The Hindu Thaipusam Festival

The Murugan Festival

Pigeons flying in the middle of Durbar Square of Kathmandu, Nepal
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Thaipusam is an important festival observed by the Hindus of southern India during the full moon of the Tamil month of Thai (January - February). Outside of India, it is celebrated mainly by the Tamil-speaking community settled in Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka and elsewhere around the world.

Dedicated to Lord Murugan or Kartikeya

Thaipusam is dedicated to the Hindu god Murugan, the son of Shiva and Parvati.

Murugan is also known as Kartikeya, Subramaniam, Sanmukha, Shadanana, Skanda, and Guha. It is believed that on this day, Goddess Parvati presented a lance to Lord Murugan to help him vanquish the demon army of Tarakasura and combat their evil deeds. Therefore, Thaipusam serves as a celebration of the victory of good over evil.

How to Celebrate Thaipusam

On the Thaipusam day, most devotees of Lord Murugan offer him fruits and flowers of yellow or orange color--his favorite color--and also adorn themselves with dresses of the same color. Many devotees bear milk, water, fruits and floral tributes on pails hung from a yoke and carry them on their shoulders to various Murugan temples, far and near. This wooden or bamboo structure, called a Kavadi, is covered with cloth and decorated with feathers of a peacock--the vehicle of Lord Murugan.

Thaipusam in Southeast Asia

Thaipusam celebrations in Malaysia and Singapore are known for their festive fervor.

The most famous Kavadi pilgrimage on the Thaipusam day takes place at the Batu Caves in Malaysia, where a large number of devotees head towards the Murugan temple in procession carrying the Kavadi'.

This festival attracts over a million people each year at the Batu Caves, near Kuala Lumpur, which houses several Hindu shrines and the 42.7-meter-high (140-foot) statue of Lord Murugan that was unveiled in January 2006.

Pilgrims need to climb 272 steps to access the temple on the hilltop. Many foreigners also take part in this Kavadi pilgrimage. Notable among them are Australian Carl Vedivella Belle, who has been taking part in the pilgrimage for more than a decade, and German Rainer Krieg, who went on his first Kavadi in the 1970s.

Body Piercing on Thaipusam

Many fanatical devotees go to such extent as to torture their bodies to appease the Lord Murugan. So, a major feature of Thaipusam celebrations may be body piercing with hooks, skewers and small lances called vel. Many of these devotees even pull chariots and heavy objects with hooks attached to their bodies. Many others pierce their tongues and cheeks to impede speech and thereby attain full concentration on the Lord. Most devotees enter into a trance during such piercing, due to the incessant drumming and chanting of "vel vel shakti vel."