This Wednesday, we will be celebrating one of the most colourful and ritualistic festivals in the world, which is Thaipusam. Thousands of tourists from all over the world are flying all the way to Malaysia to witness the biggest celebration of Thaipusam that takes place in the most famous pilgrimage, Batu Caves. Over millions of people are involved in the procession from Sri Maha Mariamman temple in Jalan Tun H.S. Lee to Batu Caves.
Besides Batu Caves, there are three more important holy shrines for Lord Murugan in Malaysia itself, which are Kallumalai Temple in Ipoh, Tanneermalai Temple in Penang and Sannasimalai Temple in Malacca.
Tanneermalai Temple in Penang
While people around the world are fascinated by the huge Thaipusam celebrations in Malaysia, do we Malaysians understand fully about the festival?
Today, we are going to share some important facts about Thaipusam so that all our non-Hindu friends can also understand and appreciate this beautiful festival.
#1 The God – Lord Murugan
Thaipusam is dedicated to the Hindu god of war, the Lord Murugan. It is believed that on this day, his mother, Goddess Parvati, the goddess of love and fertility gifted a vel (lance) to Lord Murugan. With the vel, Lord Murugan vanquished the demon army of Tarakasura and combat their evil deeds. Therefore, Thaipusam serves as a celebration of the victory of good over evil.
#2 The Gift – Smashing of Coconuts
The worshippers will carry gifts including milk pots and coconut and eventually smash them as offerings to the God. Have you ever wondered why do they smash coconut?
Coconut is the holy fruit of Hindu and it’s believed to be the purest form of offering that one can render onto God. The unique composition of the coconut is symbolizing the three elements of man:
A) The hard, outer shell, with its coarse fibres, represents the physical composition.
B) The inner white fruit represents man’s psychological element.
C) The sweet, nectar-like water that it holds is pure and untouched by the human hand, it signifies man’s spiritual composition.
#3 The Sacrifice – kavadis
The kavadis, or the ‘burden dance’, is a ceremonial sacrifice and offering practised by devotees during the worship of Lord Murugan. The kavadis is a physical burden which the devotees bear to implore Murugan for assistance, usually on behalf of a loved one who is in need of healing, or as a means of balancing a spiritual debt. Not everyone will carry kavadis, and we have to be clear that it’s a ritual, not a show.
The devotees that commit to the kavadis will start the preparations 48 days before the two-day Thaipusam festival. The devotees purge themselves of all mental and physical impurities. They take only one vegetarian meal per day and 24 hours before Thaipusam, they must maintain a complete fast. Besides the meals, they also follow strict purification austerities that include transcendence of desire, head-shaving, refraining from alcohol, sexual abstinence, constant prayers and etc.
On the day of Thaipusam, the kavadis are then carried through the crowd until finally removed for prayers at a designated place. Devotees are worked into a trance-like state with chanting and drums. They pierce their tongues, cheeks, and faces with sharp objects hardly bleed and claimed feeling very little pain. Their wounds heal nearly immediately and don’t produce scars.
What can non-Hindus do to celebrate the festival?
You can wake up early and go to the holy shrines to observe the procession or even join the procession. Dress code is yellow and orange colours, as these are the favourite colours of the Lord Murugan.
The worshippers welcome anyone to celebrate together. However, please don’t interfere the worshippers just to get better photos. Please be respectful to the festival and the worshippers.
If you’re not taking part in the celebration, remember to wish your Hindu friends Happy Thaipusam and wish them a healthy and happy year ahead.