1.) The “NAME” of Thaipusam – astronomical and calendric name
Thaipusam is a combination of two words, namely THAI, and PUSAM.
“THAI” is the name of the particular “month” according to the Tamil Calendar ( refer here for a glimpse of a Tamil Calendar –> http://www.tamildailycalendar.com/ ).
“PUSAM” is the name of a “star”, which is positioned at the highest point during the THAIPUSAM festival.
2.) Story/Myth/Legend Behind Thaipusam
Many mistaken that it was a celebration of Lord Murugan’s birthday. according to a research by Murugan.org, (refer here –> http://murugan.org/research/duraiswamy-vaikasi-visakam.htm ), the birthday of Lord Murugan is actually “Vaikāsi Visākam”, celebrated in the Vaikasi month, (May/June) .
THe thaipusam legend goes like this (based on the combination of few of my researches. Many different stories, but i tried to combine them into two
There was a demon Asura (Asura are like demons. if you play alot of internet games, you will know the ability of an Asura) named Tharakasuran/Tarakasura’s.
Tarakasura, and his demon “asura” army, attacks the Devas (if you know bahasa Melayu, Dewa Dewi punya Dewa lah). Some said, Tarakasura disturb the rishis, saints, Devas. Some said attacked.
The Devas, unable to fight off Tarakasura, prayed to the Great Shiva for help. Lord Shiva and his Wife, Parvati, then called upon their son (some said, “create”) Lord Murugan, to help to fight off the Asura army lead by Tarakasura.
Lord Murugan was given 11 celestials weapons by Lord Shiva his “father”, and also 1 particular powerful weapon called the “VEL” given by his mother Parvati.
It is said that Lord Murugan then led the Devas, to defeat Tarakasura’s Demon Asura Army, with the “VEL” Parvati gave it to him, ON the THAI month, where PUSAM/POOSAM star was at its highest point. Hence the celebration of THaipusam.
and the “VEL” is manifested in some of the Kavadi, IE the “VEL” Kavadi, which will be elaborated below under the “KAVADI” section.
Story is not as nice as the first one. According to another myth, Lord Murugan “Eavesdropped” his parents, when Lord Shiva (Father) was impoarting a mantra to Parvati (His mother).
because of eavesdropping, Parvati laid a curse on him, and hence creating the “rule” that eavedropping must be punished, even if its your son.
To seek for forgiveness and indulgence, Lord Murugan then offered hard penance at Thiruparankundram (A town in Tamil Nadu). Lord Shiva and Parvati were pleased with his repentane and lifted the punishment / curse.
the day in which the curse was lifted, was the “Thai Pusam” day.
Hence, Worshippers of Lord MURUGAN, celebrates the THaipusam day
3.) How do you Celebrate it? – “KAVADI ATTAM” and Prayers
yes, you didn’t read wrongly. THe Kavadi in “kavadi attam” is that kavadi thing you already knew.
“Kavadi Attam” means the “Kavadi Dance”. I browsed through this academic article written by Dr A.P. Rajaram, who elaborated the Kavadi Dance in his Dissertation. you can read it here if you’re free (–> http://www.jedsonline.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/KAVADI-ATTAM-A-DANCE-RITUAL.pdf ), or you can just read my summary :
Kavadi attam is a dance, related to the concept of “Bound by your debt” to Lord Murugan. In simpler words, it means you pray for something from Lord Murugan, and in return, you take on physical burden of Carrying the Kavadi during the Thaipusam, to Repay your “debt” owed to Lord Murugan when you make a prayer for wish.
– Story and Origin of Kavadi
Based on ” http://palani.org/kavadi.htm ” the story of KAVADI’s origin can be summarized as below
At Mount Kailas, Lord Shiva asked a sage by the name of Agastya to move two hillocks/mountain/hills, which are the Shivagiri Hill and the Shaktigiri Hill,to South India. The Sage Agastya, then ask his “disciple”, Idumban to carry the two hills/mountain to South India. He carried the two hills/mountain in the form of Kavadi, means each hill/mountain on each side of his shoulder (hence the KAVADI ! – read on). He couldn’t have moved the hill at first. but after praying to Lord Murugan, he found the strength to carry the two hills.
This Disciple Idumban is a very special person. He was an Asura, who survived the Asura-Dewa warfare (the one mentioned above). After that, he sworn his loyalty to Lord Murugan, and prayed to him.
When he reaches PALANI, near a Lord Murugan Temple, he put down the two hills, and rest. When he is done with resting and wanted to proceed to his journey again, he found that he could NOT move the hills anymore. He then asked the youth-dressing person for help to move the hills, but then, the youth-dressing person then claimed that the hills belonged to him……… (to be continued)
Meanwhile, in another setting, Lord Murugan, and his brother Lord Ganesan/Ganapathi were in a competition to race around the world. His brother Lord Ganesan/Ganapathi won the race by just running around their parents, Lord Shiva, and Pavarti, signifying that they both were the “centre of the world”. Lord Ganesan/Ganapathi then claimed the price of the race, which is the “Jnana-pazham”/ or commonly known as the “FRUIT”.
Lord Murugan felt cheated and angry for losing the race. He then went down to Tiru Avinankudi at the Adivaaram (meaning ‘foot of the Shivagiri Hill’ –> Shivagiri hill being one of the hill/mountain carried by Idumban the disciple) and rest there. His father, Lord Shiva then went on the “pacify” him, to mitigate his anger, by telling him that he, Lord Murugan, is the “Pahzam – Fruit” of all wisdom and knowledge. Hence the place that he was resting, was called “Phazam-nee – You are the fruit”, or “PALANI”.
……… (Continued above). This youth-dressing man then pursued a fight with Idumban, the hill/mountains carrying disciple, and kill idumban. After that, he resurrected Idumban, and revealed that he was in fact Lord Murugan.
Idumban saw Lord Murugan, who resurrected him, immediately prayed to him, and made a vow that
“1) whosoever carried on his shoulders the kavadi, signifying the two hills and visited the temple on a vow should be blessed”
“2) he should be given the priviledge of standing sentinel at the entrance to the hill. “
Therefore, if you were bothered to move yourself to Batu Cave, you would have seene Idumban shrine half-way up the hill where every pilgrim is expected to offer obeisance to Idumban before entering the temple. Since then, pilgrims bring their offerings on their shoulders in a kavadi, remembering Idumban.
4.) What kind of preparation for Kavadi Attam, and Thaipusam Celebration?
Based on Kent, Alexandra on her book Divinity and Diversity: A Hindu Revitalization Movement in Malaysia, A Hindu must observed the following before they can carry the Kavadi offering to God :-
following strict purification, and fasting, such as :-
-Transcendence of DESIRE
– SHAVING of the head
– Following a vegetarian diet and refraining from alcohol – in detail, eat only “SATVIK” vegetarian food (not tained by evil), and only ONCE per day
– Sexual abstinence
– Bathing in COLD WATER
– Sleeping on the FLOOR
– Regular PRAYERS
They would fast approximately 48 days before Thaipusam. Kavadi-bearers have to perform elaborate ceremonies too. On the day of the festival, devotees will shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi (burdens) or Milk. Some uses Vel instruments to pierce their Skin.
5.) What Kind of Kavadi? VEL Kavadi Versus PAL Kavadi.
THe most interesting Kavadi, would be the “VEL” Kavadi.
if you’re forgotten what is the VEL, scroll upwards. It’s the “weapon” given to Lord Murugan by Parvati in the Asura-Dewa war.
It is a portable altar up to two meters tall, decorated with peacock feathers and attached to the devotee through 108 vels pierced into the skin on the chest and back.
Devotees claim that they will “enter trance” feel no pain, do not bleed from their wounds and have no scars left behind.
Based on my personal observation with my brother Tai Zee How and Dimishtra Sittampalam , it seems that Devotees inhale alot alot alot of Weed during their Kavadi Attam. maybe that helps to relieve the pain too.
Some devotees also carry a brass jug of milk (Pal Kavadi) on their heads while others carry small pots with offerings for their deity
Thaipusam is a very ritual rich and cultural celebration. I’ve the privilege of attending one with my close friends in batu Caves, and the experience was superb. The squeezing into the KTM which you can barely move (all Hindu devotees) from subang jaya to Batu Cave, and the crowd there was just amazing. You feel like as if you’re in PALANI TAMIL NADU and not Kuala LUmpur.
As a Proud malaysian, we must at the very least learn, and understand the culture and history of one and another. I hope this post give you the sligthest idea of what is so significant to our Hindu brothers and sisters that this day is made a public holiday.
THaipusam Vathukal to all my friends who celebrates it!
Tai Zee Kin