Thaipusam is an Indian festival celebrated by the Tamil community in and also outside India, where there is a presence of Tamil Hindu fraternity. It falls in the last week of January or the first week of February. The festival is associated with Tamil God “Murugan”, and is also celebrated as his birthday. Murugan is the son of Goddess Parvathi and Hindu God Shiva and is a revered god in the Indian Tamil community.
The festival of “Thaipusam” is grandly celebrated in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Australia, Canada, Mauritius, Singapore, South Africa, Indonesia and Thailand and also other parts of the world where there is a presence of Hindu Tamil community.
Like many other Indian festivals, Thaipusam also has an interesting history and mythological legends attached to it. The festival is vibrantly celebrated by all the Tamil Hindu communities and reflects the religion, culture, faith, and endurance of the devotees.
Thaipoosam Festival 2019
Thaipusam Festival in 2019 will be celebrated on January 21, Monday.
When and Why is Thaipusam Celebrated?
Like many Indian festivals which are celebrated on a full moon day; Thaipusam is also celebrated on full moon day which falls in the month of Tamil month of “Thai”.
“Thai” means 10th; a reference to the 10th month of Tamil calendar and “Pusam” refers to a star. Thaipusam is celebrated when the full moon aligns itself with a constellation of stars (Theta, Gamma and Eta) in Zodiac sign of Cancer.
The alignment of Moon with the star “Pusam” resembles the mammary gland of a cow; hence it is believed to bring nourishment and fertility and is celebrated as “Thaipusam”.
Mythological Legends of Thaipusam
Like many other Hindu festivals of India, Thaipusam also has a mythological story about its origin, which is both legendary as well as faith invoking.
According to Tamil Hindu belief, Lord Murugan is the son of Lord Shiva. Once an asura (demon) named “Soorapadman”, who was the son of Kashyap was given a blessing that no one except Lord Shiva’s own offspring could defeat him or even kill him. But there was a catch – the offspring must be born without Shiva’s union with a female.
The blessing inflicted Soorapadman with a sense of false pride and arrogance, and considering himself as invincible he started conquering the world by resorting to violence and suppression of other rulers.
One day the sister of Soorapadman reached heaven, in order to get the queen of heaven, for his brother to keep as a mistress. Her advances were obstructed by a guard and in the ensuing scuffle, her one arm was amputated.
Angered by the penance of her sister, Soorapadman conquered heaven and kept all the devs (Gods) imprisoned; torturing them and inflicting pain.
In the meantime, Devas pleaded Shiva, for giving an able offspring who could kill or defeat “Soorapadman”. Admitting to the demands of gods and for saving the world from Sooarapdman, Lord Shiva created a son “Murugan” also known as “Kartikeyen” or “Subramaniam”, supposedly from the flames of his forehead, as he couldn’t be created by Shiva’s union with a female. Goddess Parvathi also gave Murugan a spear to help him in defeating Soorapadman. Lord “Murugan” instantly took control of all the celestial elements and defeated Soorapadman in a valiant fight, in which the latter lost almost all of his brothers and soldiers.
Fearing an almost death by the spear of Lord Murugan, Soorapadman requested him for mercy and pleaded for forgiveness. Taking pity on Soorapadman, Murugan agreed to spare his life on the condition that the former becomes his forever vahana (mount). Thus, Soorapadman took the form of a peacock and became the vahana of Lord Murugan.
Therefore, the defeat of evil Soorapadman at the hands of Lord Murugan is celebrated as “Thaipusam” and the deity Murugan is always shown holding a spear in his right hand and mounted on a peacock.
Origin/History Of Thaipusam in Malaysia
Thaipusam is grandly celebrated in Malaysia and is also observed as a national holiday. The credit of initiating an Indian festival in the foreign land of Malaysia goes to K.Thamboosamy Pillai. Mr. Pillai was an Indian trader based in Malaysia.
While on a visit to Batu caves in Malaysia, Mr. Pillai noted that the entrance of the cave looked like a spear and he decided to promote the place as a place of worship of Lord Murugan and build a temple dedicated to him and in 1890 installed a statue of the deity into the cave, marking the opening of “Thaipusam” celebrations in Malaysia, which has been celebrated there since 1892.
How is Thaipusam Celebrated?
The festival of Thaipusam is celebrated by the Indian Tamil community in India as well as other countries with the presence of Tamil fraternity, like – Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Australia, Canada, Mauritius, Singapore, South Africa, Indonesia, and Thailand.
It is celebrated with equal faith and enthusiasm, both in countries with good Tamil Hindu population and also in countries where Tamil Hindus are less in number. Every celebration reflects the Indian Tamil culture and traditions, but the essence of it remains the same – to thank Lord Murugan for saving the world from the demon “Soorapadman”.
One of the major events of Thaipusam is “Kavadi Attam” or the burden dance, performed by the devotees to praise lord Murugan. It is the central attraction in the celebrations and represents debts bondage. In Kavadi Attam the devotees inflict themselves with physical burdens, to seek the blessings of Lord Murugan.
Thaipusam is also celebrated in temples, sometimes the celebrations last for over a week, like in Sri Dhandayuthapani temple in Palani, Tamil Nadu. Many aartis (ceremonies) are performed worshipping Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvathi, and Lord Murugan.
The Legend of “Kavadi Attam”
The tradition of Kavadi Attam in Thaipusam has a mythological belief associated with it. Once Shiva, instructed sage Agastya to install two hills in south India. As told Agastya took the two hills – Shaktigiri hill and Shaktigiri hill and placed them in a forest; further instructing his disciple Idumban to complete the job.
Idumban found the hills immovable and had to seek divine help. While moving the hills, he placed them near Palani in south India and rested. Just when Idumban started again to complete his journey, to his surprise he found that the hills were immovable again.
Idumban spotted a poorly dressed youth and asked him for help in moving the hillocks. But the youth refused to say that the hills belong to him. A fight ensued and Idumban realized that the youth was none other than Lord Murugan – son of Lord Shiva; who was outwitted in a contest by his brother Ganesha and left the company of Shiva-Parvathi, taking abode in the hillocks. Later Murugan was supposedly pacified by his father Shiva, who told him that he himself was “Subrahmanya” a fruit of wisdom and knowledge.
However, Idumban was killed in the ensuing fight with Murugan but was later brought back to life. It was then that Idumban said that whoever carrying a Kavadi reaches the temple in the hillocks will be blessed and his vows fulfilled. Since then every devotee first visits the Idumban shrine before going to the shrine of Lord Murugan; located in the hill near Palini in Tamil Nadu.
Thaipusam – Tradition and Culture
1) In India
Thaipusam is celebrated by the Hindu Tamil community in India as well as other parts of the world. Ever celebration reflects its own culture and a tradition that dates back to centuries or even millenniums ago.
There is an ages-old tradition being followed while visiting the Dandayudhapani shrine in Palini, Tamil Nadu. The festival in the temple lasts for ten days. The pilgrims carrying Kavadi first visit Idumban shrine, before reaching the Dandayudhapani temple. There is a belief that their vows will be heard only when they visit Lord Murugan’s shrine after visiting the Idumban shrine. Therefore, thousands of pilgrims during Thaipusam carry on the tradition of paying homage to Idumban who stands as a guard, before visiting the Dandayudhapani temple.
In India “Kavadi Attam” has been traditionally followed by the Tamil Hindu community and it constitutes the most important event of the celebrations. Devotees, before performing Kavadi Attam, fast for 48 hours and supposedly cleanse themselves by performing prayers. The Kavadi or burden may be as simple as a pot of milk or may even include piercing of the skin. Thousands of Indian devotees pierce their skin, cheeks or tongues with metal rods or hooks, and also carry articles attached to them. It is an age-old tradition seeking to invoke the blessing of Lord Murugan.
There is also a tradition of piercing the chest and back, with 108 metal spears, attached to a metal structure. This custom is known as “Vel Kavadi”. “Vel” in Tamil means “spear” and it resembles the spear given by Goddess Parvathi to Lord Murugan, to defeat the demon Soorapadman.
2) In Malaysia – Batu Caves
The festival of Thaipusam was first celebrated in Malaysia in 1892 at the Batu caves and has since become a reflection of the traditions and culture of the resident Indian Tamil community of Malaysia. Millions of devotees throng to the Batu caves near the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.
The celebrations start the previous day of the festival. A chariot of wood, containing the statue of Lord Murugan is moved by devotees to the Batu caves; an activity which is witnessed by millions of other devotees. The chariot is followed by a line of drummers and musicians, adding to the festival fervor. People offer fruits to God Murugan. There is also a custom to hold infants high in front of the deity, in order to seek his blessings.
The Malaysian Thaipusam reflects high devotion of Tamil Hindus to their revered God Murugan and the same is also reflected in various deeds undertaken by the devotees. Reaching the main shrine in Batu caves requires walking 272 steps. Devotees also carry pierced burdens on their chest and shoulders.
The devotees are given space to perform dance signifying Lord Murugan’s role as Lord of Dance. Once the devotees reached the deity inside the caves, they dance before the deity. Now the devotees are allowed to remove their Kavadi and perform the final rites.
3) In Singapore and Indonesia
In Singapore, the festival begins at Sri Perumal Temple, located in the planning area Kallang and travels up to four kilometers to Chettiar’s temple. Devotees carry milk pot attached to their Kavadi.
In Indonesia, the celebrations begin on the evening of Thaipusam. The procession carrying a 125 years old chariot (locally known as Radhoo) starts from Sree Soepramaniem Nagarattar Temple in North Sumatra and goes up to Sri Mariamman Temple, located at a distance of 2 to 3 Kilometers.
4) In the United States of America
Devotees organize a walk to Shiva Murugan Temple in Concord, California. For several years, a thousand devotees have been walking to the temple at Concord. Some devotees walk for as long as 50 to 100 miles to show their devotion to Lord Murugan.
Significance Of Thaipusam
Thaipusam is a festival of faith and devotion. It also signifies the victory of good over evil as it is on the day of Thaipusam that Lord Murugan defeated the asura Soorapadman. The custom of inflicting physical pain on oneself signifies the highest devotion of the devotees to their revered God. It also signifies the trust that the devotees have in their old customs and traditions.
The festival is also a reflection of the vibrant cultural practices of India and the faith bestowed by the people of India on their deities. In a way, the festival also bonds, scattered Tamil communities around other parts of the world. It gives a way to the Hindu Tamil community of Malaysia, Singapore, etc to connect to their roots and also show their rich culture and vibrant traditions to other parts of the world.
Another significance of “Thaipusam” is that it manifests physical endurance and teaches a man to be prepared for physical pain and suffering by having faith in God. It is a known fact that devotees who take Kavadi after adhering to the religious rules; enter into a state of low consciousness and feel no pain while piercing the skin and also they are left with no wounds after completing the rituals. Therefore, it reaffirms the belief of devotees that their God is also watching and realizes their pain and helps them.