me happy and high in spirit... and the other guys desperate now to catch up and silence this bloody first timer Norwegian. Øyvind also... the fishing expert of the two of us looking very tensed. I jack up a beer to celebrate... share with the other guys how good it feels and give them a few helpful tips... "The water is cold and unfriendly with sharks", they tell me??! What the hell has that got to do with the price of eggs? The fishing must have gone to their heads... surely! We keep fishing for a while... but nothing more. It's tensed aboard the boat. I get this mutany on Bounty kinda feeling... and I'm only too happy to feel the sand under my feet again.

The fish is photographed and weighed 9kgs... and then we (me and Øyvind) invite the whole divecamp to dine on the fish. That seems to ease up the atmosphere and make the not so lucky fishermen happy again. Wayne show off some of his magic when he fries the fish in some fritter concoction. I drink my beer as I observe and controle my fish being prepared. Potatoes and dip are thrown in to make it a full meal... and then we feast!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Whitie gone veggie-shopping, April 23rd

We’ve got veggies at home in Norway. All sorts of vegetables! We grow potatoes and carrots when the ground frost melts… and all the other stuff we get shipped in from all corners of the world. So how hard can it be to go shopping for vegetables for your mother in law? I know the English names for most of the stuff I’m sure… even the really exotic stuff that never made it down my gut. I pick up the shopping list and head for our vegetable shop…

As I walk into the shop, I fish out the shopping list from my pocket and get mentally ready to pick as I go and tick off from the list… Then I have a brief look at the list and lose my courage and my quite positive attitude to this task completely! It was gonna be a breeze… so easy and quick… and then I was gonna sneak over to Pick’n’Pay to buy a pie… and be home without anybody knowing about my pie detour. I quickly realise though that this is going be hard! The list was as follows:

Branjal Leave that for last… worst case I’ll use the elimination method…
Butternut Easy one – love that stuff!
Sweet potatoes Walk in the park!
Ginger No affection from me, but I know the stuff…
Dhania Got it, haha! Sounds more like something you smoke though!
Gadhra/speckled beans No clue whatsoever, colour or size… but a bean
Pusnika ??? Start feeling depressed now…
Somph Sounds like my irritated taurean blow in the nose by now…
Gira Ha! I’ve deciphered this one before! Used in Aquavit – our Scandinavian Christmas dop!!
Pudina Why are they giving me such a hard time?

As you can imagine a lot got left for last… I have been fortunate to marry into an Indian South African family… with all that comes along. This morning my mother in law must have had a moment of spiritual connection with some far away relatives back in India… listing all the funny hindi or tamil names to make my life a misery. They are normally anchored in Westbrook close to Tongaat (Little India)… and that’s where they do their shopping for vegetables at the market. Naturally with only Indians around you can make your way with the hindi or tamil names… I am in Joburg though… in a previously advantaged area for whites only… and the shop is anything but Indian. I ask one of the black women who works there for help… but it’s pretty much like asking for cutlery that time (Kitchen English, English…???). She’s got that same stupid look in her face like the cutlery woman… so my expectations plummet! I decide inside myself now that whatever she picks up can not be trusted…

I had an experience like that in Bangkok… 10 years ago now, but still very fresh in memory. There was this place I wanted to find downtown in Bangkok, so I asked for directions… Three times I was sent in totally different directions, and I ended up walking a marathon without ever reaching the desired target. Later on I learnt that instead of losing face to a stranger, they would rather send me in the wrong direction. Of course they had to send me far so that they wouldn’t risk facing me again! “I don’t know” would be a total face off apparently. So I started my walking career right there in Bangkok… keeping it up inside Lonehill Village Estate – and now the vegetable woman in front of me! She is probably Zulu… or Xhosa or Venda or something! Then I realize that she already lost face with that stupid look. She is still not short listed as my shopping assistant… “I don’t know” she says… trustworthy indeed, but not much help for me.

So I find an Indian family inside the shop and beg for assistance! They help me around until my list is completed, and I’m very thankful. Obviously this is very amusing for them… a whitie looking for branjal, pusnika and pudina. Then I wonder if these people could possibly have the same issues with losing or keeping face as the Bangkokkians..? Can I trust what’s in my basket now? They have roots from the same corner of the world. Roots – culture… and saving face? After all it’s a quite young married couple with kids… maybe they’re not familiar with all the Indian terms… and maybe some of their ancestor’s passed on knowledge got mistakenly changed and corrupted through the oral channels. History is full of examples, so this is obviously a gamble no matter what.

There are no other Indians in the shop to check my list… so I surrender, pay and bring the stuff home. I sort of sneak the shopping bag onto the counter… as if it arrived there without my knowledge. My mother in law discovers the bag and starts to pick out the veggies… One thing after the other… and I’m watching very curiously now from the side of my vision. Not one single comment – like it was the most inevitable thing in the world. Mission accomplished! I’m so incredibly chaffed and relieved!!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Panguni Uttiram Kavady Report, April 6th-7th

It’s the day before Kavady and I’m arriving at the temple around noon out of curiosity to observe some of the preparations. The whole local community have gathered at the temple to decorate the kavadies, the chariot and to prepare the food. My mother in law is a very liberal Hindu and doesn’t do a lot of Hindu stuff (that I know of). She is a member of a women’s club though – and through this club volunteered to do some work. Group pressure I’m sure. They are peeling potatoes and other vegetables for the food that will be served the next day. Big buckets are everywhere. The food is given by sponsors, families and businesses… They’ve been lucky this year, and covered the need for the next days mass feeding.

I see a lot of people are coming with trays of fruit and milk. I noticed that one woman had a slab of chocolate and no milk – maybe it was milk-chocolate and a compensation for the milk. A majority of the people come as families and one of the members carries the tray. They are all walking three rounds around the temple with the tray and then lining up in queue to go into the temple. The fruit and milk is for Murugan. I’m thinking – it’s such a small temple and hordes of people with trays… so where does Murugan keep all the fruit? Then I see people coming out from the temple still with a loaded tray… Murugan is apparently picky and choose only one fruit and bless the rest. As they come out from the temple I see them offer the fruit to the crowd outside. A blessing on top of all the vitamins must be good for both body and soul – so I accept a banana and chow it.

A group starts chanting and playing their small drums and cymbals. They are standing just outside the temple – so I wonder if this has got some specific significance. Nothing else in the whole picture is changed, so I take it as warming up for the next day. They seem to speed up the rhythm... and I’m getting quite impressed with their energy and stamina. How much faster and for how much longer can they keep going? The Hindu hymns must have many verses – although it sounds very repetitive! People are still doing their laps around the temple. It seems that the fruit bearers are walking a bit faster now. Affected by the upbeat chanting maybe? I’m contemplating taking the lap time to compare… but reject the idea. It would probably be unethical and disrespectful at the same time – I’m ashamed by my own wacky thoughts.

Before leaving, my mother in law introduces me to one of the people in the Kavady committee - Bala. Bala is married to one of the vegetable peelers, a woman in the women’s club, and seriously involved in the organising of the temple business. He looks very excited to hear that a Norwegian shows interest in their traditions and invites me to come back at 18.00 to show me some of the preparations for the Kavady.

Back at the temple, 18.00 sharp, I find Bala among all the workers. First thing he takes me around to introduce me to the other members of the Kavady committee… the important guys. Before I know it I’m introduced as a Canadian… and I’m writing…: “this thing” about Kavady and Hinduism… Apparently I’m fasting as well…??? Where the hell did that come from? That is SO not true, but do I look starved (That is normally not the case)? I’m unshaved for a few days – that must be it! In addition to fasting and abstaining from sex and alcohol for the last 10 days, the devotees don’t shave either. Anyway, I don’t have the heart to correct all the mess… so we just carry on. One of the big guys even recognizes me… “oh yes, I saw you at lunch today…”. I did feel slightly out of place eating briyani among all the hard working people… Some of them peeling potatoes and vegetables… carrying firewood, pots or making garlands… then a big fat Norwegian, the only whitie in miles distance, sitting on his ass eating! No wonder he picked me out from the crowd.

I meet the temple priest, their main guy… and I wonder… how the hell do you greet a Hindu priest now? I struggle so much every time I meet family and friends down here… kissing and hugging… never kissed so much ever… then he reaches out his hand to greet… I take his hand and feel very relieved to do a familiar Norwegian handshake. He seems like a normal guy despite his painting and clothes… From what I’ve read he is supposed to be the Idumban - the main guy during the procession. This is not the case though. They have an old guy to do the honour (83 years old). I would definitely not be in that guy’s shoes. Bala shows me a pair of wooden shoes… full of 3-4cm long nails… long sharp and rusty. They look old and probably from the beginning of the temple’s history. It’s funny how the equipment side of sports like soccer have evolved so much - but not the Kavady! Nike, Adidas and Reebok definitely have a market here. Maybe they can even pick up an idea or two also? The shoes can hardly be smelly with all the ventilation between the nails.

Brake Village Temple was built in 1909 and they had their first Kavady the same year. It’s a small temple but it’s a parish to a big Indian community in Tongaat and around. This year about 850 devotees will carry their Kavady’s, and about 25-30.000 people will come to watch the Kavady… or at least drop by for some free food. 1,1 ton of rice will be made for the biryani and 30 tons of firewood will be used to fire up all the big pots for the cooking.

Apparently not all temples do all the Kavadies… I derived that since Brake Village is not doing the Thai Pusam Kavady. Maybe they’ve got some kind of collaboration with the neighbouring temples, like… you take Thai Pusam, and then we take Panguni Uttiram… and so on.

Amongst the crowd I see there are lots of teenage kids. It’s a flirting ground for the youngsters like in any other culture. It’s just the setup – outside the temple? It reminds me so much of the yearly autumn Tivoli that comes to my home town in Norway. Never mind the rides – we went there to go rounds upon rounds and look at the girls. The boar cars are there too! You can hear the boom boxes from afar, but amazingly enough they are polite enough to “put the music slow” to not interfere with the chanting and the hymns. Some guys are coming out from the temple area now with big carton boxes and starts handing out small plastic bags to everybody. It’s sweet rice and ?????, and then some jellebe – pretty much the equivalent of our popcorn and candy floss in Norway I’m sure. As I am observing the whole thing I actually witness 2 families meeting for the first time through their flirting hopeful ones. Very cute!

The chanting and hymns dies away, the sweet rice and jellebe is consumed and the crowd starts to subside and disappear. One of the committee members are speaking on the loudspeaker and announces the tamil newyear on april 22nd, and thanks all the volunteers (my mother in law), the sponsors and blab la bla… First then I notice the boards with “light from ….” and such. It’s a big PR jippo the whole thing. I doubt you’ll ever find commercials in a Norwegian church. But it’s cool – Hinduism must be a pretty liberal and laid back religion, at least in business terms. If I should ever choose any religion, Hinduism is certainly climbing on my ranking now.

Before I leave, Bala invites me back around midnight. All the Kavadies must be blessed, and instead of doing one and one at the time as they arrive, they do one ceremony where they bless them all at the same time at midnight. I tell him: “yes sure” – fully aware that we are having a braai (barbeque) at home and I’m just aching to have a beer. I cannot come back and smell of alcohol now, that’s after all an important thing to abstain from during the fasting. Especially since he has announced to everybody that I’m fasting – there is no return tonight for me. I wonder whether my expression looks convincing as I say “yes sure”! He must know though. Maybe I’ve picked up the communication style by now… politely saying yes whilst I actually mean no? Maybe you do pick up these things unconsciously over time… I don’t know. I leave Bala to assume whatever he wants. I don’t have a bad conscience about it even – surely I’m turning into a South African Indian!

Kavady Day!
I go back to the temple at 8 o’clock. I’m wearing my Balle Balle t-shirt that Julian and Anne sent, sort of to blend into the Indian Hindu crowds. From what I’ve read the male devotees will wear mainly white (colour of purity) clothing and the women yellow (colour of sakti). My t-shirt is a perfect off-white colour - I’ll be like a chameleon I’m sure of it! I showered and brushed my teeth and my tongue extensively this morning to take away any alcohol smell from the few beers I had last night. After fasting for 40 days and abstaining from sex and alcohol for the last 10 days I’m sure the Hindu senses are sharp like a cheetah’s. I won’t risk anything when I meet Bala today.

When I arrive, the temple area is a bit empty and the chariot is gone. They are already on their way towards the ground – and with them they are all pulling the main chariot that was painstakingly decorated the day before. I catch up pretty fast as I don’t have the same burdens to pull. The ground is actually a cricket field, and this is where they will all prepare themselves. Right in the middle of the field I notice a square enclosure. It’s not the green (That’s golf of course), but it’s hard to know what to call it since both the goals and the midfield is at the same place in this confusing game. I decide for myself that this must be the place where all the juicy stuff will happen - all the chanting and going into trance and stuff! My expectations are building up now.

Normally, or according to the theory I’ve read, the Kavady procession starts from a river in the neighbourhood and ends at the temple. There is no big river here. There is a little stream just outside the field though. It is currently flooding the road there, which it usually runs under, so that must be it!

Slowly the field fills up with people – and kavadies. The kavady is not just a stick like I believed it to be. It’s got a big bow on top that they use to cover completely with marigold garlands in smashing orangey yellow colour. Some devotees have also attached pictures of family members (Dead ones I think) and Hindu deities like Shiva and Ganesha. The kavadies are making a huge circle around the whole field now, and the devotee crews are making the last preparations – puffing turmeric on the garlands, fastening the peacock feathers and pouring milk into the small attached brass pots.

Each devotee seems to have their own group of supporters and chanters. It seems like a prestigious thing to do the Kavady. Some of the devotees are prancing around with a cocky attitude – obviously they love being in the centre of everybody’s attention. And the crew members… they seem to be very proud of their devotee also. It’s like a competition going on between the teams scattered around the field. There are small crews and bigger and more extensive ones. Obviously the devotees that are only going to carry the kavady thing only have their near family and friends around. The heavy weight dudes though, the ones that will pull their own chariots, have a much bigger team. People are drawn to them like big heroes. They have their own little band playing the drums and cymbals and singing (shouting), and they are uniformed in the same t-shirts. It’s all very impressive and organised. They are there to get the devotees excited and into trance. Indren tells me that the devotees some times smokes weed during these preparations. That seems to me like a very sensible shortcut if you’re a bit nervous about the needles and all. Funny they don’t have to abstain from weed though? It’s like the Arabians, at least the Saudis. They ban alcohol, but smoke their hookah pipes and chew the kat like crazy. I guess it’s nice to have some of these loopholes to not make it unbearable. Who says religion can’t be fun too?!

The field is pretty full of people now, and the chanting has started. The heavy weight devotees get pierced with all the needles with flowers, limes, coconuts, brass pots and shells and whatnot – and then the big hooks to pull the chariots. The chanting is intense now of course, trying to help their guy to focus on something else but the pain. My god they’re doing a good job. The bands are screaming of full lungs and chanting energetically. Any heavy metal head banger dude would struggle to keep up with this energy level. The blood veins are bulging from their throats and the eyes are threatening to pup out. The rhythms are very catchy. I find myself tapping the beat with my fingers, and almost forget about the main guy and the piercings – halfway into trance myself I’m sure.

So the warming up is over and the devotees are running around with their crews on a tail. It’s apparently time to hook up and hit the road… At least so they announce on the speakers. The Indumban in front, the main guy, is a 83 year old guy. Not the priest as I thought it would be. He is not wearing the nail shoes either? Maybe they gave him some leeway since he is so old… it’s not like it’s gonna be a breakneck speed anyway with him in front. Lord Murugan is not a cruel and sadistic guy after all it seems, although being a war god, I’ll give him that.

The devotees are obediently forming a neat queue now towards the exit of the stadium. I guess Murugan has his way of curbing and keeping control after all, coz it’s very impressive how everything goes from complete chaos to a yellow tidy procession. I’m watching them all leave, before I cut them off and wait for them to pass me on the street. It’s pretty much like the 17th of May in Norway, except that here they have the marigold garland decorated kavadies instead of the Norwegian flag. There are lots of people along the streets waiting for the procession to pass. All of them Indians - every now and then some curious black people though. I noticed some black kids at the stadium, probably from a nearby squatter camp. They obviously knew what a show and a feast this is. At the stadium they could pretty much drink as much milk as they could handle… and at the temple… there will be food waiting for them. As the only whitie in sight, I feel a bit out of place. I wonder why no more people come to watch this though.

Slowly the procession approaches the temple ground. Everything is chaos, people everywhere, and the most exhibitionistic devotees do their final dance to upbeat rhythms. In the crowds around the temple I see the devotees getting de-kavadised and de-pierced… and coming back to a normal state. I’m mingling and taking a last few shots, when one of the devotees comes up to me. “Howzit”, he says. “How did you like the Kavady”? I recognize him from the ground and the streets. He’s not one of the chariot guys or really heavily pierced guys… but still one of the most colourful and noticeable guys from the parade still. He was running around and dancing the whole time – really enjoying the attention. “I saw you at the parade”, he says. I did notice some stares from the crowds despite my attempts to dress and blend in… just forgot the shoepolish! I talk to the guy… tells me about his devotion for Shiva… his woman that had to take 9 different shapes to get Shiva… and all her 1300 something sexual positions…. What? 1300??!! You tell me this is all about devotion to Murugan or Shiva or whoever… when the first thing this guy is telling me about is how much fun Shiva had with his chameleon like and horny woman. I can see his motivation though, crystal clear! It must be so much more fun than being a Christian. I tell him I’m contemplating carrying Kavady next year… or for the 100 years anniversary in 2009, as a joke of course. He immediately offers me his Kavady. Apparently he is moving up one division, and needs a bigger and better Kavady… maybe a chariot is the next thing for him? It’s like a Kavady cast system, from the lightest chicken kavadies and up to the heavily pierced chariot-pulling guys. Politely I decline his offer though… I’d rather watch next year as well!

I’m moving towards the food tent now, hungry after several hours of sucking in impressions. The queue for the food is long. I see them dish up on the paper plates. When it’s my turn the guy raises his eyebrows and gets a humoristic expression on his face – then hi dishes up an extra big portion. I find an open spot on the lawn and sit down to eat. No cutlery of course, so the fingers are the only means. People stare, and one woman have to turn around and complement me on my finger-eating technique. It must be very amusing for them to see a whitie here… and trying to eat like an Indian. As I finish my food, I take one last walk around the temple (I must have done at least my three rounds by now), then I meet Bala. Bala offers me more food to take home. He is organising the food stalls. I’m sure they made food for a few extra thousand people in good Indian style. I am way past full, so I decline and decide to go home. The only sorry thing is that I totally forgot to look for that flag… and the lowering of the flag marking the end of the festival… Next time!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Diving with giants, Mocambique April 2nd

Ok, I’m often accused by my wife that I’m always after the big stuff when diving… instead of the cute small and colourful fishies. To an extent that is true, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate a good reef with colours and lots of smaller stuff. This time though we’re at Ponta Do Ouro, and I’m the only diver… and the conditions happened to be good enough to go out to the pinnacles. The deep pinnacles is a deeper dive and a bit further out than the other sites and can only be done when the conditions are very good. You don’t go to the deep pinnacles for sardines. It is one of those sites where you just have to go when the conditions allow it, and I was only SO happy. We saw lots of Zambezi’s, about 7 or 8 hammerheads in the surface and a few other kinds of sharks sliding by, lots of rays… and a huge Cuda/Cuta, like the one I caught fishing the last time - awesome. This Cuta must have been just as long as me though.

But the really cool thing about the dive was that I thought I’d seen a whaleshark for the first time, although at a distance. It was huge, so what else could it be? I was not in doubt - it was like a big fleet of something sliding past with pilot fishes big as Barracuda’s around. No spots on the back though… but the right square front, so of course it was a whale shark. Maybe I just wanted it to be a whale shark so much that I ignored other possibilities completely, coz back in the boat people where only talking about that f**king big tigershark! My god, I thought only the extinct predator Megaladon could reach a size like that. For sure it must have been fully grown! It kinda makes sense also since I didn’t see the stripes on the back. The stripes are distinctive on young species, but tend to fade with age. It almost makes me shiver to know in retrospect what it really was!! Awesome!!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Satanic verses

Ok, I’m finally fulfilling my pre-kavady resolution here… and put some flesh to the bone on the Kavady information pool. Kavady is not just Kavady! You’ve got the one back in jan/feb, the one that got lost in assumptions, which is actually called the Thai Poosam Kavady or just Thaipusam. Thaipusam is celebrated in the Tamil month of Thai (Jan/Feb) on the full moon day when the constellation “Pusam” is on the ascend. In effect they’ve got some astronomers telling them when the “Pusam” is right, and then they are waiting for one hell of a full moon party!

I wonder if the Pusam thing and the “earth, moon & sun” alignment ever coincide? That must be a rare occasion - damn rare I’m sure! With all that gravitational pull it would pretty much be a reversing of Ascension Day. Imagine, Jesus being pulled back from heaven… trying to hold on up there somewhere… Oh no, sorry! Got a bit carried away there. Taipusam is dedicated to Murugan of course… not any of my fanatical Christian beliefs! I don’t think Murugan did any major leap like Jesus though – not any that I know of at least, so 1-0 to Jesus there.

Research about this Murugan fellow has been a frustrating hunt. It’s like the name suddenly disappears in the middle of the text and you think you’re reading about some other guy… But the simple truth is that, he was so much loved and was called by so many different names… thereof (the one and true origin!) the expression “Loved ones have many names”. Murugan or Muruga (that one was easy to figure out) had some more far fetched names also, like Kartikeyan, Kumaran, Shanmukha, Skanda and Subramanian. No wonder I got confused only a few lines down in the Koran!! Any way, Murugan is the God of war and the patron deity of the Tamil land. That makes me wonder why all the Indians left India in the 1860’s to come here to sugar sweet South Africa, when they had such a good protector there at home? Was it only the sweet tooth??

The whole idea of Kavady actually made so much sense to me in my Christian mind-frame. It’s like Jesus on the cross, when he took all the blame and all the suffering on behalf of all of us sinners. Now Thaipusan Kavady is sort of a light-version where any ding-dong guy can take a load off the neighbor’s shoulders… But no again! The carrying of Kavady symbolizes the carrying of one’s burden and then resting it at the feet of the Lord. So Kavady IS a kind of burden, but there are some great benefits of dedicating your Kavady to Murugan instead of Jesus. Murugan stretches quite far and he actually promise you that the benefits of your offering (a piercing and a vow – big deal!) will be a million fold greater than the self inflicted pain. Wow – who wouldn’t want that? Even the smallest offering would become a decent reward!

Imagine if my forefathers back in Norway had the choice between Jesus and Murugan! Holy Olav would surely threaten to decapitate you by the slightest sign of hesitation… But Murugan is the God of War, and could surely protect his fans! To make the choice easier I think they should use the old Viking tradition of “Holmgang”. You basically put the disputants, Jesus and Murugan, on an island where they can fight until one is dead. Then you don’t have to worry so much about the dead and apparently much weaker god. The surviving party, according to the tradition, was always the one that was right in the dispute… so this should ensure a good choice for my forefathers in the end! But Jesus was such a pacifist so I’m sure Holy Olav would take his place on the island. That’s 1 for Murugan and draw 1-1 so far since Jesus was such a coward. At least then people could watch the match and feel safe that they chose the right god… But wow, that fight would really have been something, huh? I know it’s hard to predict or even imagine the outcome of this fight… But they did it on Discovery Channel, when they put shark against crocodile and other predators also up against each other. They could simply make a dummy of Holy Olav and Murugan… then feed the computers with Olav’s sword fighting skills and Murugan’s war-god abilities… and voila – the fight is on! I wonder what the bookmakers odds would have been back in the days? People placing their bets would probably hope for Murugan with the unimaginable million fold riches as well as from the bookmaker! Yes, all the money would probably go that way anyway… The best thing would be to plead allegiance with Holy Olav (secure your head) and bet for Murugan, and hope that Olav will never find out…

Back to the Kavady rite! You’re supposed to do this out of love of course. These days though, people are shallower and many do it more out of fear than the love… People do it to avoid a great calamity in the family and such things. It’s insurance basically. You’ve got Kavady and Sanlam and the rest. So it’s the same motivation whatever you choose really… beg to keep your head! Wrong again… Murugan has so much more to offer. When you offer the kavady you get so intoxicated with the love of God that your inner spiritual chamber is open. Now you will eventually reach “Para Bhakti” – supreme devotion! Para Bhakti is good for YOU – not just Murugan’s poll! For the Stensby clan though I think a draw, 1-1, would suit us well! Neutral is good!

Almost forgot… the Kavady can be a thick balancing stick held over your shoulders. In either end of the stick the Kavady holds milk or honey that they later on, once inside the temple, pour over the statue of Murugan. This is a mild (chicken!) Kavady. It is believed that the more effort and hardship applied when carrying the Kavady, the more benevolent Lord Murugan will be towards fulfilling his devotee’s needs. That’s why some of the Kavady bearers do it as a sadhana! These guys are the ones that perform the juicy and weird stuff that you really want to see! Sadhana means that they impose various sorts of self torture upon themselves. Not like pinching themselves… but much more inventive stuff. Some brighties shove a sharp Vel through their tongue or cheeks… and it is made so that it protrudes out of the mouth. This will of course prevent him from speaking. It is believed to give great power of endurance and remembrance of God. It is easy to see that the excruciating pain can make you hallucinate and easily be misinterpreted as the intoxicating love… Anybody with a slightest bit of sanity (still with a strong belief though) left would then beg fanatically to reach Para Bhakti and some relief from the pain.

Another cool thing that can be seen during Kavady is the pulling of Rath, or beautifully decorated carts, through the streets. These guys must be the elite of penitents, as they pierce their flesh with hooks and strings in order to pull the cart. Obviously an instant Para Bhakti activity – just imagine what kind of cruelties those guys must have done… I mean, to do something so extreme in order to rectify it… Or they are scared of the retribution that they have coming for them… Your’re basically taking out a Kavady insurance. Then after the Kavady is over, instead of retributions, you will receive some tinfish curry on your door. The tinfish curry is of course the hindu equivalent of the Italian fish wrapped in a newspaper. When you can smell the tinfish on your door, then you know that you are “off the hook” and you can let down your shoulders and carry on with your sinful everyday life. A well protected secret is that the hindu mafiaboss is called a guru. They most definitely do not practice what they preach, but they’ve got a very good cover. These days people attach so many different and mostly positive values to anybody with the title guru, that they can pretty much do what they want and get away with it as a guru. It’s actually a prime example of marketing and perception.

Since Thai Poosam Kavady is set in jan/feb… I’ve been on a mission to find out what the full name of the Kavady around Easter time is. So far though, I have not been successful in finding it. It seems I might have to leave this question open until I’ve paid the Kavady festival a visit and ask around. For now it will have to do with just “Easter Kavady”. Whatever information I have found on the subject is that firewalking, or walking on glowing coal, seems to be an important thing. Maybe it’s to show your devotion to the God of war or something… that you are willing to go through hell for him… I am sure this will bring you quite quickly to Para Bakhti and humiliating begging for relief once again.

I’ll call it quits for now… and now you know pretty much all that’s worth knowing about the Thaipusam Kavady! I will consider doing a masters degree on the subject or go into Lord Murugans army of devoted soldiers… as I am apparently a prime source of information/knowledge on the matter already… ref “Self Googling”!!