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Indian Festival: Thaipusam

The Indian Festival Thaipusam is celebrated every year, including at Pangkor. For a big scale of the festival you have to go to Kuala Lumpur or Penang. The celebration usually take place in January or February.

Thaipusam in MalaysiaThaipusam is for the Indians the time to carry out acts of penance in fulfillment of vows made to the deity, Lord Muruga.

Many people on Pulau Pangkor will take part of Thaipusam, Indians but also Chinese. Many come from all over onto the island to take part in "chariot" pulling where spikes and hooks are pierced into the body. Chariots are pulled to the temple. This all happens on Pasir Bogak beach.

It is a great atmosphere and you get to see devotees undergoing trances before they accept any piercing. It is safe, a great photo opportunity!


Celebrated In : Everywhere with a population of South Indians
Origin: Tamilnadu
Deity worshipped : Lord Muruga
Kavadi contains : Rice, milk or other articles that the devotee has vowed to offer to Lord Muruga.

Hindus celebrate the Indian festival on the tenth month of their calendar. It coincides with the full moon at the end of January and beginning of February 'Thai'. "Thai" is the Hindu month which falls between January 15 to February 15. "Pusam" refers to a star which is at its brightest during the period of this festival. Celebrated in all parts of the world where there is a concentration of South Indians.

Thaispusam in Malaysia

Thaipusam celebrates the day Goddess Parvati bestowed upon her son the “vel” or lance to vanquish the evil demon, Soorapadam.

This lance denotes spiritual insight, ability to differentiate right from wrong, righteousness and steadfastness. However, Thaipusam has come to mean the birthday of Lord Subramaniam, also known as lord Muruga, the younger son of Lord Shiva.

Leading up to the event, Hindus prepare themselves by fasting, praying and observing austerities.

Kavadi (offering) carriers are devotees who have requested favours, have had the favour granted or wish to pay for past misdeeds.

Usually, a vow is made to carry the kavadi for one, three, five or even seven years in succession. Common requests are recovery from illness, success in examinations or business or to beget progeny. Only a small number of women devotees pierce their bodies. Most of them carry pots of milk or a pair of coconuts slung across their shoulders instead.

First day in 2008, at 5.30, Lord Muruga has just arrived in the chariot
First day in 2008, at 5.30, Lord Muruga has just arrived in the chariot

Thaipusam Penang 2009Traditional musical instruments are played, and chants of "Vel, Vel" (meaning spear, spear) fill the air. These forms of offerings are overshadowed by more elaborate ones. The idea is the larger the kavadi the more resolute is one’s devotion. Skewers protruding through cheeks and metal hooks and spikes are also to be seen. This is a quaint evolution of the celebrations not found in Hindu Scriptures. Its origins are lost in antiquity.

Hinduism advocates that the body should not be harmed as the body is akin to a temple that the soul resides in. Some devotees however, choose to believe that the only way to salvation is to endure a penance of pain and hardship.

However, they are able to tolerate this ordeal of pain as they are in a trance- like state. There is no blood and they prepare themselves for this by undergoing specific rites during the preceding month. Austerities are followed and the body and soul disciplined to refrain from all forms of worldly activities. The devotees overcomes any form of pain as their minds are attuned to only one thing – spirituality and liberation from worldly desires.

Once the devotees bath in the nearby river, they go into trance. Then the kavadi is placed on their shoulders or their body pierced before they walk from the river to the temple grounds and climb up the steps to the caves main temple high above.

Thaipusam Penang 2009  Thaipusam Penang 2009

On reaching, they lay down their kavadi and the milk or honey offering is poured on the statue of the deity as an act of thanksgiving, Those with hooks and skewers have a priest chant over them as the metal implements are removed and the wounds treated with hot ash. There is not a drop of blood, no pain and even more amazing.

Read my own experience at the Thaipusam Penang 2007 here

Have a look at a photo report of the Pulau Penang Thaipusam 2007

For the Thaipusam 2008, I created another photo page

Pangkor has many other attractions, check other attractions here

More about other Malaysian festivals

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