There was a festival yesterday for MuthumAriamman....
Here's one view:
And here'a slightly closer view:
MAriamman or muthu mAri amman, is actually a propitiation of the goddess in the form of pox, whether chicken pox or the dreaded smallpox, which, I think, has now been eradicated. Muthu means pearls, and refers to the pearl-like pustules that form on the skin of the affected person. But now, mAriamman worship is more of a goddess worship ("amman vazhipAdu") than actually pox-related.
However, devotees often do severe penances, and go into trances during the festivals. This penance is called the "paravai kAvadi" (penance of the bird).
The garlanded devotee has hooks that pierce his back (you can see them in the picture), and the ropes are tied to the hooks, and he is suspended in the frame, where he swings to and fro, in imitation of the flight of a bird. The whole frame was mounted on a flat-bed truck and was taken in process along the main roads of Kodaikanal, which is where I photographed this.
I cannot begin to comprehend the kind of faith that lets devotees take this on as a mark of worship and reverence to the Goddess.
Other forms of devotional penance in south India (and indeed, in places like Singapore or Malaysia, too) are piercing the tongue with a "vEl" (small lance), "thee midhi" or firewalking, and pulling the holy temple chariot by means of ropes that are attached to similar hooks in the devotees' backs.
You can see how the devotee is swinging forward and back.
The power of faith just amazes and awes me.
I am now in an internet parlour about ten minutes walk from our hotel; the owner allows me to use my laptop, and charges me Rs.40 an hour. (In the hotel, it's Rs.200 ph.)
So I hope to be able to keep up with friends' posts (though no time to comment, please don't mind!) and post some more of what I have been photographing here...I hire a cycle with a basket that takes my binocs, the S3, and the 20D with the 300mm lens.
I got a great shot of a Red-Whiskered Bulbul with its catch, and a Pied Bushchat feeding its baby. But they may come out tomorrow....
Already an hour is nearly over, so bye till..perhaps...tomorrow! I am off to Bryant Park now, to see if I can see any birds.... LOTS of walking and cycling here!