Kavadi celebrations are Hindu practices that take place all over the world with what can only be described as dramatic dedication and unquestionable devotion. In Durban, there is a massive population of Hindu followers. So, it is no surprise that this annual event is something to which local residents and visitors from around the planet can look forward with much excitement.
Durban, the main metropolis of KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa, boasts some 60 temples that participate in this event. Some are right in the city centre, while others are scattered slightly further afield. Kavadi is held to honour the Hindu god of war and patron deity of Tamil, Lord Muruga. It is believed that the more pain that is endured by those devotees that participate, the happier this god will be and the greater their ultimate reward.
As a result, the festival is an interesting, sometimes painful, peep into the beliefs and customs of devout Hindus. Devotees carry various types of burdens (called kavadi) around, usually heavy wooden yokes that they bear on their shoulders for several kilometres as they walk through the streets of Durban. They also shave their heads (after fasting for two days), and pierce their tongues, cheeks and upper body with hooks, needles and other sharp implements to demonstrate the level of pain that they are willing to endure. In addition, devotees can be seen walking on fire, inserting sharp nails into their shoes, and pulling heavy loads using ropes attached to hooks in their backs. The event culminates in their walking over 10 metres of hot coals sans any type of foot protection. Many participants claim to go into a trance-like state at which the physical pain is no longer felt. While their beliefs are not shared by all, they are certainly fascinating to watch as they are put into practice by those who love and live by them.
In addition to these customs, the celebration is characterised by vibrant colours and music, as devotees sway slowly under the weight of their burdens. Tens of thousands of people flock to the temples, not only to participate, but also to enjoy the festivities. This brings the Hindu community together in very special ways.
Although many places through KwaZulu-Natal participate in the Kavadi Celebration and have exciting events that are centred around it, the most popular site is doubtless Mount Edgecombe and the Sri Shiva Temple (or Shiva Subrahmanya Alayam Temple) to which it is home. This area is just north of the hub of Durban, where commercial enterprises and entertainment abound. As such, it is situated rather conveniently to other attractions, amenities and facilities; not least of all the King Shaka International Airport.
Because Durban has a large Hindu community, there are more of their annual events and celebrations that complement Kavadi. These include Draupadi and Diwali (also known as The Festival of Lights).