Thaipusam in Malaysia - A festival of Penance, Piercings & Purification

Thaipusam is a festival celebrated by the South Indians in the devotion of Lord Murugan in distinct parts of the world. However, to soak in a cultural experience like no other, one must head to Malaysia's Batu Caves to immerse in holy vibes of what seems like a massive carnival in itself. 

Thaipusam Date 2021

28 January 2021 (Thursday)

When is Thaipusam celebrated? 

Observed on the first full moon during the Tamil month of Thai, many Malaysian states including Kuala Lumpur declare a public holiday. Such is the devotion of the state towards the festival. It falls sometime around the end of January or early February. 

How is Thaipusam Celebrated in Malaysia?

Batu Caves during Thaipusam celebration in Malaysia
Source
The annual celebration of Thaipusam in Malaysia is certainly not a low-key event. Adding to the pomp and hues of festivity around the country, devotees don orange and yellow colored apparels and set out on processions at 4 in the morning from Sri Mahamariamman in Chinatown where they chant prayers. That's just one of the many simple rituals involved in the celebration. 

The very basic intent of devotees is to ask for the forgiveness of sins. They renounce some of their comforts or abandon rituals that are part of their daily lives some of which include shaving their head, inflicting pain with piercings, fasting, turning to a vegetarian diet, avoiding alcohol, and many such practices. This is in fact a way of bodily purification and cleansing that one observes. However, this does not equal the malefic nature of Kavadi. 

Thaipusam Rituals - Not For the Faint-Hearted 

A man with a kavadi in this mouth during Thaipusam festival in Malaysia
Source
A major ritual that some of the brave hearts undertake during Thaipusam in Malaysia is carrying a Kavadi above their heads all the way through the 272 steps of the Batu Caves. A large vessel usually containing milk is attached to the upper body with skewers and needles. It is decorated with silk and flowers. It rises a few meters above the head of the devotee. It is a practice that can bring about either the make or break point of the devotee as they are subject to multiple piercings and pain. 

Its resistance to pain and willpower to carry out the whole ceremony with the large structure tests the resolution and self-control of the devotee. Days before the devotees embark upon the Kavadi ritual, they are to submit to a restricted diet, practice celibacy and denounce worldly pleasures. They are put into a trance-like state by priests before Kavadi. 

Other devotees dance and sway to the tunes of drums along with the ones performing the Kavadi. After climbing the steps, a priest pours hot ashes over the wounds to avoid scars. It is followed by celebrations and merrymaking. 
Thaipusam Trivia- Why is it celebrated? 
Thaipusam bookmarks the day when Lord Shiva’s son, Murugan, was given a lance to defeat three demons. 

Tips For Tourists Attending Thaipusam Festival in Malaysia

A priest surrounded by group of devotees during Thaipusam festival celebration in Malaysia
Source
Two million ethnic Indians reside in Malaysia so the Thaipusam ceremony is larger than you think. It's an unmissable ceremony that is celebrated in an unconventional Malaysian way. Let's look at what you could expect 
  • Arrive early! The sooner you reach the Batu Caves, the better. 
  • Look-out for pickpocketing and stampede.
  • The weather may not be your best friend. You would want to wear light clothes and carry enough water to keep yourself hydrated. 
  • You may not want to climb all the way upstairs because of the crowding and the devotees completing Kavadi. Instead, you could explore the areas around. Check out their stalls, binge on the delicacies and munchies spread across. Interact with locals and know more about the festival. 
Thaipusam is the epitome and paragon of all the sacrifices individuals are willing to make to please the supreme being! Celebrated with great gusto, it is a sight that every Malaysian tourist should witness! If you do, make sure you offer coconut, honey, or milk at the holy site.

Have you ever encountered the giant Thaipusam celebration? Let us know about your experience in the comments below!

This post was published by Sony Punjabi

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