By: Keertini A/P Segar & Jeremy Chong
Thaipusam is a well-known festival in Malaysia especially among the Tamil Hindus in the country. The festival is celebrated on the Tamil month of Thai which is in January or February. This year this spiritual celebration falls on the 28th January 2021, Thursday.
Thaipusam is the day that devotees worship and praise their lord, Murugan. Lord Murugan is the son of Shiva and the goddess Parvati (Rodgers, 2020). It is believed that Lord Murugan will spread mercy and hence devotees take this opportunity to seek forgiveness and make extensive prayers. Even before the day of Thaipusam, they would perform more prayers than usual. Devotees would also fast and practice vegetarianism before the pilgrimage commence.
Picture credit: Robocop, 2020
Those who are unfamiliar with the celebration would think Thaipusam is the day where Hindus go and undertake a painful pilgrimage. However, the truth is beyond that view. The painful rituals and acts of the devotees during Thaipusam is based on Kavadi Aattam which means burden. That burden is a sign of devotion towards their Lord Murugan. The Kavadi is carried while walking on a long path to implore the assistance of Lord Murugan (Tamboo, 2019).
It is done only by volunteers who sacrifice themselves and in return to earn mercy from their lord. This is often done by someone who faces difficulties in life. Devotees would also pierce their body parts while carrying the Kavadi. You might think it is painful, but for them, it is a spiritual sacrifice worth doing and pain is absent.
Picture credit: Tamboo, 2019
Another most common body part pierced by devotees are the tongue and cheeks (Victor, 2014). This is mostly done by worshippers in Malaysia and Singapore. Sacrificing the gift of speech is what this act symbolises. The next most common ritual done is Pallkudam or carrying a pot of milk.
Women are always seen to carry Pallkudam during the pilgrimage (Astroulagam, 2020). Once reach into the temple, the milk is poured onto a statue of Lord Murugan. Finally, children and infants would partake in the hair saving ritual. Sometimes, adults would too but it is common to see children who perform this sacred act (RNS, 2016). It is a sign of plea to their lord and this also reminds them about their devotion.
Picture credit: Alamy, 2014
Picture credit: Astroulagam, 2020
In Malaysia, Batu Caves is a well-known place for pilgrims attends their worship during Thaipusam. They will carry the Kavadi and the Pallkudam while their bodies pierced up the 272 steps to reach the temple built within the cave. This celebration is one of its kind and as Malaysians, it is important for us to understand and learn about it.
During this unprecedented time, the COVID-19 outbreak now has stopped most festivals from being as memorable as it used to. In 2019, everyone would march to the temples while singing and dancing but this year, the government has imposed another MCO in most states.
Hence, devotees are only about to perform their prayers indoors. The government only allowed a few members of the temples to perform the rituals. No other devotees are allowed. Therefore, Thaipusam this year will be carrying a different meaning to all.