Still on the subject of religion, I remember as a kid in Durban going to watch a Hindu festival with fire-walking, long needles, or skewers really, thrust through tongue and cheeks and great heavy carts pulled to the river by means of ropes attached to hooks imbedded in a person’s back. As far as the fire-walking was concerned it was certainly no cheat as one could feel the heat from the coals standing well back from the quite lengthy pit. Why the feet weren’t burnt to the bone I will never know. I didn’t know either what the festival was all about. Its origins and the reason for it were a mystery and I wasn’t particularly interested enough to find out; the reason being that we had no respect for Indians or their culture apart from enjoying curries. (What did Afrikaners call samosas? “Drie hoekie coolie cookies.” Three cornered coolie cookies). As far as we were concerned all Indians were coolies or churruhs who fertilised their soil with human faeces, held their nostrils between finger and thumb as they squatted on their heels and blew their noses on the ground and wiped their fingers on their clothing, chewed beetle nut that made their mouths horribly red as though they were constantly bloodied, wore funny little dots on their foreheads, wore rings on their toes, hung marigolds over their doorways, a rather evil smelly flower, and were themselves not all that pleasant as far as the olfactory sense was concerned. They came round to the back door of the house with baskets of fruit and vegetables (lychees I remember were always terribly expensive) or sold peanuts on the beach. But I have now discovered what the festival is all about. The Hindu festival of Thaipusam is about faith, endurance and penance. Thaipusam is a time for Hindus of all castes and cultures to say thank you and show their appreciation to one of their Gods, Lord Murugan, a son of Shiva. Thaipusam is held in the last week of January or the beginning of February, depending on the alignment of the sun, moon and planets. This is a colourful event. Women wear jasmine flowers in their hair. Yellow and orange, the colours of Murugan, dominate. Orange is also a colour of renunciation, and is worn by those whose pilgrimage is a temporary path of asceticism. Is this the reason for the marigolds? Like the Greeks every Easter making the sign of the cross with candle smoke on the lintel of their front door. On the day of Thaipusam itself devotees go to different lengths to show their devotion. Some simply join the crowds. Some carry pots of milk or "paal kudam" (Whatever that is and this is in Malaysia) on their heads as a show of devotion and love to the god. Others carry elaborate frameworks on their shoulders called "kavadis", which have long chains hanging down with hooks at the end which are pushed into their backs. (Kavadis can be carried in honour of other deities as well as Murugan.)Many of these pilgrims are pierced with two skewers or 'vels' - symbolic spears; one through the tongue, and one through the cheeks. The piercing by skewers symbolises several things:
• that the pilgrim has temporarily renounced the gift of speech so that he or she may concentrate more fully upon the deity
• that the devotee has passed wholly under the protection of the deity who will not allow him/her to shed blood or suffer pain
• the transience of the physical body in contrast with the enduring power of truth
Still others go even further and pull heavy chariots fastened to metal hooks in the skin of their backs. The skin tugs as they go, and they grunt and growl. The devotees who go to these extremes say they don't feel any pain because they are in a spiritual and devotional trance which brings them closer to Lord Murugan. The trance can be induced by chanting, drumming and incense.
Still on the subject of religion a gay couple, legally spliced, wanted to stay in a hotel in Cornwall and were turned away as the husband and wife who own the hotel are dedicated Christians and only married couples are allowed to sleep in a double bed in their establishment. So the gays took them to court, won their case, and the Christian couple was given a four figure fine each. The question I ask is this: are homosexuals getting just a bit too belligerent and damaging their own cause with actions like this? Surely the publicity they got out of it would have been satisfaction enough without being so mean as to take the husband and wife to court. They are, after all, entitled to their beliefs and to act on them accordingly. With that argument though carried to its extreme Jihadists are free to kill without conscience as much as they like. However, on the other hand I ask the question, if David and Jonathan appeared on the doorstep wanting to stay the night would they too have been turned away? As much as Christians might like to deny it, it is one of the greatest love stories ever told. It’s right there in the good book. How about Achilles and Patrokles then? No, no way, they are legend. All right then, how about Alexander the Great and Hephaisteon? No no, they were pagans. Hadrian and Antinous.? No no, they were ancient Romans. In Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire there is a piece of homophobia worthy of any Christian. ‘The deification of Antinous, his medals, statues, city, oracles, and constellation, are well known, and still dishonor the memory of Hadrian. Yet we may remark, that of the first fifteen emperors, Claudius was the only one whose taste in love was entirely correct.’ Tch! Tch! Note that, “dishonour.” And there’s a bust of Antinous in the Vatican museum yet. Out! Out! I say! All right then, what about Richard the Lionheart and the French Dauphin? They were Christians. Didn’t Richard go to The Holy Land to fight those heathens? Well, maybe not, despite the fact that there’s a statue of Richard in front of the houses of parliament and despite his love for the Dauphin, Richard was pretty liberal in his sexual favours, or should I say appetite? which is why he was abjured by the church to give up sodomy and evil practices before he brought the wrath of God down on his kingdom. So maybe the hoteliers were right as well as within their rights when they turned the lads away. God has been appeased. The kingdom is safe.