While i have shared my journey of Kavadi in oral presentations at a number of leather events, it actually took me 4 years to finally put the experience into written word for my own journal and website.
i am not fully sure why, yet i found myself unready to share the journey in written word for quite a long time. For whatever reason, the journey has now finally found its way to be expressed through the words tapped out on my keyboard. It is time to share the journey in writing and it is time to share some of the photos of the experience as well. Perhaps that is part of it: at no earlier point was i ready to post any of the photos related to the experience even though i did share them in the oral presentations.
Yet even now, i know that no written words will fully convey the depth and truth of this profound experience and how it changed my life in a profound yet intangible way.
Click on photos to enlarge.
What is in a Word?
Funny how a word can lead to a completely new step in one's life path.
It was Autumn 2002 when i heard an acquaintance telling some friends about a particular device. The device was described as a Kavadi breast press. i mused that it might be a potential Christmas gift for my Master and decided to look around the internet for something similar. My search led me to discover that this was a personally-made device and not something for sale. Ah well, that idea was scrapped. Yet, that internet search led me to several websites that discussed Kavadi. In retrospect, the search for the Christmas gift seemed to have been the Universe's way of getting my attention: baiting a hook for me so-to-speak.
When i first heard the term Kavadi, i had no clue what it meant. i soon discovered it referred to a Hindu, more specifically a Tamil Hindu, ritual that involved the piercing of one's flesh with spears or hooks and then walking a journey.
From the western viewpoint, Kavadi is typically viewed to be a form of penance. The eastern philosophy, and more the way that i personally embraced it, is that Kavadi is a means of giving thanks for something or honoring the fulfillment of some vow/promise. The Hindu god, Lord Murugan, is often the deity that is honored during the ritual and it is typically practiced during the Hindu holiday known as Thaipusam.
There are many forms of Kavadi. One of the most traditional forms of Kavadi is known as Vel Kavadi, which is not practiced much anymore. Vel Kavadi involves wearing an upper body harness rig (imagine something akin to hang glider rigging without the wings) and having long, thin, sharp spears pierced into your flesh. The spears usually pierce through the skin at an angle rather than directly perpendicular to the body. Once the rigging and spears are all in place, you walk a journey that typically would start out at one of the temples honoring Lord Murugan and conclude at another temple. The process is often referred to as 'bearing Kavadi.'
When i first saw photos of people bearing Kavadi, i did not think, "Wow!" i thought, "Owwwww!" At first glance, the ritual looked extreme. For the next few weeks i found myself going back again and again to the websites that discussed Kavadi until i came to the realization, "i must do this."
It was not an easy or simple thing to accept and part of me wondered if i was crazy. The thought of doing something like this was so far out of my realm of comprehension at the time that i knew i needed to seriously think about it. At the time, i had almost no experience with even being pierced with small gauge needles! This was not something i approached on a whim.
i am not Hindu, nor had i ever had any inclination to convert to Hinduism, yet this specific ritual began calling to me strongly. More than one internal argument ensued as i wondered if i was truly feeling called to undergo this experience or if i was experiencing an overactive imagination. While part of me was doubtful and second-guessing this call, something else within me spoke even stronger, compelling me to think more and more about it and finally coming to accept that i must take this journey.
Accepting the Call
So my journey of Kavadi began with acknowledging and accepting that i truly felt called to undergo this ritual. There soon came a number to me: i sensed that i was to do 120 spears. i did not even know if that was possible! i didn't even know if i could handle one spear let alone more! i had also come to feel that i should walk the same distance walked by those that would make the same journey to the Batu Caves in Malaysia, which would be a little over 8 miles. i had no idea if i was capable of doing any of this. All i knew is that i had to be open to and willing to embark on this journey. A lot of second guessing occurred within me throughout this time, yet i knew that somehow i had to be willing to try this.
i continued to research and contemplate Kavadi. After discussing with my Master this call i was feeling to do Kavadi, He encouraged me to travel to Malaysia to witness the Kavadi ritual firsthand. Initially i balked at the idea yet soon realized that i needed to see this ritual take place. i needed to feel the energy of it and be open to whatever lessons the Universe was offering to me in the process.
my mom was quite upset when i first told her that i was planning to go to Malaysia. She didn't know that my intent was to go witness a Tamil Hindu ritual: she only knew that i had said i was going on a spiritual journey. My mom seemed to think that this trip translated into me having some sort of early mid-life crisis. She told me that i didn't need to leave the country to "find myself". i responded that i didn't know i had lost myself. There was no sense in sharing with her about the ritual i was planning to witness: she would not have understood. What was important is that *i* understood what i needed to do.
Traveling to Malaysia
In mid-January 2003 Randy, who was one of my slave brothers at the time, and i traveled to Malaysia for the Thaipusam holiday. Our flight included a change of planes in Japan and another change in Singapore. As we landed in Japan i developed a splitting headache, my muscles ached and i began to feel weak. When we boarded the plane departing Japan i felt nauseous and, before the plane even rolled back from the gate, i found myself throwing up. A sense of relief washed over me and i felt completely fine after that. It might be easy to surmise i ate something that didn't sit well yet, it honestly felt as if my body was purging itself of some negative stuff i seemed to have been subconsciously holding onto.
The most popular location for the Kavadi ritual to take place in Malaysia begins at a temple in the middle of the Chinatown section of Kuala Lumpur. Those bearing Kavadi and their family/friends that come to support them, walk to the Batu Caves, which is approximately an 8 mile trek. Our plan was to head to Penang to observe Kavadi during the actual Thaipusam holiday but we took the opportunity while in Kuala Lumpur to make the foot journey from Chinatown to the Batu Caves.
As we walked, we would occasionally stop to ask people directions. Several times we were told it was impossible to get from where we were to the Batu Caves on foot. This puzzled me since i knew thousands of people walked that journey each year. We found our own way, which i think made the trek all the more important for having done something that people kept insisting was "impossible".
At the base of the Batu Caves, looking up toward the cave entrance to the temple.
Looking back down the steps from the cave entrance at the top.
At a main part of the temple inside of the cave.
After completing the foot journey to the Batu Caves, slave randy and i rented a car and drove through a good portion of Malaysia: through coastal towns, mountain ranges and some of the oldest tropical rain forest in the world.
At one point during our drive we arrived at a police barricade and were told to pull to the side of the road along with two cars that we were following behind. Apparently the local police had a photo speed trap set up... in the jungle! i admit: that impressed me! The two cars in front of us were given speeding tickets. As the policeman did his best to explain about the traffic ticket, it began to rain and the other police began to pick up the barriers and leave. In the end, he decided to have us simply pay him half the original fine and let us go on our way. Once the police left, i turned to my slave brother and joked that the payment was worth having the colorful, unintentional experience be part of our journey!
As we drove through the jungle and various towns, i felt privileged to be there. The days were a simple mix of sleeping, eating and seeing wonderfully different places rich with culture. The Muslim mosques especially drew my attention as we would drive past them with their colorful domes contrasting the typically-drab facades of most of the other buildings throughout the country. Each day at early morning, noon and evening, the prayer chants could be heard from loudspeakers of the mosques throughout the country.
we stuck to eating mostly at small roadside open-air shacks. Watermelon juice was my beverage of choice throughout the trip. On the last night of our stay in Malaysia, we ate at an upper-scale hotel restaurant with a substantially diverse buffet. As we began to eat that last dinner, my slave brother and i agreed: the food at the run-down open-air shacks tasted far better for far less money than the food of the upper scale hotel restaurant. Not to mention, there was always something colorful and interesting to observe at the open-air eateries: be it wandering goats and chickens, heavy rain falling down or simply the changing landscape of Malaysia from urban backstreet alleys to lush green rainforest. In truth, one of our best, most flavorful meals was a curry dish that we ate at an open-air food stall in a backstreet alley where the raw sewage ran right by the table we sat down to eat at! Many folks might have turned their noses up at such a place, but the food there was great and it simply felt right to be there.
The last leg of our journey found us driving through the mountain range that runs along the border of Malaysia and Thailand. As the afternoon faded, a surreal mist began to settle around us as we continued to drive. Several times i spotted road signs warning of elephant crossings yet we never did get to witness an elephant crossing the road. Darn!
It was late in the evening when we arrived at our final destination of the journey: Penang.
Thaipusam in Malaysia
As the day of the ritual dawned in Penang, we made our way to one of the main areas where people were preparing for the journey, which was a parking lot across from one of the temples honoring Lord Murugan. Various groups staked out portions of the lot and began burning incense and laying out items of fruit, silver pots filled with milk and other items that held meaning to them. As more people gathered, the air began to fill with a smoky haze from the incense and the sounds of drums and chanting.
we walked around, watching various groups begin their preparations. We observed hooks piercing flesh with either fruit or small silver pots of milk hanging from the hooks.
Others would opt to have ropes attached to the hooks piercing their skin and then have the ropes pulled taut by others as they walked their journey.
While i saw a few variations of Kavadi, i did not see anyone undertaking the Vel Kavadi. Yet, that seemed to reaffirm that it was important for me to undergo that particular ritual. There was so little i knew about the process or outcome that perhaps the drive to do this less-used form of the ritual stemmed from knowing that i needed to face the fear of the unknown.
There were numerous tourists and observers walking around and taking photos of the ritual preparations. Despite all of the noise and chaotic movement there was still a sense of sacred space surrounding those preparing to bear Kavadi. Occasionally there would be a gasp or a brief noise emitted, yet it occurred to me that there was no screaming or even loud exclamations as people underwent the piercings. Part of me wanted to be going through the ritual with all of them yet i knew i wasn't fully prepared. At one point, i turned to my slave brother and exclaimed that the energy surrounding the experience was so similar to what we experienced during various rituals and s/m journeys our Master would facilitate. Finally, we followed as some of the groups began to make their way into the nearby temple and then onto the main temple a mile and a half away. It seemed to be out of context to witness this sacred procession darting cars as they made their way across a busy street. Numerous vending booths were set up along portions of the street where we walked: it added a somewhat carnival feel to the procession.
After arriving at the base of the hill of the temple destination, my slave brother headed back to the hotel and i made the journey up the numerous steps of the crowded hillside with the throngs of other people. While the crowds seemed oppressive at times, i couldn't begrudge their presence: we were all there for similar reasons and i had to honor their journeys as much as my own. It all felt right.
Once Kavadi bearers would reach the end of their journey they would move off to a less-crowded area to remove the rig they had carried all that way. It surprised me to see so little blood and almost no marks left from the removal of the hooks. Even the small spears that had pierced a number of their cheeks and tongues seemed to leave no trace of having been there. It seemed to me as if the intent and energy of the ritual had enabled a tremendous amount of self-healing that was almost immediate. The experience of having observed the Kavadi ritual in Malaysia was an amazing gift. It also brought me one step closer to embarking on my own Kavadi ritual.
Flying back from Penang into Kuala Lumpur, i was reading a news article that mentioned the freeway from Kuala Lumpur to the Batu Caves was closed during the Thaipusam holiday to car traffic so that people could actually walk along the freeway. i came to realize my slave brother and i had made our own route on foot! Still, we got there: it may not have been the easiest trek, but it had certainly not been impossible. That knowledge made our journey all the more poignant. *smile
On the flight back to the US from Malaysia an odd and beautiful thing occurred: i felt a very subtle, quiet shift within me. i found myself letting go of fear. Not fear of going through the Kavadi ritual, rather, i found myself letting go of fear about life in general. Particularly fears and worries about my work or vanilla friends finding out about my leather life. i had been especially fearful of having photos taken of me at leather/bdsm events and gatherings. i realized on that flight home that it was time to let go and walk my path without trepidation of being 'outed'. i knew i had to let go of the fear of having my photo taken: perhaps the Universe was preparing me to have my Kavadi ritual visually recorded. Even as this shift occurred, i knew i'd still have the same challenges in life to deal with - those do not disappear - but my perception and approach to those challenges had shifted. It felt as if i had released a burden; a weight of worries.
Meeting Fakir Musafar
A week after i returned from Malaysia, i flew up to Northern California to meet with Fakir Musafar. Fakir, often referred to as the father of the modern primitive movement, had undergone a number of primitive types of rituals including the ritual of Vel Kavadi. He provided me with some much-needed information and insight.
After much discussion, Fakir asked if i would like to see the spears he had used. i jumped at the opportunity. He brought out the spears and placed one in my hands. Something felt different. i closed my eyes and felt as if i was no longer completely in one place: as if a part of me were somewhere else. It felt like there was a tremendous amount of energy flowing through that spear. Fakir continued to speak as i held the spear. He told me to keep the spear as a talisman and a guide for sharpening my own spears. i can not explain how overwhelmed i was feeling in that moment: the tears flowed. i was so genuinely humbled and honored. Almost every time i speak about that experience i still find myself overwhelmed with those same powerful feelings.
i hold much gratitude for the time and energy that Fakir gifted me with: it truly gave me strength and guidance for what i was embarking on.
As time passed i began preparations. i researched what materials i would need for my rig and places to obtain the type of stainless steel rods i would use for my spears. The spears were 4 feet long and 1/8th inch diameter. It is not a simple task of running down to a local hardware store to find surgical stainless steel grade rods! i did a lot of research on finding companies that would sell the type and grade of steel rods that i was looking for as well as comparing prices. i found a place that had the material and diameter i was looking for and could custom cut the rods to my specifications.
i felt a rush of excitement when i first went to pick up my order of rods. i was given a heavy duty cardboard tube that held my purchase of 125 rods. i had bought a few extra in case i made mistakes and ruined any of the rods during the sharpening process. The tube was nondescript and, as i picked it up for the first time, i was blown away by how incredibly heavy it felt. i wondered how i would be able to handle carrying the weight of all those spears much less having them pierced into my body. i maneuvered the tube of spears into my trunk, where i kept them stored for the next few months. i felt giddy as i drove home and i called a friend to share my excitement about picking up my future spears.
It felt important to let the leather groups in my area know they were a part of this journey i was taking, so i took the tube of rods to a number of the groups and would request a few minutes to explain this journey i felt called to do. i would then request that anyone who felt comfortable in doing so, approach the rods and offer up something that they wanted to release/let go of into the Universe. The tube of rods began to feel a bit lighter each time i would lift them out of my car and carry them into a leather group meeting.
Initially, the rods were blunt cut and had a protective oil coating. Part of the journey of Kavadi is to prepare - sharpen - one's own spears.
i wasn't sure how i was going to do this. The Universe provided guidance through someone i knew locally who did metal sculpting and had knowledge of working with many kinds of metals. The process of cleaning the oily film off all of the spears took some time.
i learned how to grind the ends of the rods into sharpened tips.
A date was finally chosen for the actual Kavadi ritual: August 16, 2003. i started to take Kundalini yoga as a way to help prepare myself for whatever the experience would bring. Beginning forty days before the ritual day, i began more intense preparations: no eating meat/fish or fowl, no alcohol consumption, and no sexual activity (not that i was having any sex *before* those forty days of preparation)! The final three days before the ritual were full fasting.
i came to understand a fuller meaning this ritual held for me: it was a giving of thanks for all that is/has been in my life: it would be a celebration of all that i am - an utter acceptance of myself without doubt, shame or loathing. Going through all the preparatory steps was a lesson about trusting in myself and the Universe: allowing myself to go with my instincts, opening myself to further awareness and a willingness to grow.
The Time Draws Near
i drove to Tucson a few days before the scheduled ritual and began building the rigging framework that i would carry on my shoulders and keep the spears from moving too much.
As the time drew near, leather family and friends arrived and helped me finish building the rig and then decorate it.
Many of the photos of my Kavadi experience were actually taken by one of my friends since i was kind of busy at the time. The odd thing that happened is that my slave brother had gotten a new video camera and was recording the experience, yet when we played the recording back, nothing had been recorded. So i am incredibly grateful for the photos my friend took.
When i had first come into my Master's family, T/they were living out on a piece of property in California that had a large number of peacocks freely wandering about. Quite honestly, the peacocks were annoying as hell: making loud squawking types of noises and pooping all over the property. The peacocks were also constantly dropping feathers that W/we would gather up. The large bundle of peacock feathers went with T/them when T/they moved to Tucson.
When i first told my Master that peacock feathers were traditionally used to decorate the Kavadi rigs, He immediately responded that He now realized why He had been keeping the bundle of peacock feathers all that time. It seemed serendipitous.
i and some of the others, at my request, had also been gathering other feathers that had come across our paths. All the feathers that had been gathered were used to decorate the rigging the night before the ritual.
Moment of Truth
The day of the ritual finally dawned. We started off with a sage smudging of everyone there and some drumming. i slipped into the rigging and others helped secure it in place. Wow, did that add some weight - especially to my shoulders. My skin was cleaned off in preparation for spears that would soon be pierced through my flesh.
Even as the moment to begin the spear piercings neared, i still had no idea whether i would even be capable of making it through such an experience. For all i knew, i might faint or scream in excruciating pain from the first spear. i truly had no idea how i would react. What i did know was that, no matter my reaction, the point was to be open and be willing to move forward in the journey that lay before me. It was a leap of faith to believe in myself and the Universe at large.
When the moment came for the very first spear to pierce my flesh i breathed deep, then exhaled. There was a momentary flash of a thousand thoughts/doubts/apprehensions: questioning myself, "Did i *really* feel called to do this? Will i be able to handle this? WHAT THE HELL WAS i THINKING?!?"
The momentary flash of a thousand thoughts/doubts/apprehensions passed as i breathed in deeply again and accepted whatever was to happen. Then, as i exhaled again, i felt the first spear pierce into the flesh of my chest. i won't lie: it was intense. Yet, as i took another breath, i was all right.
i was more than all right: the whole world seemed to alter slightly, right before my eyes. i found myself laughing. Yes, laughing. The second spear was inserted, then a third... i felt euphoria. The endorphins were kicking in, yet it was more than that. i felt like i was between two worlds or, perhaps, two perceptions of the same world? The spears continued to be added. i was giddy...ecstatic.
There came a point when 70 spears were protruding from the front, back and sides of my upper body. i was told that there just wasn't anymore space on my upper torso for the spears, "...no more real estate," my Master had said. i smiled and accepted that. There was no failure in not using the entire 120 spears on my body: the important thing was that i had been open to the process, prepared all of the spears and was willing.
Once the spears were in place, with limes and lemons stuck on the ends of several of them, i began my foot journey. The citrus fruit is traditionally added to add weight to the spears, pushing them further into the pierced flesh as you continue you walk. It has the added 'benefit' of some of the citric juices running down the spears and around the edges of where the spears penetrated the skin. Woo hoo. Hmm... spears piercing skin with fruit on the other end... kind of looks like Hellraiser meets Carmen Miranda, doncha think?
i had a calibrated pedometer attached to the rigging belt to track my distance. All who were present walked with me the first time i circled the property. The following couple of times i circled the property, a few others would escort me.
There were several funny moments that happened during the time of bearing Kavadi. i know that those who were present took away their own special memories as well.
i knew i had not gone eight miles when i was ready to stop, yet that was okay too. A friend later told me that the pedometer had shown that i had walked 1.6 miles. i had to smile at that because it was pretty much the same distance walked by the Kavadi bearers in Penang, which is where i had actually observed the ritual on the Thaipusam holiday.
Everyone present walked with me as i circled the property for the final round and headed to the large stone circle that sits on the property.
Realizing the Journey
All who attended helped to remove the spears.
It was a surprise that the spears felt even more intense coming out than they had felt going in. i don't have the words to aptly describe what it felt like. People began to take the spears out all at once: the process seemed to speed up and the only word that seems to fit isn't even really a word, but rather, more of a descriptive sound: WOOSH... WOOSH... WOOSH. The sensation of numerous spears being pulled out simultaneously evoked an image of shooting stars rushing by; rushing through me. There was this sudden feeling that all of the thoughts, energies, anything that people had released into the spears when i had initially taken the rods around to the various groups, was being released into the Universe as the spears were released from my body.
A flood of emotion came over me: surprise, amazement, joy, awe, humility, relief, absolution, celebration, love... soon followed by the flow of tears. There was a sense of being all alone and yet united with everyone and everything at the same time. i kneeled there, feeling a single trickle of blood begin to make its way down my chest while everyone else stood quietly in a circle around me. my Master pressed a hand over my chest where the blood emerged from as He kissed me on the top of my head. The beauty of it all in that moment was so pure and powerful.
With the ending of the ritual, several of the folks present helped remove the Kavadi rig from my body and carried it back over to sit it on the ground behind the back of the guest house. It took two people to carry the rigging back: mostly because it was bulky and a bit unwieldy to carry without having it strapped on. The rigging weighed 24 lbs. and the 70 spears that had been pierced into me were another 10.5 lbs.
i followed quietly. Back at the guesthouse, several of us sat down for a moment and, from the trickle of blood that still flowed, Sir fingerpainted a symbol on my chest. Exhaustion began to set in. After cleaning up, Pup Don had me lay down next to him and we curled up for a pup nap together.
The entire experience seemed a bit surreal. It sounds like something out of a fictional story. It is often said that truth is stranger than fiction. Yet truth really is no more or less 'strange' than fiction. Rather, the truths of our lives simply are what they are and it is how we choose to perceive them that evoke a sense of strangeness.