Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Celebrating Thaipusam in Malaysia

Celebrating Thaipusam

A festival occurring in the Tamil month Thai (January-February), the day of the star Pusam around Pournami (Full Moon) is celebrated as Thai Pusam. It is a special day for worship of Lord Muruga (also known as Subrahmanya or Thendayuthapani) and is celebrated in a very grand manner at all Murugan temples, especially at the 'Aaru Padai Veedu' of Murugan (These are six temples in India especially dedicated to Lord Muruga). This festival honours Muruga or Subramanya, the son of Shiva. There are several legends about this festival. Here are a few of them:

A rich legend lies behind the origins of Thaipusam. Popular narration goes that the great Saint, Agasthya, instructed his student, Idumban to uproot two hills called Sivagiri and Shakthigiri belonging to Lord Murugan and bring it back to him. As commanded, Idumban flew to Mount Kailai Range where the hills rested and picked them up ready to fly back. But alas, Lord Murugan had other plans. He wanted to test Idumban’s mettle and devotion to his master. He reduced his size, to that of a small child and promptly stood atop one of the hills. Suddenly Idumban found that he couldn’t carry the hills anymore. To his bewilderment, a child was standing haughtily on the hill. Idumban humbly requested the boy to get down. When the child refused, Idumban flew into a rage and tried to attack him, only to find himself falling like an injured bird. Lord Murugan then reverted to his original self and appeared before Idumban. "I am pleased with your courage and determination," he said. "Your devotion to your guru is admirable. I now bestow on you the honor of being my guardian" Lord Murugan then proclaimed that henceforth, those who carried kavadis to see him, would receive his blessings. Today, thousands of Hindus carry kavadis as offerings to the Lord during Thaipusam. The kavadis symbolize the hills of burden that Idumban shouldered.

The other version was a demon named Tharakasuran who was troubling the Rishis and Saints. Lord Muruga was called by his parents Lord Shiva and Parvati and given the job of destroying the asuran. Lord Muruga set off with the blessings of his parents, to destroy the demon. He carried twelve weapons, eleven of which were given by his father Lord Shiva and the 'Vel' given by his mother Parvati. Lord Muruga destroyed Tharakasuran on the Pusam Nakshatra day in the Tamil month of Thai and hence Thai Pusam is celebrated in all Murugan temples.

In another legend, that on a Thursday in Thai that also happened to be the day of Pusam star and pournami, Shiva and Parvati were engaged in an ecstatic cosmic dance, as Brahma, Vishnu, Indra and the Devas watched. This indicates that this is a day ideal for worship of Shiva.

According to another legend, as Shiva was imparting a mantra to Parvati, Subrahmanya eavesdropped on them. For that error, Parvati laid a curse on him, in line with the rule that even a son, if erring, must be punished. To be redeemed from her curse, Subrahmanya offered hard penance at Thirupparankundram. Pleased with his penance, Shiva and Parvati manifested before him and lifted the curse. The day on which Parvati's curse on Subrahmanya was lifted was a Thai Pusam. It is thus a special day for worship of Lord Subrahmanya. Yet another legend has it that Kaveri, grieving that she had not secured the eminence acquired by Ganga through her position atop Shiva's locks, sat under a peepul tree on the banks of Sara Pushkarini and offered penance to Narayana. Pleased by her penance, Narayana appeared as a baby in her lap. That day when he manifested thus was, again, a Thai Pusam.

No matter what the legend, the rites that are followed are fairly similar. On Thaipusam day, devotees make offerings to Lord Muruga for eradicating the ills that afflict us. Perhaps the most potent propitiatory rite that a devotee of Shanmukha undertakes to perform is what is known as the Kavadi. The benefits that the devotee gains from offering a Kavadi to the Lord are a million-fold greater than the little pain that he inflicts upon himself.

Read more here

Photo credits here and here
Kavadi carrier

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Blogger Ramadas said...

Please tell me what is the Tamil phrase shouted in to the ears of the devotee when he is getting pierced. I saw many videos but it is not clear to me. Something like "Idumban" and then ends with "Vetri Kodi Velan vara". Not clear to me.

3:37 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Ramadas,

Welcome. I am sorry I do not know what is the Tamil phrase shouted into the ears of a devottee. I have asked a Hindu friend of mine and he told me it is a prayer mantra.

4:14 PM  

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