The Urban Wanderer

Crossing Borders ~ Bridging Cultures ~ Traveling Responsibly

The Thaipusam Festival ~ My once in a lifetime experience at a Hindu festival!

 This post is originally from February 13, 2017
Because Varkala is known for its many yoga classes I felt like I needed take a class at least once while I am here.  I’ve been really good at home and have gotten my lazy ass to class once a week for the last five weeks so I might as well keep it up right?!
The location for my 8 o’clock class couldn’t have been any better. A roof top overlooking the Indian Ocean! In the distance I could see men climbing up palm trees and cutting the coconuts down. I was definitely in the OMMMM SHANTI mood! The class started off okay, but truly I couldn’t have been happier when it ended. This guru’s style of yoga killed my injured hips and sore back because we had to stay in positions for long periods. And to top it off any time I had to bend upside down (which was most of the time) the snot from my head cold made me feel like my head was about to explode. Kris liked it more than I did but let me tell you, I was a happy camper when that puppy was over!
Next on the agenda we were off to a Hindu Temple where masses were celebrating the Thaipusam Festival which celebrated Shiva and Parvati. Only a few of us actually had the guts to go because there was a ‘disclaimer’ before we left – what we were about to see may be disturbing.  Describing this festival in one word ~ MENTAL! I mean this in the best way possible because honestly this was the highlight of my time in India, but holy cow people in India take religion to an entirely different level!
 So here’s the lowdown – basically when someone has gone through tough times like either an illness or a financial problem and nothing seems to be helping, the last resort is to pray to either Shiva or his wife Parvati ( I might have some of the details wrong but you get the gist). You would ask them to help you and if your prayers are answered, in return you will inflict pain on yourself as a symbol of thanks during the Thaipusam Festival. Now you’re asking how exactly do they cause pain to themselves? Why not stick hooks through your back and hang!!! Yes-this is no word of a lie! So thousands gather to the streets like a parade and the procession is full of drummers as well as those who are ‘saying thanks’, who eventually make their way to the temple. There were people with hooks in their backs that were pulling wagons. Then there were others who were hooked from their backs and legs and were swinging from a hitch that hung from moving trucks. (This is definitely not a pair of carnival dice hanging from the rear view mirror). Then there were others who had long sticks pierced into both cheeks through their mouths. Then others had a million tags hanging from their wrist, across the chest and to the other wrist. Then others had tags pierced all over their face. Some had peacock feathers sticking through their backs. Another who was also hanging by his back from the truck then had his nipples pierced with a bassinet hanging and a baby inside. Everywhere you turned there would be another mind blowing spectacle. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!
The atmosphere itself was euphoric and something that I have never in my life felt before. I felt like I was in a National Geographic special. With the loud drums, music blaring from the vehicles, dancing and cheering it made you forget that these people were clearly suffering. Not only that but the temperature was definitely over 35 degrees and they’d be walking in bare feet on the black asphalt! People would be pouring water on them to help with the heat and all the wounds were covered with white ash so that they wouldn’t bleed. I have to admit that at the beginning I had goosebumps and by the end I had become almost desensitized to what I was seeing.
 What also made this experience so incredibly special was the feeling you get when you connect with the locals. Being the only bunch of white people we stood out like a sore thumb. The ladies and children would poke their friends and when you smiled back at them or waved, their faces would just light up. It’s hard to explain but that connection you get with a stranger with a smile between two totally different cultures is something that I will cherish in my heart forever.
This all happened before noon if you can imagine!  The rest of the day I had to enjoy the beach and swim in the ocean. Pretty spectacular I’d say!
Yesterday we took a five hour train ride back up to Kochi (the town we started in) and today Kris and I will fly to Sri Lanka. I have to say that this trip to India was nothing like my last. I am so glad that I experienced the north a few years ago but the south has renewed my love of India. I feel like the people are happier and friendlier, and the poverty and begging is so minimal. It’s beautiful, lush and the culture is vibrant … and apart from the near molestation by the masseuse I couldn’t have asked for a better week! I highly recommend the state of Kerala to anyone thinking about traveling to India-I promise that it will not disappoint!
Until the next leg…namaste!

If you are interested in taking a tour that covers the places on my adventure check out G Adventures ~ Kerala Beaches & Backwaters

If you like this post and want to share it to Pinterest, feel free to Pin here!Varkala


One response to “The Thaipusam Festival ~ My once in a lifetime experience at a Hindu festival!”

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