Only male devotees take Kavadi, as it needs muscular strength and also severe penance. Kavadi is a bow like structure adorned with peacock feathers, glass works, and many more ornamental things. Some Kavadis can weigh up to 35 kgs.
There is an interesting legend behind the origin of Kavadi. Many million years ago, Lord Shiva entrusted sage Agasthiyar with two hills Shivagiri and Shaktigiri, asking him to install them in down south. Agathiya on his way to South was called for an emergency and so he ordered his discipline Idumban to place these hills in down south. Idumban tied both the hills to either sides of his shoulders and carry it all the way to down south. The long journey made him very exhausted, so he planned to take rest near a pond. Likewise he found a beautiful lake, and he placed the both the hill near the lake and went to drink some water. Returning back he tried to lift the hills, but he couldn’t move an inch, he again tried with all his strength but not even a stone in the hill moved. He was terrified and was shocked to see a little boy standing atop one of the hills.
Idumban became very furious and asked the boy to vacate the hills, as he has to take them to down south, but the small boy refused. Idumban basically an Asura (devil) but birth, couldn’t control his anger, he started to fight with the small boy, but to his surprise the small by seemed to be more powerful, than him and at one point he was defeated by the small boy. Later he realized that the boy is none other than Lord Muruga himself. Idumban regretted his fault and asked redemption to Lord Muruga. Lord Muruga made him to dwell next to his hill and gave him the honor of visiting his shrine first before entering to Lord Muruga’s Shrine (Sri Dhandayuthapandi). As Idumban is the one who took first Kavadi to Palani, all the devotees who take Kavadi to Lord Muruga first visit Idumban temple, and offer him a coconut, before seeing Lord Muruga. The lake nearby is later known as Idumban lake and it is a custom that every Pathayathira devotees and Kavadi devotees must take bath in this lake before entering the temple.
Austerity and Penance:
Before taking Kavadi to Lord Muruga, the devotees must train themselves to undergo many rules, severe penance and regulations. For about 48 days, they should not consume any non-vegetarian foods; they should take bath twice a day and that too in cold water; they should not indulge in family pleasure during those days, they should not trim their hair; they should not wear slippers, and they should visit temple every day. These are the norms followed before they start their spiritual journey.
But once they start their walk, with kavadi in the shoulder, they should not keep it down until they reach a sacred place like temple or ashram, it’s because the Kavadi they are carrying is equal to Lord Muruga Himself. Another very important thing is, the devotees taking kavadi must complete their walk no matter what.
Now lots and lots of devotees are taking Kavadi to Lord Muruga. But most famous are the Chettiar Kavadis, which come from four region Karaikudi, Devakottai, Nerkuppai and Melaisivapuri. Kavadis from these four part of down south is known for their discipline, coordination, pious devotion, and planning. Every group of these consists of minimum 50 Kavadis. Every group consist of one Vel (a long staff of lord Muruga), which will be leading the Kavadi, then a Kattalai Kavadi (the head of Kavadis) and the Pachai Kavadi (the green Kavadi). The specialty of Pachai Kavai is that, it is the last one to arrive the spot, its main work is to check that all the kavadis has reached the spot safely. If the Pachai kavadi arrives, it’s a sign that all other kavadis have also arrived.
Every day they would be walking for minimum 15 kms, after which they will take rest. There will be special Mandapam for the kavadis to stay, first they will do Ambisheka to the Vel, and each group have vel made of gold or silver or diamond. Later Prasad will be offered to the devotees and then food will be prepared. Before consuming food, all Kavadi devotees sing songs in praise of lord Muruga and then chant his Mantra ( Arogara). This food is known as Poosai sappadu, which is prepared by men, without tasting anything. The surprising fact is that, this rice prepared here have a sacred fragrance that can be felt only here.
The beauty of these Kavadis is, that they all walk in a perfect row and from a distance they look like army men’s march-past. One they reach Palani, they won’t climb the hill on the very day. After two days, it’s exclusive for Kavadi devotees. They can have full privileged of worshipping Lord Muruga all day.
Taking kavadi to Lord Murga will bless us and our family with all goodness and fortune.