Every year, at the end of January, Hindu devotees all over the world especially in India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Mauritius, to name just a few, rejoice to celebrate one auspicious day that many take for granted.
Thaipusam may be just another public holiday for most of us but for those fearless few, it is a fortuitous opportunity for them to display their piety. On this day, they perform acts of penance for the sole purpose of absolving themselves of past sins and mistakes.
Thaipusam is not just a show of bravado
Although Thaipusam is celebrated every year, not many feel the need to share and inform non-Hindus about the origins, significance or the mental benefits related to the holy day. Often their rituals, such as the carrying of the vel, prayers or puja, may seem strange to an outsider.
Every year, this day is celebrated with gusto bringing observers from all over the world. It is just as highly placed as Ramadhan is to the Muslims or the Hungry Ghost Festival is to the Buddhists.
So, what makes Thaipusam an important festival to be celebrated by the Hindus?
Origins of Thaipusam
According to stories, Thaipusam is supposedly created during one of the battles between the Hindu Gods (Devas) and other divine beings (Asuras). Fearing defeat, the Devas approached the mighty Hindu deity Shiva. They then asked Shiva for a being with great heroic leadership qualities to lead them towards victory.
Now, asking for such a thing could not be obtained easily. As a sign of their sincerity and sheer dedication, the Devas devoted themselves and prayed to Shiva. Their efforts were not in vain as Shiva created the warrior Skanda (Lord Murugan) as an answer to their relentless prayers.
Hence, this day is known as the day of devotion. It is the day that the Devas helped overcome the evils of the Asuras.
But, why the need to carry a vel?
The Kavadi Attam or “Burden Dance” is actually a symbol of ceremonial sacrifice and offerings to Murugan. More often than not, the carrying of the kavadi is based on the concept of debt bondage. It signifies the sins and past mistakes committed by a devotee that wishes to be reborn through spiritual cleansing.
The Kavadi Attam can be done in many ways. The simplest act involves carrying a pot of milk. For those who are brave enough, they can choose to commit the act of flesh mortification. This may entail a devotee to pierce his tongue, skin or cheeks using skewers called the vel.
These almost herculean feats prove that humans, although corrupted with many sins, are able to perform unusual displays of strength and dedication with the blessings of Murugan. You may think that these devotees are just fearless daredevils but even the most bravest of us will not be able to attempt carrying a huge kavadi pierced through the skin without proper preparations.
It’s All in the Food
Just how a Muslim eats sahur before a 14-hour fast, kavadi bearers must also prepare themselves 48 days before Thaipusam. During these 48 days, the bearers are required to separate themselves from all worldly pleasures including food. This does not mean they go on starving for one consecutive month.
A strict sattvic diet must be followed in order to rid oneself of impurities. The diet is a regimen that includes specifically seasonal foods, fruits, dairy products, nuts, seeds, oils, ripe vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and non-meat based proteins.
So, what is Sattvic?
Sattvic is derived from the sanskrit word sattva which essentially means pure. It is one of the three elements that are required to lead a balanced life. In Yoga, this diet is seen as a way or approach to ensure the state of mitahara (moderate eating) and yamas (virtuous self-restraints) are maintained.
Thaipusam Must Visit Locations
It’s fortunate indeed to be Malaysian. We are the rare few who live among those of different faiths and can be united in celebrating the beliefs others quite joyously.
Almost as colourful and vibrant as Deepavali, Thaipusam is indeed one of the festivals that must be experienced first-hand once in a lifetime. Coincidentally, this year, Thaipusam falls on the same day as the lunar eclipse.
If you happen to be in Selangor, Penang or Perak, do not forget to drop by at the main temples. We recommend checking out the Sri Subramaniar, the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani and the Sri Maha Mariammar temples. Also, don’t forget to snap and share pictures of the festivities there with us by hashtagging #butterkicap!