21 February 2008
Small trucks laden with baskets of grapes; hand carts piled high with pineapples, green mangoes, and watermelon; and vendors of everything you might imagine and some that you would never imagine, started arriving the night before to line the small streets of Kuruchikuppam, Vaitikuppam and Solainagar in preparation for the Masi Magam festival the next morning.
Masi Magam takes place in the Tamil month of Masi, on the day of the full moon. Idols (primarily of Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva) are brought to the sea shore and ritually bathed while devotees gather to be blessed.
The crowds were still thick as Mark and I walked through the streets of Kuruchikuppam and Vaitikuppam around 5pm. Most of the pavilions that had been set up by the shore were empty, the idols of gods already “bathed” and on their way back to their respective temples throughout Pondicherry and parts of Tamil Nadu, stopping at each house or business in town, along an established route, to give blessings and receive donations.
Suddenly, a man rushes onto the streets to clear the way for one of the idols making its way from the pavilion on a cart, this one drawn by human power. The priest riding on the cart mimics the idol, his tongue sticking out. A man in a yellow shirt pushes forward into the procession of musicians in a highly animated dance. The procession inches forward past us and stops as people surge forward to receive blessings. Behind the cart and attendant generator trolley, we become aware of isolated pockets of commotion. The man in the yellow shirt is in an ecstatic fit – tongue out and lurching wildly, each hand held by a different woman and surrounded by three more people who try and control his erratic and powerful movements. In the immediate vicinity, two other women are similarly restrained. One has her tongue out also, the other’s eyes roll.
Later in the evening, around 8pm, we catch the parade of idols making their way along M.G. Road, pulled by men or by one or two bullocks, amidst the regular evening traffic, heading South. Another parade heads north on East Coast Road, lights flashing, generators blaring, and priest handing out flowers as parents thrust their children to receive the blessings.