Friday, 29 June 2007

A Spectacular Event: Mata Mela

Time for a quite long post from me. Saraswati, the lady who comes to help us with the cooking and cleaning, invited us as special guests for a festival in her local neighbourhood: Mata Mela.

This post contains some rather graphic images. Those faint of heart - especially when it comes to extreme body piercings should consider skipping this post. If you do read on, don't say I didn't warn you!

Saraswati and Susanna. Sara (as we usually call her for short) is Tamil and lives in a Tamil dominated neighbourhood with their own Tamil festivals. I was the only foreigner there for this occasion.

For this festival everyone gets dressed up in their best clothes. I am not completely aware of the religious significance of this or even entirely sure about the name. But a central part of the festival is to parade around the deity (top right corner of the picture) in the streets. But more than anything this festival is about self mutilation and self torture.

This man has just had a very long metal spear pierced through both his cheeks to demonstrate his devotion to the Gods!

Another young man enduring unthinkable pain to honour the Gods. If you look closely you can see a tear escaping from his eye.

The third man voluntarily undergoing this treatment. This was the youngest of the subjects, and I think he was trying this for the first time - the two older men seemed more experienced in this.

Probably due to his inexperience another man had to walk behind him, to hold him, as he seemed to slip in and out of consciousness.

Although only men would get their cheeks pierced, the women were also proving their devotion, by getting their tongues pierced. In the case of the men I did not see whether they received any anaesthetic, but with the women I noticed that some form of powder or paste would be applied to their tongues causing them to instantly enter into a violent trance. They must be using some extremely powerful drug for this. Above you see two women having to be restrained after entering a trance just before getting their piercing.

One of the women after the piercing.

Local boys dance in what clearly was carefully choreographed moves.

The mela wasn't all about piercings. There were other ways of proving your dedication through pain. This man holds a jar with extremely hot burning coals in it. The only thing seperating his hands from the scalding hot jar is a bunch of thin leafy twigs. He would walk in the parade with this jar for several hours. Given the choice I think I might just go with the piercing rather than this.

A woman with the hot jar. I think this picture really captures the heat and pain she is suffering from.

After the brave men and women, follow other devotees with offerings on their heads.

The long spear is actually not a spear, but rather a trident. To avoid anyone having their eye poked out, they put three little lemons at the end.

It gets incredibly hot in the midday sun in New Delhi in May (when this happened) so these men are followed by helpers cooling them down with ice cold water. Notice the money on the man's flower garlands. Those are donations given in honour of his devotion. They go to the local temple, not to the man himself.

Elder men carrying the deity around for the mighty spectacle.

Fervor dancing, still with the tridents pierced through their cheeks.

The festival nearing it's climax and time to take out the tridents. This man went into a deep trance as this happened with several men needed to pacify him. Take a look at his eyes - they are wild.

An old local man suddenly enters a trance before my feet.

Back in the richly decorated temple where the festival reaches it's culmination.

The deity, wrapped in flower garlands, fruits and money. The deity is honoured in a long range of rituals before finally being tucked away for another year until the next festival.

The final puja (prayer) towards the innre sanctum.

Yet another man in trance. But this is not just anyone. This is one of the priests who will take care of the final and ultimate sacrifice in honour of the God...

And this is the other main character in that ritual! Everyone was very enthusiastic for me to take lots of pictures of that event, but here I politely excused myself and left the temple. I think that would have been a bit too much for me to stomach.

What an incredible day! Seeing things like this on tv or in pictures can be wild enough. But it really is an amazingly intense experience being there. This is a kind of fervor of devotion that I certainly don't know from Scandinavian society. Although I wouldn't say I approve of self mutilation of this kind, I must admit that it holds an enormous fascination for me. This kind of passion is hard to find. Maybe that is why I love football, which is probably the closest we come to similar passion and energy in the cold north - although we are still VERY far off from what is displayed here. I won't pass judgement on this, since it is part of a culture I have only just begun to understand - but now you have seen the pictures, so you can form your own opinion.

I will post a few videos from this event soon.


Fairfield County Mom said...

This is an example of the Shaivite school of Hinduism. The two broad divisions of Hindu worship are, to put it in very very general terms, Vaishnavite (the worship of Vishnu and his avatars) and the Shaivite (the worship of Shiva in various forms). At its upper levels Vaishnavite worship is about reading the scriptures, retreating from the world. At its popular level, Vaishnavism involves becoming vegetarian, rejecting animal sacrifice, etc. The Shaivite school sometimes adopts Vaishnavite practices (for example the worship of Durga in some parts without animal sacrifice or violence). But in the more popular levels, Shaivism absorbs pre-existing practices such as animal sacrifice, body piercings, etc. At the very outer fringes, you will even find black magic, etc in the name of Shaivite tantrism (which of course makes many people nervous). There is some tension between Vaishnavite and Shaivites on these issues, naturally, but together they form the broad corpus of Hindu worship. Goddess worship also falls into these two categories and depending on the category can be peaceful (like Vaishno Devi) or fear-provoking involving animal sacrifice.

HERVE said...


Fine bilder, men litt skrekkelig som du sa... hvorfor kommer mennesker i trans ? Drikker de eller spiser de noen spesielt på forhånd ? Ha det, og ha en fin dag :)

Esben said...

@Fairfield County Mom

Hey and thanks for the info. I was wondering how you knew all this, so I checked your blog and saw that you are of Indian origin and Hindu yourself. So that explains it :o)


Tak for din kommentar, og undskyld det lidt sene svar. Ja, jeg tror de indtager et eller andet form for euforiserende middel. Jeg saa som sagt at de kvinder der skulle have deres tunge piercet fik et eller andet pulver smurt paa tungen hvilket oejeblikkeligt fik dem til at miste kontrollen over krop og lemmer, saa de maate holdes tilbage af de tilstedevaerende maend.

Connie said...

I love your photos Eagersnap.

Esben said...

Thank you Connie!

sushilsingh said...

Hi, Friend

Navratri, the festival of nights, lasts for 9 days with three days each devoted to

worship of Ma Durga, the Goddess of Valor, Ma Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and

Ma Saraswati and many many happy Durga Puja.
Plesse visit for more detail