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Thaipusam, a Hindu festival celebrated in many parts of the world. The recognised countries include our home country, India, Sri Lanka, Mauritius as well as countries with many Tamilars (Tamil diaspora) living in, such as the United States, Indonesia and Thailand. 

Its Origin

Thai means the January or February month in Hindu calendar and poosam means when the moon is at its brightest in Tamil language. Some said poosam also means Pushya star at its highest point. The festival is believed to be brought by the immigrants from South India to Malaysia for work opportunities (rubber and government offices) in the 19th century. This religious festival commemorates the event where the Indian goddess of fertility and love (Parvati) gave her son, the god of war (Murugan) a Vel spear for him to fight against fiendish demon Soorapadman and his brothers. Lord Murugan won. It is also marked as Lord Murugan’s birthday and devotees pray to him to overcome obstacles in life. Thaipusam celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and wisdom over ignorance.

Thaipusam Traditions In Malaysia

In Malaysia, Thaipusam is the most celebrated festival for Hindus after Diwali. It is a public holiday in 7 states of Malaysia – Johor, Kuala Lumpur, Negeri Sembilan, Penang, Perak, Putrajaya and Selangor. Devotees usually prepare themselves for Thaipusam by cleansing their bodies. They practise fast, abstinence and some vegetarian diet for 24 hours or longer. A few days before Thaipusam, the devotees commence paying penance to Lord Murugan by carrying kavady on their shoulders and paal kodum above their heads. Bearing kavady is an act of devotion and humility. Paal (milk) is a symbol of purity and virtue. The image of Lord Murugan is carefully transported from one temple to another on the eve of Thaipusam, where devotees bearing offerings to the deity. There are a few Thaipusam festivities spots in Malaysia where devotees celebrate at a grand-scale, including:

Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple, Batu Caves, Selangor

Balathandayuthapani Temple or Waterfall Hill Temple, Penang

Sri Subramaniya Swamy Temple, Kedah

Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple, Perak

Among the temples, Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple, Batu Caves is the most popular. It is a sacred place for adherents of the faith. It receives over a million people during the festival. At that time, Batu Caves area is full of stalls selling food and beverages as well as religious goods. A children amusement park is located nearby. It takes 272 steps to arrive at the cave entrance. Upon arriving, the devotees will pray and express gratitude at diverse altars. 

(Photo credits to Visit Singapore)

In The Trance

The male devotees will shave their heads bald. In the trance, many pierce their skin with Vel skewers and decorate themselves with floral decorations. This action is usually done by the particularly devout Hindus to purify themselves of sin. The public must always wonder how they withstand the pain. The devotees have faith in Lord Murugan’s protection, and it spares them from the pain and shedding blood. These devotees and the public will line the streets dancing and waving arms. Indian music named “Thavil vadhyam” and “Nadaswaram” will usually be played. Devotees pray for blessings with coconuts, honey and milk. Some of them smash coconuts along the path of chariot procession.

(Photo credits to Wolrd Nomads)