*Click on photos to enlarge
Back on August 16, 2003 I underwent a Hindu ritual referred to as vel kavadi. A written account of my prior kavadi ritual can be found on this website under the link called *Journey of Kavadi 2003* and includes a number of photos from that experience.
Several months ago it happened that I attended a dinner where I ended up seated next Master Bert who was there with his lovely slave nadine. Master Bert had been kind enough to put me in contact with Fakir all those years ago when I first felt the call to do kavadi. We ended up talking about the experience and I admitted that I had been feeling the call to bear kavadi again yet was unsure who could facilitate the experience. Master Bert’s face lit up as he exclaimed that he knew the perfect person to do it and put me in touch with Elwood. Ah the Universe putting things into motion!
Some emails were exchanged with Elwood. Thankfully, he agreed and suggested the possibility of doing the ritual during an Edgewalkers event scheduled to take place in August in Canada. It felt like the ideal situation for undergoing this ritual so I made plans to drive up to Vancouver to attend the Edgewalkers event.
I was grateful and relieved that Elwood had agreed to facilitate my kavadi because I knew he would understand the intangible aspects of doing such a journey. Finding someone to facilitate a kavadi ritual is not just about finding someone knowledgeable in piercing techniques: it is about finding someone that also understands the heart and spirit of such a journey. I was elated, giddy, grateful, and relieved to know I would indeed have the opportunity to take this journey once again. It seemed absolutely perfect that I would bear kavadi a decade after my first experience.
Kavadi is a Hindu ritual that can occur in a number of ways. From the western viewpoint kavadi is typically viewed as a type of penance. The eastern philosophy is that kavadi is a means of giving thanks for something or honoring the fulfillment of some vow/promise made with the god(s), most commonly Lord Murugan.
Vel kavadi, specifically, involves wearing an upper body harness rig and having long, sharp spears (i.e. “vel”) pierced into the flesh. Some people choose to have limes stuck onto the ends of the spears to add weight/sensation. Once the rigging and spears are in place the kavadi bearer typically will walk a journey to one of the temples/places honoring Lord Murugan.
In the Hindu belief, the Goddess Parvati presented the vel (spear) to her son, Murugan as an emobodiment of her power (Shakti) in order to defeat the Soorapadman. One website explains that, “When a complete defeat for Soorapadman was imminent, the asura transformed himself into a huge mango tree to evade detection by Murugan. Murugan, too keen for the deception, hurled his Vel and split the mango tree in to two halves, one becoming Seval (a rooster) and the other Mayil (a peacock). Murugan, henceforth, had the peacock as His vahanam and the rooster became the emblem on His battle flag. The Vel became the symbol of valour, and of the triumph of good over evil.”
The vel is also thought to embody the power of wisdom: spiritual insight and the ability to remove the mind’s darkness and be released from ignorance into knowledge.
I am not Hindu yet this ritual called to my heart and spirit soon after I first saw photos of it many years ago. My personal intent for undergoing kavadi, the first time as well as this time, was with the intent of gratitude: to honor and celebrate simply ‘being’ here, now, in this moment in time and space.
As a side note, a few months ago I had felt compelled to begin another rite of passage that I termed ‘earning my warrior stripes’ as part of getting ready for kavadi. Only recently did I realize that Murugan is also known as the god of war. How appropriate that I had felt compelled to earn ‘warrior stripes’ in preparation for a ritual honoring a god of war.
Preparing for Kavadi
Prior to kavadi, I began a forty day period of refraining from eating meat/fish/fowl, alcohol consumption, s/m, and sexual activity. The more challenging aspect was to try to refrain from cursing and to work at maintaining ‘purity of thought’ (which for me meant working at letting go of anger, annoyance, and/or irritation with others. I cannot say that I succeeded in completely avoiding cursing or maintaining ‘purity of thought’ (afterall, I drive the freeways in Los Angeles!), yet I did face such things with increased awareness and worked at letting go of such thoughts and feelings.
In the weeks leading up to the ritual, a friend assisted me with building a new rig since I had not kept the old one (my first attempted rig was not all that sturdy). I then began the process of cleaning and re-sharpening my spears.
While not everyone follows such traditions in preparing for kavadi (i.e. making their own rig and spears, or going through a time of abstinence) these steps felt important to *me* and I knew these preparations were a necessary part of *my* personal journey of vel kavadi.
As the time drew near I began organizing my camping gear as well as everything I would need for the kavadi ritual. Tuesday night prior to the weekend of the event, I packed the car and began my three days of full fasting. There would be no food or beverage other than plain water until after vel kavadi was completed.
After working part of Wednesday, I was on the road by early afternoon. The plan was to split the drive over three days, arriving at the event site Friday afternoon. After spending Wednesday night in Redding, I was back on the road fairly early and headed to my former Master’s farm in Washington. Although we keep in touch by phone, it was the first time for me to see him face to face since the collar had been removed three years ago. There are no ill feelings: it is my privilege to have been his slave for over ten years. I have utter respect for the path he now follows as a Buddhist monk. I had requested that he do a Buddhist blessing for my spears and he happily obliged. It meant a lot to me to share some time and space in his presence once again and to receive the blessing for the spears.
My former slave brother kirk also lives at the farm and it happened that he was also planning to attend the Edgewalkers event. So while I said my goodbyes to my former Master, I was happy to know that I would be seeing kirk at the event.
The drive from Washington up to the Vancouver area brought me much pleasure as I drove curved roads through mountains and along tree-lined highways. By mid-afternoon I was at the event site and happily greeting some of the folks who were already there setting up camp.
The campsite was wonderful: full of tall trees alongside a beautiful flowing river. I was excited to see Elwood as well as Stormmy and Nichole. The next several hours were a blur of setting up camp, sniffing out the lay of the event area, and organizing kavadi items.
While others gathered to eat and socialize around the campfire, I had to remain at my tent getting the rig prepared with final adjustments and decorated with feathers. Peacock feathers are often used to adorn kavadi rigs. Lord Murugan used a peacock as his mount and it is often deemed to symbolize his destruction of the ego. Elwood explained that the eye of the peacock feather represents Lord Murugan's eyes in the world. I had added other bird feathers to the rigging because, for me, they symbolized flight and elevation to a higher plane.
During the evening, Elwood came by my tent to touch base as I worked on my rig. We talked about travel experiences to Malaysia for Thaipusam (the holiday during which kavadi typically occurs) as well as our past kavadi experiences. We also discussed some of the logistics for the next day. It was reassuring to me to spend some time speaking with him since we had not had a lot of face-to-face time yet I was trusting him to facilitate this very powerful experience for me. Still I knew that, no matter what, the experience would be whatever it was meant to be.
It was 3:30 am by the time this Pug crawled into her sleeping bag. Fortunately, the event did not start early. Yay for not having to be up at the crack of dawn! By mid-morning I rolled out of bed, got dressed, and finished a few last preparations.
Heading over to the grass clearing, I finally had the opportunity to meet and speak with Rena and some of the other attendees. Things were kicked off with some discussion and an opening ritual that really set the groundwork for all that would occur.
After a short break, I was called over to where Elwood stood with some others that would be assisting with the spear piercings. I had agreed to be used as a ‘guinea pug’ to teach a few individuals how to do the spear piercings for kavadi. Elwood presented me with a pendant that had a symbol of a spear piercing an ear. He, as well as a couple of the men that would be assisting with the ritual, were also wearing the same symbol. I was truly touched and honored by the meaningful gift.
Soon preparations were underway for people that were wanting to participate in a hook pull. I watched as people were pierced with hooks either on their chest, back, or both sides. Some had limes or even bells that hung from their hooks. Drumming started up and soon people attached themselves via rope to one another’s hooks, or to a tree, and began pulling. The energy of such rituals can be overwhelming at times yet there is a beauty to witnessing such poignant human experiences.
As the drumming continued, people in a small circle began to attach their hooks to a rather large drum until it was fully suspended by the hooks that pierced their chests and people continued to beat on the drum. It was wonderful to witness. While that energy continued to build, Elwood beckoned me to follow him to one side of the clearing. On the grass was a red plastic basin filled with liquid. Elwood picked up two sticks that had been sitting partially in the liquid and lifted them up. The ends of the sticks that had been in the liquid were connected by a thin rope that was tied together in a loop. Elwood held the sticks up and gently pulled them apart, causing the rope to open up into a circle. With just a slight movement, a thin film of liquid glistening across the surface of the circular rope began to expand outward until, lo and behold, a giant bubble began to form! The bubble grew and grew until he brought the sticks back together, closing off the back end to create a full, complete soapy sphere that wafted away. BUBBLES! BIG BUBBLES!!! A Pug lit up because, ohmisnortlegosh it’s BUBBLES!!! The pup within could not resist: bubbles are meant to be chased and pounced/chomped/burst!
So much fun scampering around after bubbles! At some point Elwood had to go take care of some things so he showed the Pug how to make the giant bubbles. I could not stop grinning. Soon Nichole came over and I showed her what I had been taught. While she made bubbles the Pug was free to chase them!
Eventually the hook pull began to wind down and soon I was called over to one side of the clearing that was set up to do the spear piercings. It was time to begin. The weather had been overcast and slightly cool so I had kept a hooded jacket on until that time. I felt myself take a deep breath as I took the jacket off. While I certainly have my body issues and particularly, truly dislike any of my stomach being exposed, I worked at letting go of that. A sense of peace came over me: I was so glad - so relieved that it was finally time to take this journey again. It felt so absolutely right.
I had chosen to wear a saffron colored sarong and bra for this ritual. Saffron is one of the most common colors worn by kavadi bearers and is viewed by some as symbolizing purification. I had obtained a vial of saffron and, mixing a few drops of water with it, used it to paint three lines on my forehead, along with a small trident symbol on the back of both my hands as well as the palms. In Hindu belief the trident is often associated with Shiva and the three points representing truth, awareness, and joy. For myself, these markings also represented the merging of other ‘threes’: of past/present/future as well as body/mind/spirit. I had placed three lines on my forehead in connection with what some call the ‘third eye’ which is viewed as a gate that leads to inner realms and spaces of higher consciousness. I had drawn the symbols on the inside and outside of my hands because it felt right to me: that is where energy primarily flows for me. When I am feeling intense sensations I will feel the energy rush through me and out through my hands.
A few people lifted the rig up and helped me slide into place. After securing the rig, I sat down on the stool, breathed deeply, and waited for the piercings to begin. The piercing team, Elwood with his ‘kavadi minions’: Don, Stormmy, and Harold, started with some basic cleaning prep of my exposed skin.
Within a few moments Elwood stood in front of me holding one of the spears in his gloved hands. The spear was slid through one of the holes of the rigging and, with an intent look, he pierced the first spear into my upper chest. Joy, euphoria, relief, gratitude, exuberance, elation, giddiness, verve… nothing fully or aptly describes the explosion of emotions felt in that fleeting glimpse of time. Even as I think back to that moment I feel a rush of jubilation. I was smiling as I thought to myself, “Yes, I am alive. Here. Now. In this moment I am fully living.” I looked at Elwood and found him smiling back at me.
Soon a second spear was inserted, followed by a third. I giggled as each spear was set into my flesh. I was feeling so much joy. The piercing of the spears continued as Elwood showed Don, Stormmy, and Harold, how to place the spears. With each spear insertion I would find myself giggling and one of them joked, “Okay, so once she starts giggling, we know the spear has gone in far enough!”
The joy, banter, laughter, and humor did not diminish the reverence any of us held for this ritual. Indeed, it felt as if each spear perforating me was allowing this ebullience to spring forth and be shared with others.
As the insertions continued, a couple of spears were jostled out of place. Don and Elwood bantered about whose spears were actually staying in place. I told them this was not meant to be ‘dueling spears’: this was not a competition! I could almost hear “Dueling Banjos” playing in my head. The thought quickly dissipated and was lost in a rapturous haze as another sharp point pricked my skin.
Finally, Elwood stood before me and explained that it was time to do the cheek and tongue piercings since he would not be able to get in that close once the other spears were placed along my sides. Even as I nodded in understanding, wisps of fear and doubt crept into my mind. I had never experienced any type of piercings in the mouth: was I ready for this? The apprehension brought with it the reaffirmation that yes, especially because there was fear, I needed to be open and willing to do this. Since I was sitting on a stool with no back support, I requested that a person stand on each side of me so that I could put my hands on their shoulders to help me stay in place and avoid falling backward during the mouth piercings.
I was handed a small paper cup of mouthwash. I blinked for a moment and, although I realized the necessity of it as a step for doing piercings in the mouth, I still could not help muttering, “Ugh, I hate mouthwash.” In an incredulous tone Elwood replied, "Really? The mouthwash is what you’re complaining about? Really? With all of this [the kavadi piercings, etc.], and you are complaining about the mouthwash???" I shrugged a bit sheepishly. Pouring the cup contents into my mouth, I swished it around as I made a face. I was then handed a tiny cup which I looked at in disbelief: there was no way I was going to be able to dispose of the mouthwash into this itty bitty cup. A Pug’s ungraceful attempt to spit into the little cup ended comically with a few people jumping back as mouthwash spewed forth. Pugs aren’t known for grace.
Elwood stepped forward, holding the cheek spear I had made. It was a shorter version of my other spears: having the same diameter yet sharpened with a bit more slope to the tips. The emotional aspect of me felt fear while the logical aspect struggled to reason that many other people have gone through these types of piercings. I acknowledged the fear and surrendered to the experience as Elwood positioned the spear up against my right cheek. I felt pressure as the spear began to push forward and a burst of intensity as it burrowed through the meat of my cheek.
A grunt was emitted as I exhaled and felt the spear poke through the cheek wall into my mouth. It felt so... odd. I breathed, knowing we were only half-way through the cheek piercing. Gripping the other cheek, Elwood proceeded to drive the spear forward from the inside of my mouth until it surfaced outside of my left cheek. I ran my tongue along the spear inside my mouth in almost a state of disbelief. A powerful feeling - one that I cannot suitably explain - coursed through me. I felt myself shifting into an altered state of consciousness. Tranquility filled me.
Then came time for the tongue piercing. I had diligently grinded down a much-smaller spear to use for the tongue. Slight pangs of fear tugged at me, trying to pull me back from the altered state the cheek spear had impelled me toward. I felt my tongue being gripped and turned sideways. Elwood made quick work of piercing the tongue. The tongue involuntarily tried to retract yet only partially-succeeded since the petite spear prevented it from fully retreating (which was the intent). Another powerful rush of inexplicable feelings came over me. Momentary nirvana.
They continued with the spear piercings along my sides. It occurred to me that my sitting position might make it more difficult to pierce the spears into those areas so I attempted to ask if I should stand up, “Oooo whaa eee aaa?”
Elwood looked at me funny so I tried to repeat my question yet the tiny spear kept my tongue out far enough to prevent me from pronouncing any actual words. Elwood raised an eyebrow and asked, “What?”
I tried again, “Ooo waa eee ooo aaa?”
Elwood responded, “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
I tried once more while motioning my hands upwards, “Looo whaa eee aaa uuh?”
Elwood, with an impish gleam in his eyes said, “I *know* what you are trying to say: I just enjoy making you try to speak like this! No, you don’t need to stand up yet.”
Sadist. I rolled my eyes and gave a quiet laugh. While I couldn’t see them, I have no doubt that Stormmy, Don, and Harold were all chuckling at this comical exchange.
Soon the men were impaling limes onto the end of the spears. I had stopped at a small store in Washington to get water and limes. The limes at that store happened to be HUGE! The Universe has a sadistic sense of humor.
Once the limes were added, I carefully slid off the stool and Elwood helped me to stand up.
It’s a whole different level of sensation to be standing, and then moving, when you are filled with spears. I took a few tentative steps forward just to make sure I had a feel for the weight of the rig, spears, limes, and where my feet were positioned. My world began to shift: I felt no weight bearing down on me. I had recalled the rigging/spears/etc. feeling more weighty when I did this ten years ago. Yet now, in this moment, everything felt amazingly light. I touched my hands to the shoulder part of the harness to reassure myself that it was actually on me. The spears simply felt prickly and caused me to grin at the sensation. Taking a few more steps forward, I found myself closing my eyes and a sense of energy begin to build from within. As I moved forward, I began to hear some drumming. Elwood instructed someone to go get other people to come pick up instruments and play as I moved around.
The sound of more drumming and other musical instruments chiming in could be heard distantly in my head. I say distantly because I was only partly conscious of my surroundings and what was occurring. Part of me felt far away - nowhere in particular - as if I were moving between two planes: not quite here or there (wherever ‘there’ might be).
Before the ritual had begun the cool temperature had me a bit concerned about feeling cold. I had nothing to be worried about: the energy kept building inside me until I felt heat radiating off of me and a sheen of sweat forming.
Elwood faced me and continued to walk backwards trying to ensure I didn’t stumble or fall as I moved across uneven ground. I began to walk, sway, and dance around the forested clearing. A few of the spears were jostled loose from my movements. I think one or two might have been reinserted yet a couple ended up being removed. I continued my movement and at some point Elwood pulled out a drumstick of sorts and proceeded to drum lightly on the rig frame. The vibration reverberated through the spears and into me. Looking at him, I simultaneously felt a sense of grounding and utter elation flowing through me. I knew I was safe in that moment: that I could simply ‘be’ and not worry about having to fully be aware of everything around me. I was free to let my consciousness flow wherever it wanted to go and that someone was there who would understand and help draw me back if needed.
My eyes closed several times while I continued to move and dance around. I could have tripped or fallen yet I simply could not stop myself from closing my eyes and feeling all that was occurring: within me as well as around me. Sometimes what we physically see is a distraction from what truly needs to be observed.
At times bursts of energy caused me to start stomping and shaking frenetically... which caused spears to fly! I heard laughing and someone say this could be a video game: ducking flying spears. Some of the spears would shake loose and simply sit atop the skin poking me again and again while other spears seemed to eject completely from the rig. They started calling me a pug-upine since I seemed to be shooting my quills! Harold, Don, and Elwood tried to grab up spears that came loose while Stormmy continued to drum along with others playing instruments.
I have no clue what all of this looked like to others or how they felt about the experience. I can only share from my perspective and, from that outlook, it was paradise. Some people might shake their heads in disbelief yet, for me in those moments, time stopped and I was in a state of purely ‘being’ and wanting for nothing. I felt everything and yet nothing at all. There was no pain, no doubt, no negativity, no fear. There was simply all that was pure and good in that moment.
The music and movement continued until finally all of the spears were shaken loose. Still dancing, I looked up and found Elwood grinning at me. Without a word, he motioned his head sideways toward the stool. After I sat down, he promptly extracted the spears from my tongue and cheek.
Several people then assisted with lifting the rig up and off of me. While I had remained well hydrated, there was little blood from the pierced areas. It did not surprise me since there had been little markings or blood the last time I had undergone kavadi.
I sat there in a state of bliss, talking and laughing with Elwood and others as they all waited patiently for me to start coming back down from my ecstatic state. I was humbled and grateful for everyone that shared in the experience: they created the energy and support that enabled me to undergo this profound and beautiful experience.
Part of me didn’t want it to end yet I accepted that it was time. All things change: endings pave the way for new beginnings. One cannot grow if one clings to the false illusion that one is able to prevent change. The best I can do is value and appreciate that which has manifested and honor in my heart the memory of what was created. May others hold in their heart the joy of such experiences.