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Vinaayagar Chariot Festival

Steve Russell - Staff Photographer

The one thing I love about Toronto and one of the reasons that the Huffington Post called us the New Capital City of Cool is the diversity.

Toronto is special.

When I walk along Spadina, I can dream that I am in China.

Sipping beer in the south end of BMO is tasting the Premiere League atmosphere.

Salsafest on St. Clair takes me to Latin America.

Sitting on the beach at Toronto Island takes me to cottage country.

My backyard, to many of the disaster areas I have covered.

Today, I took a trip to Sri Lanka and all I had to do was drive a little North of the 401 and a wee bit East of the 404.

The 11th annual Vinaayagar Chariot Festival at the Sri Varasiththi Vinaayagar Hindu Temple on Kennedy Road attracted thousands and transported me out of the GTA.

The chariot on four huge wooden wheels and pulled by two long heavy ropes resembles a lotus flower. The god, Lord Ganesh sits on a throne as it is pulled by devotees.

A devotee performs Para Kavadi. He is suspended from four hooks in his back and has multiple piercings on his arms and one through his cheeks as he follows the Chariot of Vinaayagar. 

A priest urges the hundreds on the ropes to pull the chariot at the 11th annual Vinaayagar Chariot Festival. 20,000 people were expected to attend this very important event in the calendar of Sri Lankan Tamil Hindus in Canada in Toronto. The chariot holds an idol of God Vinaayagar (Ganesh) and is slowly drawn around the Temple by devotees pulling on a pair of ropes. 


Devotees pull the chariot  at the 11th annual Vinaayagar Chariot Festival. 

Devotees wait to pull the chariot  at the 11th annual Vinaayagar Chariot Festival.

An offering is made into fire pot, devotees carry the pots as a vow to their God Vinaayagar at the 11th annual Vinaayagar Chariot Festival.

A priest blesses a devotee infront of the chariot carring Lord Ganesh  at the 11th annual Vinaayagar Chariot Festival.

Food is passed to those pulling the chariot  at the 11th annual Vinaayagar Chariot Festival.

A devotee takes cover as coconuts are smashed in offering of Lord Ganesh. The coconut smashed open represents purity.

An offering is made into fire pot, as the chariot follows with Lord Vinaayagar at the 11th annual Vinaayagar Chariot Festival. 

A trio of devotees perform Angata Pradesham, they roll behind the chariot or "where the lord has set his feet" 

A devotee performs Para Kavadi, he is suspended from four hooks in his back and has multiple peircings on his arms and one through his cheeks.

 After almost two hours suspended a devotee is lowered after performing Para Kavadi, he is suspended from four hooks in his back and has multiple piercings on his arms and one through his cheeks.

Devotees ring the bells on the chariot that carries Ganesh.

The Idol of Lord Ganesh at the 11th annual Vinaayagar Chariot Festival.

A devotee carries his Kavadi after the 11th annual Vinaayagar Chariot Festival.  

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What is the purpose of having the piercings and being hung by the skin??? Did he have to go see a doctor after?


Thank you for the beautiful pictures.

dear steve russell,
thank you very much for showcasing our hindu culture which is being followed by my srilankan tamil brethrens.hinduism is very diverse if i am right it is like a boa constrictor as described by khuswanth singh it has got vinayaka,shiva,murugan and local mariamman gods and godesses.as far as piercing with small arrow or vels is concerned it is a religious belief vel is the weapon of lord muruga who is younger brother lord vinayaga.one hopes that others religious beliefs are respected piercing is done if ones wishes are fulifilled.thank you steve once again.

It is absolutely beautiful, speaks the richness of the Tamil culture. Ganesh (Vinayakar) is the god of wisdom and he removes all hindrances. In a temple, people will first worship Ganesh before worshipping other deities. Murukan is also an important Tamil deity. His Vel (Lance) is not only a protective weapon but also its sharpness reveals the sharpness of wisdom and knowledge. Both Ganesh and Murukan are sons of Shiva (Sivan). It is all part of the tantrik tradition.

Dear Steve Russell,

Thank you for showing this wonderful devoted event on the Toronto Star. The photos are amazing; each of them shows the devotion and richness of the Sri Lankan Hindus.
Thank you again keep up the great work.

Dear steve russell, Thank You for showing the world the culture of Tamil Eelam.

Great pictures. However, the culture being showcased is Hindu culture, not Tamil culture. Hindus in India, Indonesia and even England perform similar religious festivals. It just so happens, this particular temple in Toronto is primarily a Tamil one.

Dear Steve Russell,
Thank you for allowing others to see this experience through your (camera's) eyes. The vast amount of devotion at this event was captured nicely. These pictures very much depict "kodak moments" It shows the beauty of the event and allows others to become curious of the culture and religion.

dear steve,
thank you for the coverage of this colourful but emabarssingly primitive event. As a Tamil living in Sri Lanka, I was surprised to see such a festival taking place in a highly developed multi cultural western capital. Other cultures must be having loads of patience and understanding to allow such disturbing and 'masochistic' events to take place on the streets they share with tamil canadians.
I expected canadian tamils to practice their religion in a more sedate and refined manner in keeping with the times and location with emphasis on spirtuality rather than primitive anarchronistic customs which the younger generation of tamils must surely find hard to relate to.
I know I have stirred a hornets nest but I hope it will make tamils seriously rethink practicing primitive religious rituals which can shock other citizens in their adopted homelands.

I must admit that I am quite pleasantly surprised to have seen this article pop up and for it to be from the Toronto area. I'm sad that I missed such an important festival, but am ecstatic to know that it happens here and I'll be able to see it without travelling across the planet, although I certainly want to.

Does anyone know of any other similar Hindu rituals that are celebrated here, such as other variations of kavadi, in particular to Lord Murugan?

An excellent spiritual festival of Lord Ganesg celebrated by you I am surwe Lord Ganesh will surely help you to promote Hiibnduism in this part of the wolrd
Please continue sending such photos to us
my best wishes on this day

Truly yours

Shankerprasad S Bhatt

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