Thaipusam (Tamil: தைப்பூசம், Taippūcam ?)is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (January/February). It is mainly observed in countries where there is a significant presence of Tamil community such as India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Mauritius Singapore, Thailand and Myanmar
The word Thaipusam is a combination of the name of the month, Thai, and the name of a star, Pusam. This particular star is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a Vel "spear" so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. There is a misconception among people that Thaipusam marks Murugan's birthday; however, it is believed that Vaikhasi Vishakam, which falls in the Vaikhasi month (May/June), is Murugan's birthday.
Thaipusam in Malaysia
In Malaysia, the temple at Batu Caves, near Kuala Lumpur, often attracts over one million devotees and tens of thousands of tourists. The procession to the caves starts at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur in the heart of the city and proceeds for 15 kilometers to the caves, an 8-hour journey culminating in a flight of 272 steps to the top.Devotees carry containers containing milk as offering to Lord Murugan either by hand or in huge decorated carriers on their shoulders called 'kavadi'. The kavadi may be simple wooden arched semi-circular supports holding a carrier foisted with brass or clay pots of milk or huge, heavy ones which may rise up to two metres, built of bowed metal frames which hold long skewers, the sharpened end of which pierce the skin of the bearers torso. The kavadi is decorated with flowers and peacock feathers imported from India. Some kavadi may weigh as much as a hundred kilograms. After bathing in the nearby Sungei Batu (Rocky River), the devotees make their way to the Temple Cave and climb the flights of stairs to the temple in the cave. Devotees use the wider centre staircase while worshippers and onlookers throng up and down those balustrades on either side. When the kavadi bearer arrives at the foot of the 272-step stairway leading up to the Temple Cave, the devotee has to make the arduous climb. Priests attend to the kavadi bearers. Consecrated ash is sprinkled over the hooks and skewers piercing the devotees' flesh before they are removed. No blood is shed during the piercing and removal.
Thaipusam is celebrated at Arulmigu Sri Balathandayuthapani Temple (Hilltop) along Jalan Waterfall in George Town, Penang. It is one of the main events in Penang. On the eve of Thaipusam , a silver chariot with the statue of Lord Muruga is led on a procession, accompanied by Chettiar kavadis or devotees, carrying peacock feathers. The procession usually starts at 6.00am departing from Kovil Veedu (House Temple) on Penang Street and traveling through Chulia Street, Victoria Street, Prangin Road Ghaut, C.Y. Choy Road, Magazine Road(KOMTAR), Datuk Keramat Road, Irving Road, Jalan Utama and Waterfall Road on its route. It reaches the Nattukottai Chettiar Temple on Waterfall Road at about midnight, culminating a 15 hour journey . On the eve day, coconuts are smashed on the roads before the chariot to symbolise the shattering of one’s ego in the pursuit of self-realization. In addition, devotees also make offerings of fruits, flowers and incense to the Lord Muruga in the Silver Chariot.
On Thaipusam Day, devotees undertake a pilgrimage from the Lorong Kulit temple to the new Waterfall temple, Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Kovil. It is located high on a hill. Carrying kavadis can be an act of penance or fulfillment of a vow done to develop spirituality. The kavadis can take the form of Paal Kudam (milk pots) as offerings to god or in the form of physical endurance by piercing the cheeks, tongue, or skin on the body with hooks and Vel skewers. The new Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani temple can accommodate up to 800,000 devotees for the annual Thaipusam Festival. Devotees need to climb over 500 steps to reach the hilltop temple. This is more than the 272 steps at the famous Batu Caves (Kuala Lumpur). Upon reaching the temple, devotees will fulfill their vows, offer thanksgiving prayers and penance to Lord Muruga.
On the next day, the silver chariot with Lord Muruga makes a return trip to Kovil Veedu on Penang Street. The return trip from the Waterfall temple lasts from 6.00 pm until dawn the next day. It takes a different route back, passing through Waterfall Road, Gottlieb Road, Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, Cantonment Road, Macalister Road, Anson Road, Burmah Road, Transfer Road, Sri Bahari Road, Penang Road, Campbell Street, Buckingham Street, Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Keling, Chulia Street, Queen Street, Market Street, China Street, Beach Street and Penang Street. On this day, the same activities that were carried out on the eve of Thaipusam are carried out again along the route of the procession.
During this three-day celebration, one can find over 100 beautifully decorated stalls erected along Western Road and Gottlieb Road. These stalls sell traditional Indian goods, souvenirs, decorative items and snacks and refreshments. Thunderous loud music, singing, dancing and the beating of drums can be seen and heard from afar throughout the festival. This is a festival of rich culture and deep tradition in Penang. The festival is also celebrated at the Sri Subramaniar Temple in Gunong Cheroh, Ipoh.Sungai Petani, Kedah.