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THAIPUSAM
Ben van Wijnen

Thaipusam is an Indian festival. It's a celebration for the son of Shiva (Murugan also known as Subramaniam) and the becoming "one" of  Pusan and the Brihaspati stars. Lord Murugan is the universal granter of wishes.  All those who wish to ask for a future favour, fulfil a vow in return for a granted favour, or to repent for past sins will participate in this festival.  It's not difficult for Hindus (or anyone) to fall into one of these categories.

There are two places in Malaysia, where this is celebrated. That's in Kuala Lumpur (Batu Caves) and on Penang.
Every year in Kuala Lumpur, on Thaipusam, as many as 900,000 devotees and other visitors may throng the caves. As a form of penance or sacrifice, many of them carry kavadis (literally, "burden," such as a pitcher or jug). These are large, brightly decorated frameworks, usually combined with various metal hooks and skewers which are used to pierce the skin, cheeks and tongue. By doing this penance they expect some favours from their Gods. It is a common practice for devotees here to pierce themselves with numerous hooks and long skewers as well as to pull heavy chariots hooked to their backs even though nothing is mentioned about these forms of devotional expressions in the holy books.

 

The festival is held in the tenth month of the Hindu calendar (mostly the end of January). 
This 3-day festival will start off at the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown district. From there, the devotees and the entire procession will make their way towards Batu Caves, which is like 13 kilometres towards the north of the city. At least about 50,000 Hindu devotees will be doing the procession.
If a devotee wishes to carry a kavadi, that can be just a wooden arc decorated with flowers, peacock feathers and a picture of Murugan. Two pots filled with milk can be attached to both ends of the arch to be offered to Murugan.
The kavadis is placed on the shoulders of the devotee. The kavadis represents a miniature shrine.
Women carry a silver jug full of milk on their heads, some are pierced through their cheeks and tongues and others not. Some devotees will start fasting a month or two before Thaipusam. They will follow strictly a vegetarian diet and some even sleep on the hard floor for months preparing themselves for the day.

Woman with milk

Chains are dropped from the central body of the kavadis and hooked onto the flesh of the bearer. The length of the spears had to be limited to a metre in consideration for other devotees. Others hook limes, oranges or coconuts onto their bodies.
They are always accompanied by an entourage of relatives and friends to make them enthusiastic with dance parades, songs, musicians playing the drums and the flutes.
As they arrive at the shrine at the Batu Caves, the Swami removes the hooks, spears etc. The vow is finally fulfilled. Now it's up to their Gods.

On Penang the procession starts on the evening before Thaipusam. They walk from the Chettiar Temple in Penang Street where the silver chariot leaves on a journey to the Nattukkottai Chettiar Temple at Waterfall Road.

Devotee

 

 

 

    Ben van Wijnen

 

 

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