Friday, December 30, 2011

Festival highlight: Thaipusam

Thaipusam is an important festival observed by the Hindus of southern India during the Tamil month of Thai (January - February). Outside of India, it is celebrated mainly by the Tamil speaking community settled in Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka and elsewhere around the world.

Thaipusam is an annual celebration in honor of the Hindu god Subramanian. In order to win favor with the god and ensure their good fortune, worshippers take elaborate sacrificial measures, ranging from simple offerings of milk and flowers, to impaling themselves with long metal skewers and carrying giant metal constructions up the 272 stairs into Batu Caves on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. It's a huge event, with thousands of participants and close to 2 million onlookers.
On the Thaipusam day, most devotees of Lord Murugan offer him fruits and flowers of yellow or orange color - his favorite colors and also adorn dresses of the same color. Many devotees bear milk, water, fruits and floral tributes on pails hung from a yoke and carry them on their shoulders to various Murugan temples, far and near. This wooden or bamboo structure called 'Kavadi' is covered with cloth and decorated with feathers of peacock - the vehicle of Lord Murugan.

Practical matters: The festivities last for about three days, beginning with the procession of a chariot containing a statue of Lord Murugan from Sri Mahamariamman Temple in Chinatown out to Batu Caves. After two days at Batu Caves, the statue comes back to the temple.
As a visitor, you are welcome to participate in the processions of the chariot, to wander around the grounds of Batu Caves, to enter the cave itself, and to receive gifts of food and drink. You should take care not to obstruct the path of the entranced pilgrims or to walk into temples with your shoes on. Also, be aware of crowd control instructions from police. If they say "Jalan!" that means "keep moving!"
There are many restaurants at Batu Caves, and they will all be open all night during the holiday period. Only vegetarian food is served. There are also many groups handing out free food, which you are welcome to take. During Thaipusam, buses run between the city and Batu Caves around the clock, leaving every few minutes. The bus starts at the stand near the Pasar Seni LRT station (around the back of the Sri Mahamariamman Temple) and costs RM2. Look for a paper sign in the front window that says "Batu Caves" or "Thaipusam".

Body Piercing on Thaipusam
Many fanatical devotees go to such extent as to torture their bodies to appease the Lord. So, a major feature of Thaipusam celebrations is body piercing with hooks, skewers and small lances called 'vel'. Many of these devotees even pull chariots and heavy objects with hooks attached to their bodies. Many others pierce their tongue and cheek to impede speech and thereby attain full concentration on the Lord. Most devotees enter into a trance during such piercing due to the incessant drumming and chanting of "vel vel shakti vel."

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