What is Thaipusam and How Is It Celebrated In Malaysia
Thaipusam often comes off as a huge surprise for many of our Non- Indian friends in Malaysia. They often get themselves confused with Thaipusam and Deepavali. I always hear my Chinese friends asking me how do I differentiate these 2 Hindu festivals? A very valid question. So I answered, Thaipusam always comes in January / early February and Deepavali comes during the months of October or November.
Simple yet easy to remember point I believe. But simple aside, did they truly understand what Thaipusam is? I BET NOT. Are you one of those confused people? This article is for you then! Lessssgooo….
What is Thaipusam?
Thaipusam is a religious holiday observed by the Tamil population in India as well as the Tamil diaspora throughout the world. The festival recalls the time when Parvati, the Hindu goddess of fertility and love, handed her son, Murugan, the deity of battle, a spear to kill a demon.
According to one story, this event was founded during one of the conflicts between the Asuras (or, more specifically, Soorapadman) and the Devas. At one point, the former defeated the latter multiple times. The Devas were unable to withstand the Asura soldiers’ attack.
In desperation, they addressed Lord Shiva and begged him to provide them an excellent commander under whose valiant leadership they might defeat the Asuras. They entirely submitted and prayed to Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva answered their wish by creating Skanda, the powerful warrior, from his own strength. He immediately seized command of the heavenly troops, inspiring them to vanquish the Asura armies, and the people formed the Thaipusam festival to commemorate that day.
According to the Hindu Purana Skanda Puranam, the tale of Lord Murugan and Thirupugal, which are holy and divine poems / verses dedicated about Murugan, correspond to Shaivam principles. Lord Murugan is the manifestation of Lord Shiva’s light and knowledge, and worshippers pray to him to help them overcome hurdles since He is the divine vanquisher of evil. The purpose of the Thaipusam celebration is to appeal to God for his favour in order to eliminate negative qualities.
What does Thaipusam Mean?
The term ‘Thaipusam’ is a combination of the words “Thai,” which refers to the Tamil calendar month in which the religious festival is held, and “Pusam,” which refers to a three-star constellation in tamil (Natchathiram). The commencement of this festival, which is based on the worship of Lord Murugan, is marked by the brilliant full moon in the sky during the Thai month (between January 15 and February 15).
Thaipusam Rituals & Rites
Devotees who make vows and pray will perform sacrifice deeds in exchange for an answered request. The prayers might be for healing from illness, seeking forgiveness for past wrongdoings, or a childless couple requesting a baby, and so on. Each and every vow is considered very divine and sacred and the kavadis are the huge highlight of these Thaipusam festivals.
This deed might be carried in the form of a kavadi, which weighs several pounds and is connected to the body through skewers and hooks. The most serious male pilgrims frequently do this. There are several other ways where devotees will carry a pot of milk known as Paal Kudam (Milk Pot) and go fulfill their vows.
Other Penance and Vows
There are devotees who choose a slightly’serious’ sacrifice deed that is not as difficult as lugging the heavy-weight kavadis; these devotees may choose to get their mouths and cheeks pierced instead.
Other types of penance that can be performed include having the head (newborns, children, men and women), offering food and drink to devotees (also known as Annathaanam), and providing other vital services.
Thaipusam Celebration in Malaysia
Thaipusam is famously celebrated by Malaysian Hindus in Batu Caves, a significant site for followers of the faith. Other locations noted for Thaipusam celebrations include the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple in Penang, commonly known as the Waterfall Hill Temple, and the Arulmigu Subramaniyar Kallumalai Temple in Ipoh, Perak. Before greeting Thaipusam, believers fast or practise vegetarianism for a certain length of time to purify their souls.
On the day itself, worshippers pledge their vows and perform penance by carrying a kavadi (a decorative structure holding the image of Lord Muruga) on their shoulders or paal kudum (milk pots) above their heads as they ascend the steps leading to the major deity’s temple.
The Significance of Carrying a Kavadi
- The Kavadi that each devotee carries represents his or her load, similar to the two hills borne by Idumban.
- Murugan is said to lighten the load on the life of a devotee who carries Kavadi.
- Taking Kavadi to Murugan temples during Thaipusam is seen to be extremely fortunate.
Source: Al Jazeera
The preparations for the Thaipusam celebration begin 48 days (one mandala) before the event. Devotees cleanse themselves of all mental and bodily impurities by austerities such as:
- Sensation control
- Fasting for an entire day or eating only one basic vegetarian meal or fruits and milk every day.
abstaining from smoking, drinking, or using other intoxicants
- Maintain complete abstinence.
- Taking a cold bath
- During this time, most men do not shave or trim their hair.
- Sleeping on the ground floor
- Constant poojas, prayers, reciting mantras, singing hymns,
- Spiritual works, and memory of Lord Murugan.
Thaipusam Day Offerings
The items brought for offering are more essential than the Kavadi. Items used in traditional Abhishekam should be brought for offering. It is critical to ensure that the materials for Abhishekam are appropriate for Lord Murugan. Some readily available Abhisheka products include:
- Theertam (holy water)
- Panneer (rose water),
- Panchagavyam (milk, curd or yogurt, honey, ghee, and cow’s urine),
- Sweet fruits
- Brown sugar,
- Vibhuti, turmeric powder, kumkum, and sandal paste
Before beginning their vows, devotees prepare themselves by immersing into the athankarai (a small river) with rituals and prayers to prepare themselves carrying kavadis or paal kudam. As easy as it may seem, the weight of the kavadi / paal kudam/ chariots are quite heavy. To walk quite a distance and climbing up 272 or more in Batu Caves or 513 steps in Thanneermalai, Penang in not a joke at all.
Some kavadi can weigh as much as 30 kg. The vel kavadi is the most beautiful technique, essentially a portable altar up to two metres tall, embellished with peacock feathers and linked to the devotee by 108 vels drilled into the flesh on the chest and back.
Here is a divine verse I’d like to share which I found on Google to be very interesting!
“Udambinai Munnam Izhukkendru Irundhaen, Udambinukku Ullae Uru Porul Kandaen
Udambullae Uththaman Koyil Kondan Endru, Udambinai Yaanirundhu Ombukindraenae”
Meaning, “I first thought the body is a blemish. Then I realised that the Supreme Being exists in my body. In my body, the Supreme Being resides in a temple within. And hence I worship and nurture my physical body”.
(Thirumanthiram verses 725)
Every year, over a million Hindus congregate at various temples around Malaysia to celebrate Thaipusam.
Unfortunately due to the pandemic situation, celebrations are allowed but with very strict SOPs by the Gov.
Check out the Dos and Donts compiled by Varnam here: https://varnam.my/culture/2022/51902/a-quick-recap-of-the-dos-donts-list-amid-thaipusam-2022-celebrations/
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