Experience Vibrant Colorful Thaipusam Celebrations in Malaysian Temples
Batu Caves, considered to be around 400 million years old, is an important religious landmark by Hindus.
The most festive time to visit Batu Caves is during Thaipusam; an important Hindu marked in Malaysia by a public holiday.
The 100-year-old temple incorporates its interior limestone formations with many Hindu statues and paintings.
When does the Thaipusam Festival take place?
Hindus celebrate Thaipusam every year during the full moon of the Tamil month of Thai in the Hindu lunar calendar. The festival usually falls from the end of January to the beginning of February – falling from mid-January to mid-February in the Gregorian calendar. Thaipusam is a public holiday in Malaysia.
In 2020, Thaipusam began on 8 February and lasted three days.
Start: February 8, 2020 End: February 10, 2020
During the Thaipusam Batu Caves, hundreds of thousands of believers will throng to the cave to worship.
Thaipusam Festival in Malaysian Temples
Every year the impressive Thaipusam Festival celebrations occur inside the Batu Caves near Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur.
A million devotees and visitors gather from all over Asia for the frenetic event. You may experience a cultural shock for visitors to witness extreme body piercings with needles, hooks, and spears.
The devotees are in a trance state when they carry along a Kavadi (physical burden) as an offer to Hindu god Lord Murugan.
Lord Murugan – god of war and victory
Thaipusam is a Hindu festival dedicated to the Hindu god Lord Murugan, the youngest son of Lord Shiva and the conqueror of evil.
He’s the god of war and victory and often depicted as a man with many faces, riding a blue peacock.
Celebrated by Tamils, anyone who seeks and obtains favour from Lord Murugan has to take part in the festival and do penance for past sins.
What to expect during the Thaipusam Festival?
It’s customary for devotees to pray and fast during the weeks leading up to the event.
They follow a vegetarian diet. Most sleep on the cold hard floor of their home to prepare for the big day.
By doing penance, the worshippers expect to please Lord Murugan, who will then make their wishes come true.
During Thaipusam Festival in Malaysia, devotees wear yellow and orange colours, significant to Lord Murugan.
The pilgrims often shave their heads and walk long distances to reach the Batu Caves.
Family members and friends accompany devotees to encourage them with dance. Musicians beat the drums or playing the flute to help them go into a trance state.
Why do Devotees pierce their bodies?
During Thaipusam, Lord Murugan is showered with gratitude and gifts of devotion for prayers answered.
Not everyone pierces their bodies or bears painful Kavadis (burdens).
Thaipusam is most remembered for the worshipers who pierce their faces and bodies with needles, swords, skewers, and hooks. Face and tongue piercing are common, as are other forms of self-mutilation.
The devotees go into a trance-like state with chanting and drums before they are pierced. Once they enter into a trance, the crowd helps take care of the devotees and leads them through the procession.
Despite the gruesome scenes, blood is rarely spilt because of the participant’s trance state.
Tongues are often pierced and pinned through the cheeks as a symbolic gesture of the volunteer giving up the gift of speech.
Devotees pierce their faces with sharp objects hardly bleed, and feel very little pain!
They pierce the skin on the back with hooks attached with limes, and the devotees’ whirls around in a trance.
Many claimed that their wounds heal immediately and don’t produce scars.
The Kavadi Attam (Burden Dance)
On the main day, they carried a Kavadi to the temple and offered it to Lord Murugan.
You may have seen images of Hindu devotees piercing their faces or dragging sledges attached to their bodies with hooks and chains.
The worshipers carry heavy, artistic shrines known as Kavadis (burdens) attached to their bodies with sharp skewers.
Kavadis are large, decorated yokes carried or pulled along with hooks attached to the worshipper’s backs.
The largest, known as the vel Kavadi, requires the person carrying it to be pierced by 108 small spears (vels)!
When a devotee carries a Kavadi, it is decorated with coloured paper, gold leaf, flowers, peacock feathers, and Lord Murugan’s image. His followers then pray to receive his mercy and wipe out their sins.
Other worshipers carry pots of milk as offerings to Lord Murugan.
Sometimes the contraptions are so large and heavy that several men offer help. The Kavadis are then carried through the crowd until finally removed for prayers at the designated temple.
Kavadi carried to the Batu Caves temple.
They carried Kavadi to the temple and offered to Lord Murugan with a devotee in front.
Women carry a silver jug of milk on their head while others also have their cheeks and tongue pierced.
Many disciples carry their offerings – containers of milk – to the Lord Muruga on large, decorated ‘Kavadis’.
Where Is Thaipusam Celebrated?
In Malaysia, the Thaipusam Festival is important and celebrated by its Tamil community and joined by more than a million pilgrims from South India.
Thaipusam is celebrated in South India; it is not in such an extreme fashion as in Malaysia.
Many Hindus believe that the Malaysian Thaipusam Festival is purer and more religious.
Hindus celebrate Thaipusam on a grand scale in Malaysia in 3 main venues;
- Batu Malai Sri Murugan Temple (Batu Caves), Kuala Lumpur
- Thaneermalai Balathandayuthapani Temple, Penang
- Kallumalai Subramaniyar Temple, Ipoh
Other places where you can witness the devotion to Lord Muruga would be at Sg. Petani, Johor Bahru, and Kuala Selangor. Any temple dedicated to Lord Muruga will also carry out special prayers on this day.
Smashing Coconuts Vow Fulfillment during Thaipusam
Breaking a coconut for Gods and Goddesses is a common practice in India and holds a lot of importance in Hinduism.
The coconut fruit is an essential offering in almost all Hinduism rituals and is a part of almost Hindu ceremonies.
Hindus start all new ventures by breaking a coconut in front of an idol. Whether it is a wedding, a festival or an important puja ritual, a coconut is always a must-have on the list.
Coconut in Sanskrit is referred to as Sriphala or “God’s fruit”.
In Hinduism, the coconut is one of the most common offerings in a temple and plays an essential role in all pujas (prayers).
The breaking of coconut is symbolic of breaking one’s ego and humbling oneself before God.
It smashes the shell of ego and ignorance. This paves the way to inner peace and knowledge, represented by the inner white part of the coconut.
Worshippers believe that when a devotee breaks the coconut, they also break their ego. God expects his devotees to be egoless and pure. Hence, breaking a coconut represents our utmost dedication and complete surrender to God.
Many devotees would prepare mounds of coconuts at designated areas to smash. In George Town, some 300,000 coconuts are smashed during the Thaipusam celebration in Penang.
With this, most believers come away looking peaceful and full of renewed vigour and heavenly salvation. Thus, Thaipusam also became a day of fulfilling promises and repentance.
Thaipusam Chariot Routes
Kuala Lumpur Temple
The three-day-long festival starts inside the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown. A procession travels 11 km to the Batu Caves accompanied by some 50,000 Hindu devotees, pilgrims, and visitors.
The procession finishes at the Sri Subramaniar Swamy temple at the caves, where the devotees pray at altars. During two days, the pilgrims let themselves be cleansed inside the Batu River.
On the island of Penang, the procession starts on the eve of Thaipusam. Starting at the Chettiar temple in Penang Street in George Town, a silver carriage starts its journey to the Nattukkottai Chettiar temple on Waterfall Road.
Batu Caves during Thaipusam Celebrations in Malaysia Temples
On the eve of Thaipusam, a five-ton silver chariot bearing Lord Murugan’s image and followed by a procession leaves the Sri Mariamman Temple in KL city centre on a 15 kilometres track Batu Caves.
Kavadis are two huge semi-circular ornate pieces of wood or steel bent and attached to a cross structure that can be balanced on the shoulders.
Spectacular Kavadis are often carried or pulled by the devotees with chains and ropes anchored in the skin of their backs or chests. Some of these Kavadis can weigh up to 30 kg.
Along the route, the local Hindus approach to make offerings and prayers to the Silver Chariot.
The chariot procession accompanied by musicians arrives at Batu Caves in the early hours.
The entire celebration starts takes over eight hours.
In the past, the festival has attracted over one million pilgrims, making it one of the largest religious gatherings in the world.
What to Expect During Thaipusam?
Like other Hindu festivals, Thaipusam is a colourful celebration with chanting, drumming and music filling the air. Frenzied participants shout “vel! vel! vel!” above the drumming in the procession.
Many refreshments stalls operators set up roadside stalls along the route where the chariot procession passes to hand out free drinks and nibbles.
They allow tourists to take photos and follow the procession.
Observing Thaipusam Celebrations in Malaysia Temples
Keep in mind to respect the worshippers and Kavadi bearers as they are fasting with no food for at least 24 hours before the festival.
If you want to join a Thaipusam celebration, plan well ahead.
Transportation and accommodation will be busier, and most hotels booked months ahead of the celebrations. You may expect chaos!
If you want to observe the Thaipusam festival at the Batu Caves in Malaysia, you must arrive early in the morning. Come before sunrise for an authentic experience.
Trains to the Batu Caves are packed during the festivals.
- Show the utmost respect for the religious significance of the festival.
- Most Kavadi bearers fulfil urgent vows, hoping sick loved ones will be healed by Lord Murugan’s grace.
- Show honour and respect to worshipper at the event for their commitment.
- Please do not interfere with worshipers to get better photos for your social media post.
Don’t point at pierced people, aghast in horror.
- Monitor belongings when pushing through the massive throngs gathered in the streets.
Types of Kavadis
Before someone can bear a Kavadi, they cleanse themselves for 48 days leading up to the Thaipusam festival.
During this time, they practice celibacy, go on a special diet, wash only with cold water and sleep on the floor.
A lifestyle of continuous prayer is mandatory.
The devotees fast and adhere to a strict vegetarian diet to purify themselves. They balance their inner being for their encounter with the Divine.
All need to forgo all manner of luxury and desire.
Participants often go into a trance, a divine state known as ‘arul vaku’ (trance of grace).
Entranced devotees appear to have transcendent powers as the energies of the deity flow through them.
They can withstand having their flesh pierced with hooks, spears, and vels without feeling pain and without bleeding.
Thaipusam Body Piercing
Some devotees fulfil vows they have made to the Gods by having their bodies pierced. This sign of penance, if often a fascination for visitors.
The devotees have the flesh of their abdomen, back, and limbs pierce by hooks, needles and even skewers.
Thaipusam Tongue Piercing
They pierce the tongue and cheeks with two symbolic skewers to show that a pilgrim sacrifices the gift of speech.
On the day of Thaipusam, Kavadi bearers have their head shaved and take a purifying bath.
Later they partake in a padayatra (pilgrimage by foot) to the shrine. Kavadi bearers offer their offerings to Lord Murugan, thus fulfilling personal vows.
George Town Vegetarian Festival in Penang (part of the Taoist Nine Emperor Gods Festival) is another Asian event with extreme body piercing.
What is the Simplest Kavadi to carry for Thaipusam?
The simplest Kavadi comprises a short wooden pole surmounted by a wooden arch.
They fix statues of Lord Murugan or other deities onto the arch. Flowers and peacock feathers are used to decorate the Kavadi, and they attach a small pot of milk to each end of the pole.
What are the elaborate Kavadis?
The alagu and ratha Kavadi are common forms of Kavadi carried by devotees during Thaipusam.
There are more elaborate Kavadis that devotees carry.
Kavadis are affixed on a bearer’s body by long sharpened rods or by chains and small hooks.
A Kavadi bearer not only carries a gift for God, but the whole Kavadi is seen as a shrine for God Himself.
Devotees carry kavadis that pierce or stab their bodies. Some pull heavy sledges attached to their bodies with hooks.
These frameworks are combined with various metal hooks and skewers, which are used to pierce the skin, cheeks, and tongue.
The Kavadis is decorated with flowers and peacock feathers, and some can weigh up to 100 kilos.
Carrying Milk Offerings – Paal Kudam
The Paal Kudam (Milk Offering) is another popular form of offering during Thaipusam. The Paal Kudam means carrying paal (milk) in a kudam (vessel in the form of a pot).
They carry pitchers of milk on the head as offerings to Lord Murugan. This milk is then be used by the priest to perform Paal Abhishegam.
The Abhishegam is a Hindu ritual of pouring a sacred substance – in this case, milk – on the deity as an offering while the priest chants mantras.
The acceptance of the milk by Lord Murugan is an acknowledgement of the devotee’s prayer.
Kavadi Bearers Test of Endurance and Faith
The amazing feat is when followers begin the arduous climb up the 272 steps to the caves’ top.
This trek requires a stunning amount of endurance. The devotees often have to work against the press of the bustling masses – to celebrate Thaipusam in Malaysian temples.
Priests wait at the top to sprinkle consecrated ash over the hooks and skewers piercing the devotees’ flesh before they remove.
Temple Opening Hours
Batu Malai Sri Murugan Temple (Batu Caves), KUALA LUMPUR
Address: Batu Caves, Sri Subramaniam Temple, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Tel: +603 2287 9422
Temple Hours: Daily from 07:00 am – 08:30 pm
Best time: 05:00 am – 12:00 noon
Time required: 60 minutes
Thaneermalai Balathandayuthapani Temple, PENANG
17, Jalan Kebun Bunga, Pulau Tikus, 10350 George Town, Penang, Malaysia Tel: + 604-262 0202
Temple Hours: Daily from 06:00 am – 09:00 pm
Best time: 05:00 am – 12:00 noon
Time required: 60 minutes
Kallumalai Arulmigu Subramaniyar Temple (Kallumalai Murugan), IPOH
140, Jalan Raja Musa Aziz, 30300 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia Tel: +60 16-548 0596
Temple Hours: Daily from 04:00 am – 09:00 pm
Best time: 05:00 am – 12:00 noon
Time required: 60 minutes
TravelStylus wishes all Hindus a Happy Thaipusam. Be well, celebrate with joy.
Source: Thaipusam ~ Wikipedia