When we think of Thaipusam, what comes to mind are the yellow-clad devotees carrying “paal kudam” (milk pot), majestic “Kavadis”, colourful flowers, the smell of incense and an atmosphere filled with music and devotion.

While it is a celebration for all, how many of us truly understand the significance of the occasion and the meaning of its rituals?

FIND: What is Thaipusam?

The word Thaipusam is a combination of the word “Thai” the name of the month, and “Pusam” the name of a star. It celebrates the occasion when Goddess Parvati gave Lord Murugan the Vel "divine spear" to vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman, who had conquered the heavens and took all devas (heavenly beings for whom Indra is the King) as his prisoners.

The Power of The Vel

Worshippers of Lord Murugan give immense importance to the Vel. Made from 5 metals: silver, gold, lead, copper, and iron, it is believed that the Vel can absorb all negativity, bring positive vibes and kill all harmful forces.

The appearance of the Vel, which has a broad head that becomes pointed at the tip, signifies the depth of knowledge and the broadness of our thought. The pointed tip implies how we should skillfully use our knowledge.

The way the Hindu gods are projected is not just rooted in imagination, but their appearance, features, and characteristics hold a metaphorical significance that makes Hinduism accessible.

Why Kavadi?

Kavadi worship at Thaipusam is rooted in the story of the demon Idumban. Sage Agastya wanted to take two hills, Sivagiri and Saktigiri, to his abode in the South and commissioned his disciple Idumban to carry them.

Idumban collected the hills, and tied them to a simple shoulder pole and continued his journey south. Near the forest at a site now known as Palani, he was exhausted and set the hills down while he rested.
When he attempted to resume his journey, he found that the hills were stuck to the ground. Upon ascending the slopes he encountered a youth clad only in a loin cloth, holding a staff, and shining like a thousand suns.

READ: How to Receive Lord Murugan’s Blessings?

This youth claimed the hills as his own. The youth is none other than Lord Murugan and in the subsequent fight, Idumban was killed. Both Agastya and Idumpi (Idumban’s wife), pleaded with Lord Murugan to restore Idumban back to life.

The revived Idumban requested that he remain forever at the portal of Murugan’s shrine. Lord Murugan duly appointed Idumban as official gatekeeper at his temple and advised that henceforth all those who worshipped Murugan with a Kavadi, would first acknowledge Idumban.

The Kavadi itself, signifies the two hills and those who carry the Kavadi during Thaipusam, will be blessed and their wish will be fulfilled.

FIND OUT: Types Of Kavadi

Kavadi bearers practice abstinence for 48 days leading up to the festival, fending off all manner of luxury and desire. They fast and adhere to a strict vegetarian diet. This allows the devotees to purify and balance their inner them for their encounter with the Divine.

Participants often go into a trance, a divine state known as 'arul vaku' (trance of grace), as the energies of the deity flow through them. Entranced devotees appear to have transcendent powers, enabling them to pierce their flesh with hooks, spears, and vels without feeling pain, and many without bleeding.

On the day of Thaipusam, Kavadi bearers have their head shaved and take a purifying bath while partaking in a padayatra (pilgrimage by foot) to the shrine bearing offerings to Lord Murugan, thus fulfilling personal vows.

WHY: Lord Murugan, the God of Tamil!

The simplest kavadi consists of a short wooden pole surmounted by a wooden arch. Pictures or statues of Lord Murugan or other deities are fixed onto the arch. The kavadi is decorated with peacock feathers and a small pot of milk is attached to each end of the pole.

There are more elaborate kavadis that devotees carry. The alagu and ratha kavadi are common forms of kavadi carried by devotees during Thaipusam. Kavadis are affixed on a bearer’s body by long sharpened rods or by chains and small hooks. A kavadi bearer not only carries a gift for God but the whole kavadi is seen as a shrine for God Himself.

Carrying Milk Offerings

The Paal Kudam (Milk Offering) is another popular form of offering during Thaipusam. The Paal Kudam means carrying paal (milk) in a kudam (vessel in the form of a pot) which is usually kept and carried on the head, to be offered to Lord Murugan. This milk will then be used by the priest to perform Paal Abhishegam.

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Abhishegam is a Hindu ritual of pouring a sacred substance - in this case, milk - on the deity as an offering, while chanting mantras. The acceptance of the milk by Lord Murugan is an acknowledgment of the devotee’s prayer.

Watch our mini documentary series 'Road to Thaipusam' to rediscover Batu Caves Murugan and the true meaning behind the annual celebration of Thaipusam in Malaysia.

Take a look at our mini documentary series 'Heroes of Thaipusam' to get a glimpse of the real champions behind the celebration every year.

Source: Murugan.org, Thaipusam.sg, Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Orange Smile