Based on ancient mythology, Thaipusam is observed mainly by Tamil Hindu communities during the full moon in the tenth month of Thai, of the Tamil calendar. The festival usually falls in January or February of each year.
Thaipusam, which celebrates good over evil, is dedicated to Lord Murugan, variously known as Subramaniam, Skanda and Kartik. According to legend, demons were creating mayhem on earth in the month of Thai and were defeated by Lord Murugan. Thaipusam commemorates the day when Parvati, the wife of major Hindu deity Shiva, gave a vel (spear) to her son Murugan to defeat the evil demon Soorapadam.
On Thaipusam Day, devotees who have asked for divine intercession with health, career, money or other problems, will subject themselves to certain actions as penance, or thanksgiving, for favours received or expected.
To fulfil vows made, some believers carry kavadis – a bamboo structure attached to their bodies by metal hooks or spikes. Others pierce their tongues or cheeks with metal skewers, while still others will add to their discomfort and pain, by attaching limes to the sharp instruments.
As Lord Murugan is also associated with the peacock and rooster the kavadis are decorated with peacock feathers and flowers. The kavadis also contain pots of milk which are used to bathe the statue of Lord Murugan. Followers usually wear saffron-coloured robes and smear sacred ash on their bodies.
In preparation for the festival, devotees cleanse their bodies and souls by fasting, prayers and abstaining from sex, meat and alcohol.
These days the festival is not just an exclusively Indian Tamil affair. Several Chinese and people of other races and faiths also come to fulfil their vows on this day.
The Thaipusam festival is held in a number of places in Malaysia but the biggest celebration is at Batu Caves in Selangor, attracting over a million devotees and thousands of tourists. At the entrance to the caves is a 42-metre high statue of Lord Murugan.
The procession to Batu Caves, 13 km away, begins early morning from the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. The journey takes about eight hours with the chariot and kavadi carriers, devotees and followers walking alongside. The streets are lined with people of all faiths offering prayers as the procession goes past to the sound of chanting and religious music. On reaching the foot of the caves the kavadi bearers make the steep climb of 272 steps to the temple in the caves. They are assisted by priests and other faithful.
Festival: 10 February
Distance: About 13 KM
By Train from KL Sentral (KTM
Komuter) the fare is MYR 4 for a
return ticket departs every 30 mins.
By taxi, private car, Uber or by Grabtaxi (download these apps)
Hotels: Most hotels near Batu Caves are budget hotels
Hotel Richbaliz – Batu Caves 4-star
Smile Hotel Selayang Point 2-star
Dahlia Homestay Selayang 2-star
Text by Devinder Raj
Photos by Tan Kai SweE