Devotees Marcus Naidoo and Shailendra Parthab during a Kavady which they celebrates a Hindu festival of Thai Poosam Kavady, is dedicated to the Hindu god of war, Lord Muruga. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)
Devotees Marcus Naidoo and Shailendra Parthab during a Kavady which they celebrates a Hindu festival of Thai Poosam Kavady, is dedicated to the Hindu god of war, Lord Muruga. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)

Temples to embrace technology during kavady

By Chanelle Lutchman Time of article published Jan 18, 2021

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DURBAN - THERE will be no mass gatherings for Thai Poosam Kavady this month. Instead, devotees of Lord Muruga are being encouraged to watch livestreams of the prayers being conducted at some temples.

As the Covid-19 infections and the death toll rises, temple committees say it is safer for devotees to participate from their homes. The 10-day festival will start with the flag hoisting on January 19. The main kavady is on January 28.

As per tradition, devotees walk barefoot, carrying decorated wooden structures to a Murugan temple. For Hindus, this symbolises the carrying of one’s burdens to Muruga. Once at the temple, milk is offered to the deity.

Other devotees pierce their bodies. Some of the piercings are attached to two or four-wheeled chariots that are pulled while the person is in a trance. It symbolises devotion to Muruga.

But this year, devotees have to adapt to a new way of observing the festival – by embracing technology.

"The priest, who lives on our temple property, will livestream daily prayers, including the flag hoisting and de-hoisting, for devotees to follow on our Facebook page," said Marlon Etty, the vice-chairperson of the Montford Shree Siva Soobramoniar Temple in Chatsworth.

"In the evenings, instead of visiting the temple to partake in prayers, devotees can instead sit at their prayer places and pray with the priest while watching the livestream. He will guide them through the process.

“On the main prayer day, the temple kavady and the Iduman kavady (Iduman was a Muruga devotee) will be decorated and taken around the temple. Thereafter, the closing prayer will be done. Devotees can follow this online."

Yogan Naidoo, the public relations officer of the Tongaat Hindu Unity Forum, said 11 temples had cancelled kavady.

“We are an advisory body. We do not control any temples. So far, 11 temples have decided that they will not observe kavady this year. Generally hundreds, if not thousands, of devotees converge at recreational grounds for the annual festival but we would rather keep devotees safe during the pandemic.”

He said Muruga was the god of war, and Hindus should pray at home to him to remove obstacles and illnesses. "People should pray to him for an end to this deadly virus.”

Sidney Govindsamy, of the Devasthanam Foundation of South Africa, the umbrella body of south Indian temples in the country, said it recommended that kavady be observed only with the priest and stangiars (assistants) and that the prayers be livestreamed.

"The Devasthanam emphasises that the safety of devotees are paramount and we, therefore, suggest this simple, safe and practical stance. Events like a full-on observance have the potential to be super-spreaders and it would be irresponsible for organisations to host such festivals under our current circumstances.”

Kovilan Ramsamy, the chairperson of the Mu­ru­gan Bhakti Foun­da­tion of South Africa, said 21 temples in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town would also go the online route.

“We are an advisory body and we understand that a virtual kavady is not the norm, but we have to do what is needed to stop the number of infections from increasing. Now more than ever, we need people to pray for an end to the virus."

Jane Naicker, of the Bluff, said she would decorate her 3m tall chariot and pray at home.

“I have never done something like this from home before but kavady will have to be modified this year," said Naicker. "While I am disappointed my temple (the Shree Parasakthi Temple in Merebank) will not be having a public kavady, I understand the decision. But my prayer will not change."

She said she prayed to Muruga for her chronic illness, carried kavadies and pierced her body and tongue for many years, and the Hindu God had “brought me out of the darkness”.

Her chariot is made of perspex glass, has an aluminium frame and a 1.1m Murgan deity. She kept it at her prayer place.

“When the fast starts, I place the chariot in the dining room. I decorate it and dress Lord Muruga in a new outfit every day until I pull the chariot at kavady. This year, I will continue to dress Lord Muruga and I will follow my temple's daily prayers virtually.”

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