A Celebration in Honor of Lord Murugan
05.02.2012 - 07.02.2012
The Hindu festival called Thaipusam, which is one of the biggest Hindu celebrations, is celebrated every year in January / February; a very auspicious month in the Tamil calender. This very special day is dedicated to Lord Muruga, who is responsible for destroying evil and saving devotees. He’s the son of Lord Siva and Goddess Parvati; and his residence is in the heart of his devotees. It's believed that on this day the Goddess Parvati gave her son Lord Muruga a holy spear, also called a "vel", to use as a weapon against the demon Soorapadman.
On this day devotees make offerings to Lord Muruga, renew their vows and pay penance. This year Thaipusam fell on Tuesday 07th of February, but the participants usually start well before this in order to prepare themselves for the festival. Many of them fast or eat only vegetarian meals, abstaining from sex and other worldly pleasures, shaving their heads, performing daily prayers, and some will go to area temples to begin fulfilling their vows. Two nights before the ceremonious day, devotees met at the Mahamariamman Temple in China town, Kuala Lumpur to begin their 13km pilgrimage to the temple at Batu Caves. During this journey they transfer the statue of Lord Muruga in a silver chariot from Mahamariamman to Batu Caves, and devotees carry kavadis on their heads as offerings.
The procession leaves at around midnight and arrives to Batu Caves the following day around noon. On Thaipusam day, which is the the day of the full moon, the penitents carry their kavadis up all 292 steps to the temple. You might be wondering by now, what is a kavadi?
A kavadi is a physical burden that the penitent bears in honor of Lord Murugan. There are many versions of kavadis, but you will see mainly two types during the ceremony. The first, and simplest of the two, is a milk jug / jar that is decorated and carried on the head. The second form, is basically a mobile altar that the devotee carries on his head and shoulders. This cage like structure, also known as a vel kavadi, and is attached to the devotee by spikes, hooks and chains that are connected to the chest and back. The kavadi is adorned with peacock feathers, which represent the vehicle of Lord Muruga, and brass bells which announce the devotee who has usually taken a vow of silence. Also, there are offerings of milk, rice, flowers, and other items carried on the kavadi. Other penitents will put hooks into the flesh of their backs or chest, and hang fruit (limes, apples or oranges), and flowers from them.
As seen in the pictures above, skewering the cheek and or tongue is another way the devotee pays penance.
Quite an incredible ceremony! If you ever get the chance to see to witness it, I strongly recommend it. In Malaysia, where it's probably the grandest celebration, even more so than India, you can see it in Kuala Lumpur or Penang island. You can also check it out in Singapore.