I travelled to Suryanelli, a small town to the south of the Kurangani Hills. The plan was to merely pass through, I was interested in the geography of the area. The Anayirankal Dam is just to the south and the surrounding hills are lush with tea and cardamon plantations. The evening before I was due to leave town voices began to Blair from speakers and echo through the hills. In town the Temple is being adorned with a scaffold outside, dressed in flowers palm leaves and silver plastics that rustle in the wind. A young man at the place I m staying tells us that it is Vinayagar Thiruvizha, part of Ther ThiruvizhaIt, which translates at the temple Car festival. and specific to Ganesha, the Elephant faced Hindu god, remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences and the deva of intellect and wisdom.
The first day brings a Childs dancing contest and nothing more, although the event feels like something directly from a Wes Anderson film. We are the only westerners in town and everyone is happy we are here just to watch With Typical South Indian hospitality they invite us to sit outside the temple with them as the kids act out their Bollywood style dance routines. The next morning I wake to the sound of the speakers blaring though the hills at 6am, These are the same drums and horns that I had heard at the precession in Kotchi and is epically Grandiose. As I arrive in town a man and his grand daughter invite me to sit with them and we watch the drummers practice, she is dressed in her best, her hair short and her eyes black with thick eyeliner, he smokes his Bidi and asks me to photograph them. As they finish and disperse the town around me begins to prepare for the celebrations. Patterns are being painted at the entrances of houses a called Kolam, thought to bring prosperity and welcomes all others beings in to the home. By the evening the drummers have started again, we hear them from the balcony of our room. The sound gets closer and louder and more furious, The owner of our hotel comes to get us, I take the cameras and join the parade which has left town, It is a jubilant human train illuminated with strip lights awkwardly attached to generator on a car. Men and women hold hot smoking ceramic pots creating a mist all over the road. They dance loosely and without regard in a possessed state. The children, with almost aggressive excitement.
The next morning we cross to the other side of town past the plantations to a small structure painted sky blue with red stripes. Outside and up the hill is a gathering of hundreds of people . The women carry flower arrangements on their heads which I learn is called Paal Kavadi. Everyone is preparing to carry there own Kavadi for their gods which translates as 'Burden'. The children were ecstatically dancing while carrying Tool Kavadi on their shoulders, a semi circular frame made from wood or steel adorned with peacock feathers and flowers. Out of the building come men and women in a possessed state while the Pambai drummers play furiously. Two men, soaking wet emerge from the building and disappear in to the crowd, I follow them and watch as hooks are inserted in to the skin on their backs and they are suspended from a decorated frame being dragged by a tractor. The women come next with long ropes hooked in to their backs and held by a man. They proceed to dance, the final women emerges and is hooked to the temple car, a chariot for Ganesha. These mutilations are named Vette Mulle Kavadi, devotes of this practice are said to enter a trance like state, they feel no pain and are left with no scars.
The parade winds in to town through the mountains and plantations. and gathers at the Lord Ganesha Temple. After more ecstatic music and celebration, the hooks are removed devotees worship in the temple and food is prepared. Thali for what I am told is for 1000 people is served from Giant cooking pots. The spectacle of religious celebration is something that fascinates me yet leaves me completely bewildered, The Hindus have huge joy in their practices, in fact over the next few days I somehow stumble across two more processions in Tamil Nadu which feature the more extreme practices .
we leave Suryanelli the next morning crammed in to one jeep with 21 other passengers.