Malaysia is a colourful country of different cultures and lifestyles, islands and ancient jungles, quaint old towns and swish modern cities. The feather in its cap are the Petronas Twin Towers, the tallest buildings in the world today. The country has a long history and its eclectic mix of cultures – Indian, Chinese, Malay, tribal – makes it an interesting place to visit.

Malaysia is a federation which consists of thirteen states (Negeri) and three federal territories (Wilayah Persekutuan). Eleven states and two federal territories are located on the Malay Peninsula while the remaining two states and one federal territory are on the island of Borneo.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Thaipusam Celebration in MALAYSIA

Thaipusam is a celebration of the day Lord Murugan, or Subramaniam or Kartikeya as he is also known, received the "Vel" or divine spear from his mother, Mariamman also known as Parvati, to kill the feared demon Soorapadman.



t is celebrated for 3 days in a grand way in Malaysia, particularly in Kuala Lumpur and Penang. In Malaysia, Thaipusam is now a public holiday for the states of Selangor, Johor, Negri Sembilan, Perak, Penang, and the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.
There is a strong call today amongst Hindus throughout Malaysia to declare Thaipusam a national holiday.
In fact the celebration here is more spectacular than it is in India. The celebration involves a procession of people bearing kavadis.
People generally make a pledge to offer a kavadi in order to obtain blessings from Murugan.
thiapusam hooks on back
This is especially so when one seeks for the return to health of one's child or loved ones who is sufferring from an incurable disease like cancer or other terminal diseases and seek divine intervention.
By observing the throngs every Thaipusam, you can't help but believe in the divine powers of Lord Murugan in fulfilling the prayers of the penitents.

The Legend of Thaipusam

Thaipusam and kavadi
In Hindu mythology it was told that there was once an instruction by Shiva to his dwarf sage, Agastya, to install 2 hillocks at a southern part of India. Agastya in turn instructed his disciple, Idumban, to do the deed. Naturally he was not able to lift the enormous load and sought help. It so happened that a poorly dressed boy was passing by at that time and Idumban sought his help.
The boy however, refused and instead claimed that the hillocks actually belonged to him. This enraged Idumban who then wanted to teach the boy some respect.
Alas, it turned out that the boy was indeed Murugan, and who was Idumban to teach the mighty Murugan.
Idumban then pleaded for forgiveness. He also made everyone who comes to the hill bear a burden in the shape of a hillock as a form of worship to Murugan. In return Idumban was spared and his wish to deliver the hillock for his master, Agastya, granted.
And every worshipper who bears a burden in such form were granted their wishes. And that was how the legend came to be known as Thaipusam.
Visitors and devotees from all over the world come to Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, during the celebration of the festival. If you come around the early part of the year, try to time your visit with this festival which is usually around end of January or early February. It is held during the full moon of the Tamil month of Thai. Come witness this spectacular celebration.

The Grand Procession

Thaipusam at Batu Caves crowd
The main part of the celebration involves the procession of devotees from the mother's temple, Sri Mahamariamman Temple, in the Kuala Lumpur China Town area to Batu Caves. It is a journey of 13 KM done on foot, barefoot.
The day before the procession begins, the murti is cleansed and elaborately adorned. The murti normally resides in the mother's temple. On the day of Thaipusam, the murti sits regally on a bullock drawn chariot and heads toward the Batu Caves. The majestic silver chariot towers 21 feet or almost 7 meters above ground. The journey usually takes about 8 hours.

The Kavadi

Thaipusam and Kavadi
It is either made of wood or steel formed is such a manner that it can be balanced on the shoulders of the penitent. It is then decorated with peacock feathers, flowers and other decorations. The peacock feather is symbolic of the vehicle of Murugan.
The most amazing kavadi is the Vel Kavadi. It comprise of a movable altar which is mounted onto the penitent with hooks pierced into his back and chest to anchor the kavadi.
The simplest form of kavadi is to carry a jug of milk balanced on one's head.
Some will be carrying pots of milk. And some will be skewered on their cheeks. Some even have their tongues skewered.
Some will bear many hooks with attached objects like lime, oranges or even coconuts on their backs and chest.
Thaipusam hooks on body
You will notice that these devotees are in a state of a trance and thus does not feel pain or discomfort.
For couples that have wished to have babies and have their wishes fulfiled will carry their babies draped in saffron robes and balanced on sugar cane stems throughout the journey.

Chanting of Vel Vel

They are accompanied by drummers, flutists and an entourage of friends, relatives and well wishers. Along the way they make few stops to allow worshippers to offer prayers.
Some devotees also smash coconuts on the road to symbolize good over evil. All the way you'll hear the crowd chanting "vel vel" referring to the spear.

Climbing the 272 Steps of Batu Caves

Before ascending the 272 steps to the main temple, they will cleanse themselves at the nearby Batu River. They then proceed to the final part of their journey. The central partition of the stairway is reserved for these penitents. The other devotees and well wishes will take the peripheral partition of the stairway.
In the temple, priests will sprinkle consecrated ashes onto the devotees and remove the hooks and skewers from their bodies. Miraculously, no blood is spilled and no scar remains to be seen on their skewered cheeks and bodies after the event is over.

Preparation for the Penance

Thaipusam preparation for the penance involves a period of two weeks to one month before the event. During this perion, devotees will
  • abstain themselves from worldly pleasures involving sex, alcohol and gambling
  • partake only vegatarian meals
  • remain chaste and clean in words and deeds
  • shaving their head bald
  • perform regular prayers.

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