In the past 10 months the majority of religious congregations have been forced to move online to preserve lives in the fight against Covid-19.
One prayer period that narrowly missed the pandemic’s new normal last year is the annual Thai Poosam Kavady, which is observed by followers of the Hindu faith between the months of January and February.
This festival is a time for repentance for devotees and is carried out mainly at the Temple.
Due to the country currently being under an adjusted lockdown level three, large gatherings are prohibited, so many temples across the province have put in place alternate measures to observe the prayer safely from one’s own home. Thse are done through livestreams and setting out instructions for devotees to conduct the prayer requirements themselves.
“Temples and devotees are following the Covid-19 guidelines issued by the Maha Sabha,” said South African Hindu Maha Sabha’s (SAHMS) president Ashwin Trikamjee. “Observing Kavady at home is a responsible decision, intended to save lives. In Hinduism, like all faiths, life is sacred. There is the advantage that most Hindus observe daily prayers at home. Furthermore, in Hinduism all facets of living are viewed as acts of worship. While communal temple worship is important, saving lives is paramount.”
Organisations have provided detailed guidelines for observing Kavady at home.
One such person is Pandit Narottam Das, who runs a Facebook page and website known as Dipika.
Das, who has been a Brahmin priest since the early 90s, shared a 20-page article on performing the prayer at home on his website (http://www.dipika.org.za), as well as other do-it-yourself articles to assist those who have no access to teleconferencing.
Speaking on the technological aspect of observing Kavady, spokesperson of the Tongaat Hindu Unity Forum Yogan Naidoo said that using digital platforms to livestream is the most efficient, convenient and cost-effective way to reach as many devotees as possible.
The council of the Sri Siva Soobramoniar and Marriammen Temple (SSSMT) in Pietermaritzburg said that due to the large number of devotees, they are livestreaming their everyday prayer, which can be viewed at www.facebook.com/sssmtemples
The SSMT council said the pandemic has schooled them into adapting and learning to experience and appreciate all things in life differently.
Allaying fears of these methods not having the desired spiritual fulfilment, Naidoo said the main purpose of prayer is to establish contact with God.
“Whatever method one uses should be able to help the devotee focus their mind and direct their devotion to the Lord within their heart. The important point is the faith, devotion and sincerity with which one undertakes the prayer. One should never fear that using any medium other than the ordinary will not have the same effect,” he said.
On methods like livestreaming being a common occurrence post-pandemic, the SSMT council notes that their temples have avid devotees, and despite praying at home being a normal occurrence pre-pandemic, frequent visits to temples were a norm. “Even upon closure and redistricting access we have had many requests to allow devotees into the temple but had to limit access due to strict Covid-19 protocols of our temples. Without a doubt post Covid-19 our temples will be graciously filled with the joyous presence of our devotees.”
Speaking from a different perspective, Naidoo agreed that it is a possibility as the youth, who are the custodians of culture and tradition, are attracted to technology and will be able to embrace these changes and shifts in the future.
According to the South African Hindu Maha Sabha’s (SAHMS) president Ashwin Trikamjee, Thai refers to the 10th month in the Tamil calendar and Poosam refers to the Pushya star.
“Thai Poosam is a combination of the name of the month and the name of a star. Kavady is a pole slung across the shoulder to evenly distribute the weight of whatever is being carried on either end of the poles,” he explained.
The main observance day, which this year falls on Thursday, January 28, is a culmination of 10 days of prayers and penance that is dedicated to Lord Murugan, the Hindu deity of youth, power and virtue.