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THAIPUSAM

Thaipusam (Tamil: தைப்பூசம்) (or Thai Poosam Kavady) is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (Jan/Feb). Pusam refers to a star that is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates both the birthday of Lord Murugan (also Subramaniam), the youngest son of Shiva and Parvati, and the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel (lance) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman.

Devotees prepare for the celebration by cleansing themselves through prayer and fasting. Kavadi-bearers have to perform elaborate ceremonies at the time of assuming the kavadi and at the time of offering it to Lord Murugan. The kavadi-bearer observes celibacy and take only pure, Satvik food, once a day, while continuously thinking of God.

On the day of the festival, devotees will shave their heads undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi (burdens). At its simplest this may entail carrying a pot of milk, but mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers is also common.

The simplest kavadi is a semi circular decorated canopy supported by a wooden rod that is carried on the shoulders, to the temple. In addition, some have a little spear through their tongue, or a spear through the cheeks. The spear pierced through his tongue or cheeks reminds him constantly of Lord Murugan. It also prevents him from speaking and gives great power of endurance. Other types of kavadi involve hooks stuck into the back and either pulled by another walking behind or being hung from a decorated bullock cart or more recently a tractor, with the point of incisions of the hooks varying the level of pain. The greater the pain the more god-earned merit.


The most spectacular practice is the vel kavadi, essentially a portable altar up to two meters tall, decorated with peacock feathers and attached to the devotee through 108 vels pierced into the skin on the chest and back. Fire walking and flagellation may also be practiced. It is claimed that devotees are able to enter a trance, feel no pain, do not bleed from their wounds and have no scars left behind. However, some of the more extreme masochistic practices have been criticized as dangerous and contrary to the spirit and intention of Hinduism.

The temple at Batu Caves, near Kuala Lumpur, often attracts over one million devotees and tens of thousands of tourists. The procession to the caves starts at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur in the heart of the city and proceeds for 15 kilometers to the caves, an 8-hour journey culminating in a flight of 272 steps to the top.

["What an incredibly unique experience. To at first witness, and then be encouraged to join in the procession of devotees, observing their expressions of devotion in 90 degree heat amongst a crowd estimated at about one million people as we made our way through the crowds and up the stairs to the caves was intoxicating. What a day!

I now have a better understanding of how people get trampled at religious festivals." kk ]

( The image has been scanned from a colour negative taken with an 35mm Olympus automatic. )

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Photo Information
  • Copyright: Kevin KL (kk_wpg) Silver Note Writer [C: 0 W: 0 N: 88] (361)
  • Genre: People
  • Medium: Color
  • Date Taken: 2001-02-00
  • Categories: Festivals
  • Photo Version: Original Version
  • Date Submitted: 2008-11-12 1:39
Viewed: 7618
Points: 1
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Additional Photos by Kevin KL (kk_wpg) Silver Note Writer [C: 0 W: 0 N: 88] (361)
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