Who is worshipped during Cavadee?


By Ravina Ramlugun

The one riding a peacock, holding a magnificent vel in hand, and wearing a beautiful garland of flowers on His neck, Kartikeya is the God who blesses devotees on the auspicious occasion of Cavadee. A very popular God in South India, He is profusely worshipped in Mauritius as well. Born to Lord Shiva and Devi Parvati for putting an end to evil, Kartikeya is often seen in the Shiva parivar pictures sitting on Shiva’s lap or standing next to Him. The Skanda Purana is a text which gives a detailed view of the life events of Kartikeya.

Often, Kartikeya is worshipped in Shiva shrines or along with Durga Maa. But there are many temples dedicated to Him solely as well. To pay tribute to Him, Cavadee is celebrated with great devotion. The origin of this festival is rooted in an interesting story.

What is the story behind Cavadee?

As Idumban walked briskly to the South, he thought of the mission he was assigned. There was no way he would disappoint his Guru. Little was he aware of what this journey had in reserve for him…

A little farther, on the freezing snow-white mountains of the Himalayas grew the pampered little sons of Shiva and Parvati with equal love and attention. Kartikeya and Ganesha were both wise and dutiful sons. Being the younger one, Ganesha always hovered around his parents. Kartikeya did not mind this at all and even he used to adore his younger brother.

One day, the celestial Gods descended on Kailash to meet the two powerful and illustrious brothers. Being very pleased with them, the Gods offered them a fruit. They then prepared to depart. However, before leaving the young boys, the Gods warned that this divine fruit could not be divided into two. It contained all the knowledge of the universe and was meant to be eaten by only one of them…

Both Kartikeya and Ganesha expressed their wish to have this most precious fruit. For the first time ever, there seemed to be some sort of rivalry between them. The sons were both loved tremendously. Shiva and Parvati were perplexed and could not decide to whom to offer the gift. To be impartial, Parvati put a contest for the two boys.

“Whoever of you two completes a round of the cosmos and returns here first will be gifted this celestial fruit which smells like an elixir of immortality,” announced Parvati.

On hearing the directions of his mother, Kartikeya sat on his mayur. Swift and steep as a thought, he flew off leaving behind his brother. He travelled on and on. Over the blue ocean, tropical forests, icy regions and deserted lands, Kartikeya made his way; he stopped only at pilgrimage sites to pay obeisance. After the cosmic round was, thus, triumphantly completed, Kartikeya happily headed back toward his point of departure.

From high above, Kartikeya could already catch sight of Ganesha still standing at the same spot. For sure, GaneshA could not have completed the round so quickly with his rat vehicle! Kartikeya thought with a smile. As soon as he landed, the delighted Kartikeya advanced toward his mother for the fruit. But his merriment was short-lived.

Ganesha had outwitted Kartikeya and was already the winner of the contest! Circling his parents, Ganesha stated that Shiva and Parvati meant the entire universe to him. There was no need for him to go round another universe other than them. The parents had lovingly accepted this claim. Feeling disheartened by coming this close to victory and yet not achieving it, Kartikeya mounted on his peacock yet again and left Kailash forever to come to the South of Bharatvarsha.

Saddened by the sudden estrangement of their son, the doting parents came down to pacify Kartikeya.

 “What is the need of the fruit to you? You yourself are the fruit of all knowledge, o son,” said Shiva.

The region where they stood, thus, came to be known as Palani (originating from the Sanskrit word phalam, which means fruit). In his heart, Shiva knew that the real aim of the contest had been to send Kartikeya to the South where He was destined to leave behind such a legacy that He would be forever remembered. Having, in this way, reconciled with their son, the divine couple returned to their abode.

A few steps away from the meeting place of Kartikeya and his parents, Idumban, the asura disciple of sage Agatthiyar was still walking along with his wife. Upon the orders of his Guru, he had managed to carry with him two Southern hills known as Shivagiriand Shaktigiri. He had tied the two peaks at the two ends of his yoke (just like a cavadee) and was marching towards the ashrama of his Guru in the northern region.

Unaware of Kartikeya’s presence, Idumban, feeling tired, decided to take rest in an area near Palani.

“Let us sleep here a little and then we resume our task,” he said to his wife.

And he put down the yoke and two hills on the ground. The husband and wife lay down side by side. Seated on a slope not too far away, Kartikeya could see what was transpiring and decided to assume the form of a little boy – whether Idumban was reformed, more patient, and humble was now to be tested. While both Idumban and his wife were in deep sleep, Kartikeya, in his minuscule form, climbed on the Shaktigiri hill.

A few hours passed by. Idumban awoke and was more than ever determined to continue his route. Waking up his wife, he rose to his feet and stretched his arms before reaching down to his yoke. Was he still in a dream? Idumban wondered, for it was beyond his strength to move even one inch with the two hills. How was this possible when he had been carrying them so easily just some time back? Both Idumban and his wife looked at each other confused.

Idumban tried once more but failed; there was surely something amiss. Upon proper inspection, Idumban spotted a young boy sitting down leisurely on one of the two hills.

Irritated, Idumban ordered, “These hills are mine! Get down at once!” But the lad downright refused stating, “I am standing on them. So, they are mine.”

This was an open challenge to the asura and a fight started between the two to decide about the ownership of the hills. Though Idumban had been a powerful asura, his strength was nowhere compared to the brilliant one he had decided to fight with. This was the blazing son of Shiva and Parvati. His might was immeasurable and in a matter of moments, he slayed the enemy just as the heat of summer consumes the dry trees.

The asura’s wife, who had been a perturbed spectator throughout the fight, broke down. Sobbing uncontrollably, she turned towards Kartikeya and spoke:

“O noble one, I know you are no ordinary boy. I beg you to please forgive my husband for his ignorance and revive him. My life will be a ruined thing without him!”

Seeing the tears of the pleading wife, the benevolent Kartikeya was touched and accepted her request. Through mystic powers, the dead asura was bestowed with life. He took a long breath and opened his eyes. He now realised his mistake; bowing down to Kartikeya, he asked for forgiveness. Along with that, Idumban also promised to help all devotees who carry a cavadee in honour of Kartikeya.

How is Cavadee celebrated?

The preparations for Cavadee start some days prior to the festival. A fast is observed for ten days in respect of Lord Kartikeya along with the offering of daily prayers. A simple and disciplined life is maintained by the devotees. They also engage in the making of the cavadee itself which is the most distinctive feature of this festival. The cavadee is a wooden carving usually decorated with colourful flowers, peacock feathers, and leaves. At times, a picture of Lord Muruga also adorns the cavadee.

On the main day of the ceremony, there are several processions on the roads as pilgrims make their way to the nearby river. Some of them also have piercings done with small needles on their body as a sign of their dedication and austerity. They march on the roads under the resounding chants. Multi-coloured cavadees brighten up the cities of Mauritius and there is a continuous encouraging beat of dhols. Kovils are well decorated, and prayers are offered to Lord Kartikeya.

Only by witnessing with one’s own eyes that one can understand the beauty of this most pious day.

Vel Vel Vel Muruga.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 3 February 2023

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