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The Hindu festival of Thaipusam is about faith, endurance and penance. When it's celebrated in Malaysia it's a dynamic, colourful, happy yet devotional event which can stretch for 3 or 4 days, and attract around one and a half million people each year.
Thaipusam is a time for Hindus of all castes and cultures to say thank you and show their appreciation to one of their Gods, Lord Murugan, a son of Shiva.
Thaipusam (Tamil: தைப்பூசம்) is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (Jan/Feb). It is also referred to as Thaipooyam or Thaippooyam in the Malayalam language. Pusam refers to a star that is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates both the birthday of Murugan (also Subramaniam), the youngest son of Shiva and Parvati, and the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel (spear) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman.
The festival of Thaipusam was brought to Malaysia in the 1800s, when Indian immigrants started to work on the Malaysian rubber estates and the government offices.
It was first celebrated at the Batu Caves in 1888. Since then it's become an important expression of cultural and religious identity to Malaysians of Tamil Indian origin, and it's now the largest and most significant Hindu public display in the country.
Murugan or Murukaṇ (Tamil: முருகன், Malayalam: മുരുകന്) called Subrahmanya (Kannada: ಸುಬ್ರಹ್ಮಣ್ಯ,Telugu: సుబ్రమణ్య స్వామి) is a popular Hindu deity among Tamil Hindus, and is worshipped primarily in areas with Tamil influence, especially South India, Sri Lanka , Malaysia and Mauritius . But in Sri Lanka, Hindus as well as Buddhists revere a highly sacred Buddhist and Hindu shrine Katharagama temple (also in Sinhala "Katharagama Devalaya") dedicated to him and situated deep south in the country.
Lord Murugan is more popular in South India compared to other parts of India. He is the God of war and the patron deity of the Tamil land (Tamil Nadu). Like most Hindu deities, He is known by many other names, including Senthil, Saravaṇa, Kārttikeya (meaning 'son of Krittika' ), Arumugam or Shanmukha (meaning 'one with six faces'), Kumāra (meaning 'child or son'), Guha, Skanda (meaning 'that which is spilled or oozed, namely seed' in Sanskrit), Subrahmaṇya, Vēlaṇ and Swaminatha.
As Muruga is worshipped predominantly in Tamil Nadu, many of his names are of Tamil origin. These include Senthil, the red or formidable one; Arumuga, the six-faced one; Guha and Maal-Marugan, the nephew of Vishnu.
Murugan is venerated throughout the Tamil year. There is a six day period of fast and prayer in the Tamil month of Aippasi known as the Skanda Shasti. He is worshipped at Thaipusam, celebrated by Tamil communities worldwide near the full moon of the Tamil month Thai. This commemorates the day he was given a Vel or lance by his mother in order to vanquish the demons. Thirukarthigai or the full moon of the Tamil month of Karthigai signifies his birth. Each Tuesday of the Tamil month of Adi is also dedicated to the worship of Murugan. Tuesday in the Hindu tradition connotes Mangala, the god of planet Mars and war.
Many religious traditions include rituals of supplication and self sacrifice. One such occasion is the Hindu festival of Thaipusam, which is taking place this week in Malaysia and other parts of southeast Asia. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
Although orthodox Hinduism prohibits doing bodily injury, many celebrants at Thaipusam pierce their cheeks and tongues in a gesture of self-sacrifice to honor the deity known as Murugan. In part, this practice comes out of the close association between Murugan and a rounded blade, known as a Vel. In this recording, you can hear the crowd invoking Murugan by chanting 'Vel, Vel.'
"Murugan has one weapon in his hand, Vel. Now if you look at the Vel, its designed like a teardrop."
Dr. K. Ramanathan is a professor at the University of Science in Malaysia. He tells us that the Vel's teardrop shape is also a reminder of the ways in which Hindus should approach their faith.
"The top is very pointed, the middle is broad, and the bottom is rounded. It's significant of anything you do you must do deep, you must do broad; you must also be rounded in it. Whatever knowledge you have you must be very deep in that knowledge, you must have a broad-based knowledge and you must also have a rounded knowledge. Now, the Vel is significant of this aspect of faith, of whatever you do."
Devotees at Thaipusam will participate in chanting, fasting and prayer.
To hear about our new CD, please visit pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.
Skanda (or Murugan) was created during one of the battles between the Asuras and the Devas. At one point, the latter were defeated several times by the former. The Devas were unable to resist the onslaught of the Asura forces. In despair, they approached Siva and entreated to give them an able leader under whose heroic leadership they might obtain victory over the Asuras. They surrendered themselves completely and prayed to Siva. Siva granted their request by creating the mighty warrior, Skanda, out of his own power or Achintya Shakti. He at once assumed leadership of the celestial forces, inspired them and defeated the Asura forces.
CELEBRATIONS,CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS ,Religion,Ceremony
Scientist: Dr. K Ramanathan
Thaipusam in Malaysia: A Psycho-Anthropological Analysis of Ritual Trance, Ceremonial Possession and Self-Mortification Practices
Ethos, Vol. 12, No. 4 (Winter, 1984), pp. 307-334
(article consists of 28 pages)
Kavadi Attam is a dance performed by the devotees during the ceremonial worship of Murugan, the Tamil God of War. It is often performed during the festival of Thaipusam and emphasizes debt bondage. The Kavadi itself is a physical burden through which the devotees implore for help from the God Murugan.
Generally, Hindus take a vow to offer a kavadi to idol the for purpose of tiding over or averting a great calamity. For instance, if the devotee's son is laid up with a fatal disease, he would pray to Shanmuga to grant the boy a lease of life in return for which the devotee would take a vow to dedicate a kavadi to Him.
Devotees prepare for the celebration by cleansing themselves through prayer and fasting. Kavadi-bearers have to perform elaborate ceremonies at the time of assuming the kavadi and at the time of offering it to Murugan. The kavadi-bearer observes celibacy and take only pure, Satvik food, once a day, while continuously thinking of God.
On the day of the festival, devotees will shave their heads undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi (burdens). At its simplest this may entail carrying a pot of milk, but mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers is also common.
The simplest kavadi is a semi circular decorated canopy supported by a wooden rod that is carried on the shoulders, to the temple. In addition, some have a little spear through their tongue, or a spear through the cheeks. The spear pierced through his tongue or cheeks reminds him constantly of Lord Murugan. It also prevents him from speaking and gives great power of endurance. Other types of kavadi involve hooks stuck into the back and either pulled by another walking behind or being hung from a decorated bullock cart or more recently a tractor, with the point of incisions of the hooks varying the level of pain. The greater the pain the more god-earned merit.