Thaipusam is a Hindu festival which is observed by the Tamil people during the Tamil month of Thai – which is around January or February on the Gregorian calendar. It is celebrated in the Caribbean, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand and Guadeloupe, as well as a few other countries. The name of the holiday is a combination of the month in which it occurs and the name of the star Pusam. During the festival, this star is at its highest point.
History of Thaipusam
While there are several legends upon which Thaipusam is based, one of the more frequently told ones involve a demon named Tharakasuran. According to legend, Tharakasuran gave both the saints and the rishis a whole lot of trouble. So much so, in fact, that Lord Murugan was called by both his parents – who so happen to be Lord Shiva and Parvati – and they give him the task of destroying the meddlesome demon, which he does so without wasting a single moment of time. On his quest, he took eleven of the weapons that his father Lord Shiva gave him, as well as a weapon called “The Vel” that was given to him by his mother. Using these weapons and his great intellect, he was able to defeat the demon on the day of Poosam Nakshatra in the Tamil month of Thai.
Thaipusam Celebrations & Customs
More than a million faithful, as well as tens of thousands of tourists, visit the Temple of Batu Caves located in Gombak, Selangor, right next to Kuala Lumpur. Some visitors are shocked to learn that many of the devotees at this temple seem to be in some sort of a trance. However, that is often not the most shocking part of the ceremony. Some of the faithful pay penance to Lord Murugan by piercing their flesh with hooks.
In Singapore, this day is also a public holiday and many of the faithful start the festival off by starting a procession at dawn at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple. While marching in this parade, processioners will practice Kavadi Attam – a ceremonial sacrifice that consists of carrying milk pots as offerings and wearing a heavy semi-circular piece of wood called a Kavadi that is balanced on the shoulders like a symbolic yoke.