Thaipusam is one of the key Hindu ceremonies held each year during the full moon in the tenth month of the Hindu calendar – falling from mid-January to mid-February and It is marked in Malaysia by a public holiday. This year it fell on the 21st of January and I was one of many who went to watch the festivities .
Thaipusam is an annual festival in which millions of Hindu devotees across the world take part in one of the world’s most passionate spiritual celebrations.
Thaipusam traditionally falls on a full moon. The celebration is held as a tribute to the Hindu god of war, Lord Muragan, honoured in sacred lore for slaying three evil demons in the name of good virtue.
On the first day of Thaipusam, there is a procession along the streets of Kuala Lumpur led by a chariot that presents a statue of Lord Muragan. On the second day, there is a long barefoot walk to the Batu Caves for the purpose of vow fulfilment.
The walk to the Batu Caves is what is seen by many as the most popular element of the celebration. During the pilgrimage, some devotees will carry large milk pots and ornate frames (kavadi). The kavadi are supported by a series of spikes that laterally pierce the skin of their chest and backs as a symbol of penance – this is done with little or no blood shed as the fish hooks / spikes are inserted in what is a trance like state of music and incense . Not all devotees who take the pilgrimage will pierce their skin with hooks; many will just opt to carry a pot of milk, which serves as a symbol of fertility and abundance in Hindu faith. Many Hindu devotees consider Thaipusam to be an expression of loyalty and allegiance between people and the deities. In a sense, it could be considered a form of thanksgiving to Lord Muragan for any prayers that he has answered.
Upon reaching the caves, devotees are greeted by a 42.7 m statue of Lord Muragan. They will then climb a large staircase into the limestone caves, where shrines awaiting offerings are enclosed in the caverns.
Traditionally, participants in the festival will offer Lord Muragan their gifts in the form of orange and yellow flowers and fruits while wearing similarly-coloured clothing. There are multiple offerings made to a great number of many different shrines, though the Batu Caves hold the most popular shrines of all.
At Thaipusam, parades and rituals are held across the country, with devotees performing ceremonial acts at different locations – the most famous being at the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur where more than one million people gather on Thaipusam each year. Tourists flock to see the colours, noise and activities of Thaipusam.
As I exited from my taxi I was greeted by the smell of incense burning and also by the sight of many of the participants ( both male and female ) having their heads shaved as part of the offering that they where about to make . The devotees carrying their offerings or Kavadi then make their way along the path and up the 272 stairs to the shrine at the top . The piercings are in some cases a little unsettling if you have a faint heart but if you wish to be truly fascinated in seeing another culture come to life then I suggest spending a few hours at Thaipusam .