As is the case for all Hindu religious celebrations, the core symbolism of Thai Poosam Cavadee is about surrendering one’s ego: in so doing we lift the veil of ignorance and are led to discover the Inner or Higher Self which is our true nature as being identical with that of Brahman.
As Brahmachari Arvind Chaitanya (from Tamil Nadu) of the Chinmaya Mission Mauritius explains: Hinduism posits that ‘there is one God or God principle which is called Brahman – the Absolute Self or Truth or Reality. It manifests in a multitude of forms with specific functions (NB: creation, sustenance, destruction) as required for the varied activities of the world. Lord Muruga is another manifestation of the same God principle…none other than Lord Shiva himself.’ Further, ‘Thai poosam is one such day of surrendering and worship of Lord Muruga, yet another occasion to shed our human self and embrace our spiritual Self.’
As for the cavadee (or kavadee), it is ‘a symbol of what we are willing to give up in the pursuit of the love of God, of putting our burdens unto His feet, of submitting all our karmas at his feet. The biggest burden that man carries is his EGO. It is from the ego and all our ego-centric desires that all the positives and negatives of our lives are shaped.
‘The elaborate kavadee is thus a representation of the enlarged ego of man… of the burden of ego that the jivatma (a rough approximation in English is ‘soul’) carries in this world, which is fed and decorated, and made beautiful and heavy to carry. To it are attached all our desires, signified by the milk and the offerings we carry, very necessary for sustaining life, but nevertheless also the fount of sorrow, a burden in one’s inner evolution. It is this, that having taken a vow, is temporarily carried and given unto Him.’
Moreover, ‘the Kavadee, as connected with the story of Idumban represents the Sivagiri and Shaktigiri – the essential duality that creates and sustains the world, the ego principle and the desire principle. Thus the sacrifice of the Kavadee is sacrifice of the twin mountains of ego and desires. It is the submission of the burden of all duality at His feet.’
Having catered to our spiritual need, and understood it as so clearly explained by Br. Arvind, we now turn to a more mundane aspect of Cavadee but nevertheless very necessary for our sustenance: the special fare associated with Cavadee locally.
Imagine that after having enjoyed sept carris – and that too not only once but twice in the day: lunch and dinner – one is asked a couple of days later whether such and such item of food is ‘good or bad for cholesterol.’ This is in fact what happened to me at the vegetable seller’s on Tuesday morning. I met a lady charge nurse who had worked with me in hospital, also retired like me and who was doing her errands. We naturally greeted each other and as happens so often when one meets a doctor the conversation took an, er, ‘nutritional’ turn. It was a standard question that I have been put many times by many different people: my friends at Trou-O-Cerfs have stopped asking.
Because my answer has always been – even before I was a doctor, and as a doctor now, I have never ever thought when I am eating whether such and such food item is good or bad for cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension and what have you. Simply because it would make life miserable, and turn the act of eating into a torture, the last thing one wants during a meal. I am midway on the spectrum of ‘some people eat to live, some people live to eat.’ I do enjoy a good meal, especially a typically Mauritian one with all its dizzy varieties in the mix of Indian (itself spanning from north to south and in between), Chinese, French, Creole and whatever else has come to enrich it. Where is the time or the inclination to think cholesterol and company as one digs in?
I don’t mean to be cynical or naughty, knowing as I do about all aspects of the non-communicable disease epidemic in our island for having been right at the centre of the campaigns to stem the tide. But there is a limit, and it does become tedious to be reminded of the negatives à tout bout de champ. Hence my response… and not meaning to offend, but just to send the message: do your homework beforehand, so you can enjoy your shopping and your food. Period.
’Cos that’s what I do, honest. And Sunday last I enjoyed my two meals, without overindulging. Ah, but eating the same thing morning and evening, some might quibble. Well, I ate not the same but similar things, for although the items of food – banana, haricots verts, dal, jack fruit, potato, etc — were common, it goes without saying that there was variation in the recipes, and that is what culinary art is all about, the uniqueness that each cook brings about to the preparations. Otherwise one could just read up a book and become a cook. Similarly for medicine: one could memorise the Family Doctor handbook or encyclopaedia and pretend to be a full-fledged doctor.
But we all know, don’t we, that that’s not the way it works in life. The individual touch that turns a science into an art is about the sequencing of the ingredients and spices, time and timing of cooking, the mixing and churning, the testing through smelling as the fumes rise and at times through tasting, but most of all the passion and in the case of mother’s cooking, the love that goes into the preparations. And of course, when someone has invited you to partake of the meal on such a happy and divine occasion, can the food be otherwise?
No rasam tastes the same, it goes without saying. And even as we relish our host’s fare, there is a recall of tastes that linger. For me it is the rason brede songe (songe from our own garden) that my Dadi Betel (because she used to eat betel) used to make: I can vouch that she was truly a specialist in that! And I ate also two different preparations of banana on that day, but I know of many more, all of which I have experienced and continue to of course. The one that comes to mind, also from my childhood days, is again a recipe of my Dadi Betel, which was banana with salted poisson blanc. Since she passed away nearly thirty-five years ago, no one has ever equalled her ever again – because we have gone commercial, and no one prepares the masala as elaborately and as meticulously on the roche carri as she – and for that matter all our womenfolk of yore – used to do.
Clearly, there are some things that need revisiting and reviving…
And what about the payasam that ends the meal, I would ask? Each preparation was different, but equally delightful and tasty. With of course, the appalam – alas, in an unfortunate cultural twist this has become the rather ugly sounding aplon. Papadum or simply papad is still the standard, we may remember that. It’s the one time that I don’t mind it fried, and so yummy it is with the payasum, what a fabulous combination! There goes my mouth watering! Otherwise, one can simply grill it in the microwave and that’s fine, and without oil of course, so good, ahem, for… cholesterol…
Of one thing I am sure: it’s not the wholesome, mostly natural food consumed during Cavadee and other similar occasions that is responsible for the epidemic of NCDs in the country. And one would be well advised to take note and revert to this type of food or its equivalent from any other culture. My conviction is based on the healthy elderlies that I always see on such occasions, and they have practically lived off such food from a very young age.
All in all, for me a lovely Cavadee Sunday…
* * *
A cardiologist friend from Canada mailed me as follows:
‘I could not resist writing to u after your article on poutou chaud following that on macachia coco, both reminiscent of another time, those of my childhood. I am sure I do not have to tell u that the 2 delicacies u honored in the articles are best served with Chai… I need to know where u get the best macachia coco, poutou u have mentioned, maybe we can make a trip there on my next visit.’
If only adulthood memories were as glorious as those of childhood!
* Published in print edition on 29 January 2016