Celebrated by Hindu devotees, Thaipusam is a festival that observes a day of thanksgiving and penance to Lord Murugan – a deity that represents youth, power and destruction of evil. Hindu devotees are required to prepare themselves for some time both physically and mentally before the festival.
Most of them cleanse their bodies through fasting and abstinence, as well as observing a vegetarian diet. Besides Batu Caves, Hindus also gather at the Balathandayuthapani Temple or Waterfall Hill Temple in Penang, and the Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple in Ipoh after a long procession.
Another form of banishing evil that is known during Thaipusam is through the significant breaking of coconuts on the ground. It is believed that the act itself is symbolic of breaking one’s ego and a cleansing ritual offered to Lord Murugan.
The significance of penance
The highest form of offering practiced during Thaipusam is to carry the kavadi. The significance of this act is to give them great powers of endurance. There are other types of penance that Hindu devotees can practise during Thaipusam, such as shaving their heads as an act of sacrifice that symbolises humility and the surrender of their vanity. Another form of penance is carrying a pot of milk during the procession which symbolises abundance and fertility. Hindu devotees also walk on hot coals as an offering to Lord Murugan to gain greater powers of endurance.
Body piercings: Do they hurt?
It’s an age old question. Devotees who carry the kavadi (a semi-circular steel or wooden frame hauled by a devotee) usually undertake a severe regime to prepare themselves for the festival. The structures that are balanced on their shoulders are usually combined with hooks used to pierce the skin, cheeks and tongue. This mighty devotion is usually done to fulfil vows they’ve made to Lord Murugan.
Devotees need to abstain from alcohol, smoking, chewing betel nuts and having impure thoughts for 21 days. Their sleeping and bathing patterns are regimented and they are required to fill their time with prayer, meditation and charitable activities.
They also have to go through a strict Sattvic diet which consists of fruits, dairy products, nuts, ripe vegetables and more. Onions, garlic, red chillies and strong spices are prohibited. As a result, on festival day, they get into a state of trance where they don’t appear to be in pain. Devotees usually do not bleed, suffer infections or prolonged pain after the event, and don’t suffer from burns or scars. They believe that only when the mind is free and at peace and the body free from physical pleasures, can a devotee undergo the task without feeling any pain.
Our columnist had an up close and personal experience of the festival. Read about it here.