Kavadi Festival of Penance

Festival Essentials

Where: Durban, South Africa
Twice annually in Jan/Feb and April/May
What Happens: 
Procession of floral floats followed by penance ritual involving piercing with hooks and small spears
Remember to Bring: Your own fork

Where’s the Party

One of the most popular festivals in South Africa is the Hindu festival of Kavadi which takes place twice a year in Durban. The festival is celebrated throughout South Africa by Hindus, but especially so in Durban. The highest concentration of temples in the city is in the Cato Manor District of West Durban which is the best place to catch the festival. It is celebrated twice a year in January or February and April or May.

What Happens at Kavadi

Devotees of the God Muruga perform penance and carry the kavadi (basket float decorated with flowers) to a temple in the city. The penance involve the individuals working themselves into a trance-like state and then piercing their bodies with hooks or inserting miniature spears through the tongue. Some pull wagons with hooks in their backs and others carry the kavadis suspended to their skin by an elaborate selection of hooks and spears.

The devotees experience very little pain as they fast, meditate and reach a deeply trance-like state for weeks before the actual festival. Many put holy ash on their skin, which seems to prevent bleeding. There is very little evidence of blood or pain during this ceremony and is seem to be a very esoteric art.

This is the most important festival amongst Indians in South Africa. Hindus make up 70% of the countries population. Durban actually has the biggest concentration of Hindus outside India. The Hindus worship Muruga for his youth, virtue, healing abilities and being able to dispel misfortune. Kavadi is a time that is seen as the cleansing of the body and the mind and an opportunity to seek Muruga’s love, mercy and forgiveness.

More Information

Durban Tourism
Tourism directory for the Kingdom of Zulu

Hinduism Part 2
A good detailed description of the Kavadi festival in Durban and explains it in terms of the Indian culture in South Africa.

By Electra Gilles

main image: Lord Murugan with Deivaanai (on right of image) and Valli (on left of image). Statue in Thiruvila. By Mahinthan So – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,