Taking piercings to a whole new level.

11 year old student from my school...

11 year old student from my school…The Elephant Festival in Chenkal, Kerala:

The Elephant Festival in Chenkal, Kerala, where Hindu devotees have their cheeks pierced, are suspended above the ground on hooks, and walk over hot coals – it’s just another ordinary day in India.

Last  week Hindus in India celebrated Maha Shivratri, a festival to honour the God Shiva, which inevitably necessitated another National Holiday.  So the school closed at lunchtime on Monday in anticipation of the flocks of locals and tourists swooping down on Chenkal  to witness the grand parade with elephants, as everyone told me eagerly.  An opportunity not to be missed!! And indeed, I spotted the first elephant in the morning – or was it the huge elephant droppings on the road that alerted me?  After coming across a multitude of those in Africa in September, I would say I am almost an expert in recognizing elephant poo…    Anyway, I was going to be in for something spectacular!

elephant chomping

After joining some of the school’s teachers for temple food at lunch time – Kerala lunch with masses of rice – , I was already given a little preview of what would be in store.  Seven elephants with mahouts in attendance were lazily eating palm leaves; young men were preened and prepared in colourful costumes and men clad in orange were finalizing their drumming skills.  The air buzzed with excitement in the early afternoon although the parade was not due to start until much later in the evening when the unforgiving sun had lost most of its ferocity. So I spent most of the afternoon in the house of a teacher, sipping away at tea and water and being fed fruit, biscuits and all matter edible until I was fit to burst.  And this was before supper… In their generosity and hospitality, Indians do not understand the word ‘no’ and it takes some persuasion to convince them that you have really had enough to eat…

Where tradition meets modern technology.

Where tradition meets modern technology.

Prepped and preened hours before the festival.

Prepped and preened hours before the festival.

Waiting patiently for the action to begin

Waiting patiently for the action to begin

men in red

Getting ready to play the tiger...

Getting ready to play the tiger…

Waiting for the parade to start.

Waiting for the parade to start.

man in red

As soon as the afternoon heat started to fade, we set off on our walk to the river from where the parade was due to leave a few hours later.  On the way we watched locals cleanse the area near the front of their houses and display offerings of fruit and flowers for the Gods that would pass whilst members of the upper Brahmin caste drew Kolam patterns on the ground, all to welcome the Goddess of prosperity, Lekshmi, into their houses.

Well, I tried not to include him in the photograph of the offerings, but he was having none of it...

Well, I tried not to include him in the photograph of the offerings, but he was having none of it…

patterns

We did not quite make it to the river in time to witness the ritual bathing of the God Shiva and the many pilgrims draped in orange loincloths who joined in the washing process.  It took us a while to navigate through the throng of on-lookers who had gathered to witness the priests preparing Hindu faithful for their sacrifice to the God Shiva in the search for better luck and a good future life.  And I – as well as every white tourist present – could feel their sacrifice in my stomach, even though I was assured that the ones ready to be hung up by meat hooks were only convulsing through the blessings of the Gods…  And I definitely would like to know what those who smiled for the camera were taking, because I may need it for my next visit to the dentist!

people at the lake

The God Shiva, heading the parade after being bathed in the river.

The God Shiva, heading the parade after being bathed in the river.

Posing for a picture....

Posing for a picture….

Not a care in the world...

Not a care in the world…

men hanging

Ready, steady...

Ready, steady…

Go...

Go…

But the parade after dark was indeed spectacular with colourfully adorned elephants, fire throwers and men still dangling up high, suspended in the air…  As for those walking with the rods through their mouth or carrying a carvery, they were so ‘blessed by the Gods’, only the support from other people kept them from keeling over…

elephant

Still going strong several hours later....

Still going strong several hours later….

This is some 'blessing' as it takes four men to stop this young boy from toppling over.

This is some ‘blessing’ as it takes four men to stop this young boy from toppling over.

Not every Hindu joins in with the body piercing and most will show their devotion on that night in other ways.  So it was that I accompanied Principal M’am and her husband, Academic Director, on a 100 km twelve temple pilgrimage into Tamil Nadu.  Unlike many Hindus who cover the distance walking or running barefoot within a twenty-four hour period, we opted to go by car – I think I might have given it a miss otherwise.  There was, however, a slight flaw in the plan.  Leaving at 9.00 in the evening together with what seemed like the whole population of Kerala meant that car parking spaces were rather elusive and a two-wheeler (or motorbike to you and me) would have been the more sensible option…  As the wearing of shoes is forbidden in temples and we could not be certain that our shoes would still be at the entrance by the time we finished at the temple, we joined the many bare feet on the tarmac and left our chapals in the safety of the car.  This worked well for the first few temples, but the distances between the car and the temples certainly appeared to increase greatly as the night wore on.  And what may have felt like small molehills under foot at first, developed into gigantic porcupines to walk on by the end of the night.  Even the smoothest road surfaces seemed to grow razor sharp pins to pierce your feet.  Well, I did not escape the ‘body piercing’ after all…   We eventually completed our trek at 7 am in the morning and spent the rest of the day with Principal M’am’s family in Tamil Nadu.  It was after all a National Holiday, so need to rush back…

Take your pick... maybe they will be yours after all or maybe not.

Take your pick… maybe they will be yours after all or maybe not.

2 thoughts on “Taking piercings to a whole new level.

  1. lievelee Post author

    Yes, it was quite extraordinary to experience… And none of the locals find it bizarre that men choose to have their cheeks pierced or hang by these hooks. It certainly makes you feel queasy when you first see it. I was also told that by the next morning all the holes from the piercing would have healed; however, when I saw this boy at school a few days later, his face looked quite swollen and you could clearly still see the puncture marks, but I don’t think he will have scars..

    Like

    Reply

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