Thaipusam, a Tamil Hindu Festival in Malaysia
Every year, Tamil Hindu devotees in Malaysia would celebrate Thaipusam. This is the time when droves of devotees would flock to Hindu temples, especially the Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple at Batu Caves, and when the famous kavadi dance ceremony takes place. Last year, we dived into the meaning behind Deepavali. This time, let’s take a closer look at the various aspects of this festival called Thaipusam.
Reason Behind the Name
Thaipusam is celebrated based on the full moon of the month of Thai in the Tamil calendar, which is the tenth month. As this usually coincides with the Pushya star in Hindu astrology, known as Poosam in Tamil, the name of this festival came to be known as Thaipusam. This is also why it is called Thaipooyam instead by Keralites who also celebrate the same festival since the Pushya star is known as Pooyam in their language of Malayalam.
Reason Behind the Celebration
According to Malaysia Hindu Sangam, Thaipusam is a celebration of the day when the divine spear, Vel, was given to Murugan—also known as Subramaniam among a few other names—in order for him to defeat the evil asuras. This is also why the statue of Murugan in Batu Caves includes Vel.
The most famous Tamil rite is the carrying of the kavadi, called kavadi attam. The kavadi refers to a decorated canopy with a pole and ropes for carrying. A pilgrimage is made by a devotee carrying the kavadi, bearing food offerings (especially coconuts, milk and honey) while walking with bare feet towards the temple, even on public roads. Depending on the location, some such pilgrimages can even take more than a week. Additional acts of devotion include shaving one’s head bald, carrying pots of milk (pal kodum) above one’s head, piercing one’s cheeks, tongues, and skin, and even being suspended in the air by hooks pierced into one’s skin. Occasionally, one could also observe a group of devotees in a trance. These are all acts of penance meant to invoke blessings from Murugan. Those who seek to carry the kavadi are advised to fast for an odd number of days, starting from three days, up to 48 days in order to prepare themselves spiritually. This type of fast involves eating only vegetables and preserving one’s words and thoughts from impurities.
Batu Caves is the most popular destination for Thaipusam for several reasons. The Hindu temple there, the Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple, is particularly devoted to Murugan a.k.a. Subramaniam. The temple at Batu Caves is also host to the world’s tallest statue of Murugan. It is also famous for its 272 steps leading up to the temple, where pilgrims will climb up in penance as well while carrying the kavadi. For those who wish to make the penitentiary pilgrimage to Batu Caves, they will gather at the the Sri Mahamariaman Temple along Jalan Tun HS Lee in the Petaling Street area, leaving around midnight to walk barefooted towards Batu Caves on an 8-hour journey of 15 kilometres. Other locations in Malaysia for celebrating Thaipusam include the Balathandayuthapani Temple or Waterfall Hill Temple in Penang; the Sri Subramaniya Swamy Temple in Sungai Petani, Kedah; and the Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple in Ipoh, Perak.
Like Deepavali, Thaipusam is a Hindu celebration, so not all Indians celebrate Thaipusam, especially Sikhs. So don’t go wishing any Indian you meet “Happy Thaipusam” without knowing if they are Hindu. Regardless, however, we can all be happy for one another’s celebrations and share in their joys and celebrations because, as Malaysians, we are a multiethnic country living in harmony with each other.
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