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It’s all about faith, endurance and penance.
I grew up fearing of this festival, to be honest. Why? I was scared, okay still am, looking at all the painful objects being attached to them. I feel like I can almost feel their pain. But as I grew older, I learn the importance of what they do.
What is Thaipusam?
Thaipusam is a divine Hindu festival that is celebrated yearly by the Tamil. An ancient populace that is now spread widely across India, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. A celebration day of the worship of Lord Murugan, the legendary Tamil god, the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. It is safe to say that Thaipusam is the most important Tamil religious festival in the world. Yes, it’s that a big of a deal!
Thaipusam festival is to celebrate the story of a battle between two groups of deities, the Suras and Asuras in the Hinduism culture. It stated that the former, have been suffering multiple defeats until he finally found goddess Parvati, as the source of victory for good over evil. Ever since then, she has been providing Lord Murugan (her son and the god of war) with a powerful javelin as a way to win the war. In time, the tradition of recognizing the kindness and compassion of the goddess Parvati has led to the existence of the Thaipusam festival. A celebration to be thankful and show gratitude to Lord Murugan.
How is Thaipusam being celebrated?
I would personally say that it is a day of colourful, dynamic, alive yet devotional moments throughout. It is celebrated during the month of Thai when the moon waxes to its zenith (full moon), can be stretch up for three to four days. Yes, that long! And there will be around a half million people each year who come to participate and watch the festival.
The festival was first brought to Malaysia in the 1800s. It was when Indian immigrants began to work on the locals’ rubber estates and the government offices. In 1888, Thaipusam was first celebrated at Batu Cave. Now, Thaipusam has become the largest and most significant Hindu public display in the country.
The preparation takes about a month prior to the celebration. How? Devotees would have to wake up very early in the morning by taking a customary bath to cleanse themselves every day. They also have to go on for a strict vegetarian fast and complete chastity for that entire month, without fail. Then, rigid fasting and abstinence have to be observed over a 48-day period prior to the festival day, with only milk and fruits allowed. This is done as a way to fortify the senses and suppress passions. In short, to take control of the mind over matter. On the day of Thaipusam, some devotees may add burden to the kavadi with heavy pitchers of milk. That’s not extreme though! There would also be some devotees who prefer to pierce their cheeks with spears and hooks. Yikes! That’s painful!
There would be an early morning chariot procession before the day of the festival ath the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in Tun H S Lee Road, Kuala Lumpur. Why? To witness the ceremonial “bath” of Lord Murugan. Thousands of people would gather even before the sun rises to see a silver chariot of carved wood containing Lord Murugan in the street. While some would be carrying the kavadi as a self-inflicted penance. The parade will lead to Batu Caves where the statue will stay temporarily. Devotees would approach the chariot by bringing bowls of fruits and even hold babies near to the statue to be blessed. Not to forget groups of musicians and drums joining along the parade to follow in the pilgrimage procession. The journey would take about 8-hour to Batu Caves.
Everyone would be dressed up in the majority of yellow and orange colour on the day of the event, while women would spice it up with jasmine flowers on their heads. Basically, orange and yellow are the colours of Lord Murugan. Even better, the orange colour is also stated as a colour of renunciation. And worn by those whose pilgrimage is a temporary path of asceticism (a settlement where a person lived religiously, in seclusion).
There are a few types of devotees when it comes to the celebration of Thaipusam. The simplest one would be climbing up the 272 steep steps of Batu Caves to say prayers to Lord Murugan at his shrine. In a way, this represents the concept of it is not easy to attain the feet of God without any hardship. And if they do past the test, they will be please with lots of bounties and glad tidings. Even on a typical day, the Batu Caves stairs are already challenging for me. I can’t imagine how it feels like during the festival. With the heat, crowd and everything.
For the higher achievers, they would have been pierced with metal skewers on the body as a way to attain spiritual strength. This naturally enables him to do the unthinkable. With the Kavadi on their shoulders and piercings through his cheeks, the devotees would put mind over matter and dance all the way. Throughout the process, family members and other devotees would chant, “Vel, Vel, Muruga” meaning glory unto Muruga. Lord Murugan basically uses the word to fend off evil and symbolizes wisdom.
The not so gory one would be witnessing the breaking of coconuts on Thaipusam. It would be done at the chariot procession and the temple grounds. This sacred act signifies humility and the suppression of ego of somone in attaining wisdom.
That’s basically it about Thaipusam. Beautiful, isn’t it?