Thaipusam (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 Lord 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.
Lord Skanda (or Lord 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 Lord 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 Lord Siva. Siva granted their request by creating the mighty warrior, Lord 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.
Dedicated to Lord Murugan or Kartikeya
Thaipusam is dedicated to the Hindu god Murugan, the son of Shiva and Parvati. Murugan is also known as Kartikeya, Subramaniam, Sanmukha, Shadanana, Skanda and Guha. It is believed that on this day, Goddess Parvati presented a lance to Lord Murgan to vanquish the demon army of Tarakasura and combat their evil deeds. Therefore, Thaipusam is a celebration of the victory of good over evil.
Generally, people take a vow to offer the Lord a Kavadi for the sake of tiding over a great calamity. Though this might, on the face of it, appear a little mercenary, a moment's reflection will reveal that it contains in it the seed of supreme love of God. The worldly object is achieved, no doubt, and the devotee takes the Kavadi; but after the ceremony he gets so God-intoxicated that his inner spiritual being gets awakened. This is also a method that ultimately leads to the supreme state of devotion.
The Kavadi has various shapes and sizes, from the simple shape of a hawker's storehouse (a wooden stick with two baskets at each end, slung across the shoulder) to the costly palanquin structure, profusely flower-bedecked and decoratively interwoven with peacock feathers. In all cases the Kavadi has a good many brass bells adorning it and announcing it as the Kavadi-bearer draws it along. As the Kavadi-bearer very often observes silence, the bells are the only eloquent signs of a Kavadi procession.
The two baskets hanging at each end of the Kavadi contain rice, milk or other articles that the devotee has vowed to offer the Lord. The more devout among them, and especially those who do it as a Sadhana, collect these articles by begging. They travel on foot from village to village, and beg from door to door. The villagers offer their articles directly into the basket of the Kavadi. The Kavadi-bearer continues begging until the baskets are full or the avowed quantity is reached, and then offers the Kavadi to the Lord.
Some keen devotees undertake to walk barefoot from home to one of the shrines of Lord Subramanya, bearing the Kavadi all the way and collecting materials for the offering. They have to walk a hundred miles sometimes! The people who place the articles in the baskets also receive the Lord's blessings.
The Kavadi-bearer is required to observe various rules between the time he takes up the Kavadi, and the day of the offering. He has to perform elaborate ceremonies at the time of assuming the Kavadi, and at the time of offering it to the Lord. He also puts on the dress of a Pandaram, a Saivite mendicant. It consists of a saffron-coloured cloth, a conical scarlet cap, and a cane, silver-capped at both ends. Lord Siva, the Supreme Pandaram Himself, loves to wear this dress. The Pandaram lives on alms only. The bare chest of the Kavadi-bearer is covered with several rudraksha malas.
The Kavadi-bearer observes strict celibacy. Only pure, Sattwic food is taken; he abstains from all sorts of intoxicating drinks and drugs. He thinks of God all the time. Many of the Kavadi-bearers, especially those who do it as a spiritual Sadhana, impose various forms of self-torture. Some pass a sharp little spear through their tongue, which is made to protrude out of the mouth. Others may pass a spear through the cheek. This sort of piercing is done in other parts of the body also. The bearer does not shave; he grows a beard. He eats only once a day. The spear pierced through his tongue or cheek reminds him of the Lord constantly. It also prevents him from speaking. It gives him great power of endurance.
The Kavadi-bearer enjoys a high state of religious fervour. He dances in ecstasy. His very appearance is awe-inspiring; there is divine radiance on his face. Devotees often experience the state of feeling united with the Lord. Sometimes the Lord enters them and possesses them for some time.
How to Celebrate Thaipusam
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.
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."
Murugam songs –remix: