Written by Mathuvarsini
Thaipusam is a Tamil Hindu festival celebrated on the first full moon day of the Tamil month of Thai (January/February). In 2024, the Hindu festival of Thaipusam is joyously celebrated on the 25th of January. Thaipusam is a special celebration that illustrates the goddess Parvati giving her son Murugan a spear to defeat a bad demon. It is all about celebrating good triumphing over evil, light winning over darkness, and wisdom overcoming ignorance. Hindu devotees pray to Lord Murugan to help overcome problems in their lives.
Thaipusam Celebrations in Malaysia
In Malaysia, the festival is preceded by a midnight chariot procession. In Kuala Lumpur, worshippers partake in a procession to accompany the chariot carrying the statue of Lord Murugan. The journey begins from the Sri Mariamman temple in Kuala Lumpur and ends at Batu Caves in Selangor. Amidst chants of vel, vel, vetri (victorious) or Vel, Vel Muruga (Glory unto Muruga), traditional drummers beat on urumi melams (hour-glassed shaped drums), thavils (barrel-shaped drum), jaalras (clash cymbals) and thappus (round drums) in accompanying devotees as they fulfil their vows. Rhythmic dancing and devotional music can be seen and heard throughout the procession route.
Comprising a series of limestone caves, Batu Cave was used by indigenous people as a shelter in the 1800s. In 1890, K. Thamboosamy Pillai, an Indian Tamil trader, erected a statue of Lord Murugan in one of the caves, designating it as a sacred place of worship. Since then, the Temple Cave has become the main place for the Thaipusam festival in Kuala Lumpur.
At Batu Caves, worshippers ascend all 272 rainbow steps at Batu Caves carrying their offerings and kavadi. The kavadi is a prominent and iconic feature of Thaipusam which has great spiritual value. Typically, a kavadi is made out of two semi-circular sections of bent steel or wood that have been finely carved and decorated, and attached to a horizontal frame. The kavadi is then carried by a devotee for procession. The kavadi bearers are adorn with hooks, spears, and long needles piercing their tongues, cheeks, and backs. The act of body piercing symbolizes the burdens of the devotee. These piercings only as demonstrate their endurance and will power but also represent the depth of their pain. This ritual serves as a form of self-sacrifice to overcome inner demons, rid themselves of ego, anger, lust, and greed, all while seeking the blessings of Lord Murugan. It is believed that during this process, devotees do not experience the pain associated with the piercings.
Mounted on the shoulder, bearer of the kavadi start his procession to Batu Caves, surrounded by supports who are essential in providing encouragement and appreciation. After the procession is finished, the offerings are given to Lord Murugan in a ritual form called abishekam, which involves covering the holy vel with milk supplied by the devotees
In the festivities of Thaipusam, numerous worshippers can be observed donning yellow attire and balancing pots of milk, known as palkudam, on their heads. The colour yellow is often linked with Lord Murugan. The Paal Kudam is the tradition of carrying a kudam, or pot-shaped vessel, on one’s head in which offering milk to Lord Murugan.
Thaipusam is a unique and vibrant festival where Hindu devotees express their gratitude and strong faith by participating in processions and carrying kavadis. It is more than just a typical gathering as it provides opportunity for the community to unite, celebrate traditions, and spend quality time together. Like a colourful thread weaving through Hindu culture, it leaves a lasting impact on everyone who joins in this meaningful celebration.