I’ve spent the last week in Varkala, Kerala. It was my third visit – I just love the Kaiya House and the cliff tops and the endless walks on the beach. For the first time I went with Debra, the owner of the Kaiya House to experience Kerala festivals. I’ve had seen Debra’s posts on these before – but never participated in one. Off we went one early morning. We left the house on in auto rickshaw at 6 am and arrived at the temple 25 minutes later … we were early, hardly anyone was there yet.
It was a very peaceful atmosphere. The celebrations were devoted to Shivas youngest son, Muragon, the god of war. We learnt from Pappu, our rickshaw driver, that devotees will start from 14 different temples and all join at one major temple. We were at one of these 14 spots. You have to know where they are – way off the main road, down on unpaved winding roads until you reach a wonderful temple. Unexpectedly. Slowly the men in the village gathered, had their breakfast and got ready for the procession.
The place was pumped with energy. I could feel – I couldn’t explain though where it came from. When the drums started all men went inside the temple for their prayers – the women were bystanders outside. While the men were completely relaxed and at the same time excited the women were rather looking scared. Two completely different groups. And then there was us – the foreigners watching the celebrations.
At 7 am it was already hot and very humid. I really had to get out of the sun and had to find a place in the shadow to watch the spectacle.
When the men came out of the temple they were in a different stage of awareness – completely focussed and all in one as a group. Everything one single person did was obviously part of the bigger picture. It was some kind of routine what was happening inside this group. Almost like a theatre play. The young men were almost ready to get pierced. The piercing was done by elders. Before the young men laid down on their ballies on the table to get pierced (meaning getting at least 4, some of them 8 hooks pushed through their flesh on the back, wade and thigh) they put themselves in trance – in no time! This was the most amazing part for me at the festival. The way these young men went from one stage of awareness to a stage where they obvioulsy didn’t feel any pain any more. It happened in no time.
One of the guys completely “passed out”, it looked like an epileptic fit what he went through and people had to lay him down on the floor. As you can see in these pics everyone of the participants had one person who specifically took care of them. People say – according to Debra – that these young men get a special training – physically and mentally – two month before the festival starts. Every time they do it – I haven’t seen one men who didn’t had any scarves on his back. No “fresher” was there.
When the men reach this stage of trance the elders first pierce a litlle speer through their cheeks and then they lay down and their backs and legs get pierced. I couldn’t watch this …
The moment they stand up and walk away from the table they are “normal” again – very proud. Very proud.
At this place 10 people got pierced.
It didn’t take longer than 20 minutes.
Then the next chapter of the ceremony unfolded.
The hooks in their backs were now used to hang these young men on pales in front of trucks, raise them and drive them in this position to the main temple – where later probably 30 trucks all came together! The men war hanging there for 4-6 hours before – in the bright sun, swinging proudly and happily in front of the trucks … until they reached the main temple. There they were freed from the pales, they went inside the temple for prayers and left through the back exit where the hooks and lances got removed. I’ve seen this as well (my battery was dead by this time, so I couldn’t take any photographs). Again it all happened very fast, max. 2 minutes per person, no blood, maybe be once in a while a little drop – but that was is. The moment the lances were removed they got an ice cream and they walked away … Happy and proud.
Truly incredible India.
I haven’t seen anything like this before.
I still don’t know how to deal with this experience.
It was amazing and disgusting at the same time.
A lasting experience – no doubt!