Thaipusam Festival 2017
Thaipusam is an annual festival during the full moon in the tenth month of the Hindu calendar (falling from mid-January to mid-February in the Gregorian calendar), in which millions of Hindu devotees across the world take part in one of the world’s most passionate spiritual celebrations. The celebration is held as a tribute to the Hindu god of war, Lord Muragan, honoured in sacred lore for slaying three evil demons in the name of good virtue. During the pilgrimage, some devotees will carry large milk pots and ornate frames (kavadi). During the pilgrimage, some devotees will carry large milk pots on their heads as they walk which serves as a symbol of fertility and abundance in Hindu faith and ornate frames (kavadi).
Significance of the Kavadi
According to the Hindu epics, the prestigious guru Agathiyar had instructed his disciple Idumban to bring him two mountains, Sivagiri and Sakthigiri. Idumban then carried the two mountains down on each shoulder, but not without stopping in Palani – where a reputable Lord Murugan shrine resides – to rest. Lord Murugan came along in disguise and didn’t warrant even a glance from Idumban. To teach Idumban a lesson, Lord Murugan sat on the mountain, now too heavy for Idumban to continue lifting, spurring a scuffle between the two. Expectedly, Idumban loses the battle and is killed, but then restored to life. Idumban belatedly repents his arrogance and asks for Lord Murugan to bless all kavadi bearers in the future. Presently, the kavadis carried on the shoulders of devotees are symbols of the two mountains.
Thaipusam is usually celebrated with a public holiday in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Johor, Negeri Sembilan, Perak, Penang and Selangor only.
i) Kuala Lumpur & Selangor
On Thaipusam Eve, a century-old silver chariot leaves the Sri Mahamariamman Temple on Jalan Tun HS Lee, and is led on a 16km procession to Batu Caves. The chariot is representative of Lord Murugan coming out onto the streets to greet the people. The disabled and the elderly take advantage of the moving chariot to present offerings of fruit, flowers or milk, something they’re incapable of doing at the packed compound of Batu Caves. Devotees are also seen breaking coconuts along the way; smashing the fruits on the ground is a symbol of annihilating ego and pride, and of submission to God.
From there they will leave around midnight on a 16 kilometer (approximately 8 hour) walk with barefoot towards the Batu Caves where they will arrive the next morning. The celebrations take place on a grand scale at the Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple, Batu Caves.
During the pilgrimage, some devotees will carry ornate frames (kavadi). The kavadi are supported by a series of spikes that laterally pierce the skin of their chest and backs as a symbol of penance. On the month leading up to the pilgrimage, those who have decided to bear the kavadi will have mainly subsisted on a heavily restricted diet and completely fast on last few days before the pilgrimage; naturally, these extremes demand of very high level of mental and physical fortitude.
Not all devotees who take the pilgrimage will pierce their skin with hooks. Some will carry pal kodum (milk pots) on their heads as they walk which serves as a symbol of fertility and abundance in Hindu faith, while others display their dedication by piercing their skin, tongue or cheeks with skewers or hanging rows of hooks on their backs. Many Hindu devotees consider Thaipusam to be an expression of loyalty and allegiance between people and the deities. In a sense, it could be considered a form of thanksgiving to Lord Muragan for any prayers that he has answered.
Traditionally, participants in the festival will offer Lord Muragan their gifts in the form of orange and yellow flowers and fruits while wearing similarly-coloured clothing.
Upon reaching the caves, devotees are greeted by a 42.7 m statue of Lord Muragan. They will then climb a large staircase into the limestone caves, where shrines awaiting offerings are enclosed in the caverns.
What to wear to Batu Caves?
- Wear comfortable, cheap shoes and bring an extra pair. If you’re leaving your shoes by the foot of the temple, you may never find them again in the sea of shoes.
- Wear loose cotton clothing; no shorts.
- If you don’t want to be pushed and shoved, avoid bringing bulky bags. A small sling or knapsack with a bottle of water, a face cloth and a hand sanitiser is fine.
How to get to Batu Caves?
As several roads will be closed for the festival, it’s better to take public transportation. Take the KTM Komuter to Batu Caves station using the Seremban-Batu Caves line. From KL Sentral, it takes 20 minutes.
During Thaipusam celebration, a pilgrimage procession takes place to bring the statue of Lord Muruga on a silver chariot led by more than 60 kavadis from Little India to the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani temple atop the hill of Jalan Kebun Bunga.
The tradition of breaking of coconuts is carried out the day before to ‘clean’ the roads for this divine journey.
The devotees then go through a physical endurance of being skewered and pierced on the back and front of their bodies as an act of penance.
Thunderous loud music, singing, dancing and the beating of drums of devotional songs are the norm during this festival. Upon reaching the temple, devotees will fulfill their vows, offer thanksgiving prayers and do penance as required.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the Golden Chariot bearing the ‘VEL’ will leave the Queen Street Maha Mariamman temple on Wednesday 8th Feb 2017 at 5.00am and is expected to arrive at the Hilltop Murugan temple at around 11.00pm. The return journey for the ‘VEL’ on the Golden Chariot will commence from the Hilltop Murugan Temple on Friday, 10th February 2017 at 5.00pm enroute to the Queen Street Maha Mariamman temple and expected to arrive at the 7.00am.
The route for the procession will be as follow:
8 Feb 2017 – Wednesday, 5am
Queen Street (Sri Maha Mariamman Temple) – Chulia Street – Victoria Street – Jalan Prangin – Jalan Magazine – Jalan Dato Kramat – Jalan Utama – Jalan Air Terjun (Hilltop Murugan Temple).
10 Feb 2017 – Friday, 5pm
Jalan Air Terjun (Hilltop Murugan Temple) – Jalan Gottlip – Jalan Air Rajah – Jalan Macalister – Jalan Anson – Jalan Burma – Jalan Transfer – Jalan Sri Bahari – Jalan Penang – Jalan Campbell – Pitt Street – China Street – Beach Street – Market Street – Queen Street (Sri Maha Mariamman Temple).
iii) Ipoh @ Ipoh Kallumalai Murugan Temple