Thaipusam, also spelled as Thaipoosam, is a Hindu festival mainly celebrated in Southern India for honoring Lord Murugan, who is said to be the God of War and one of the sons of Lord Shiva. During the festival, devotees shower the Lord with gifts and devotion for getting their prayers answered, like all Murugan festivals. Thaipusam piercings and carrying burdens on those piercings are common sights during Thaipusam, though not everyone who celebrates the festival has to do it. Read on to know more about this unique and fervent festival celebrated in the state of Kerala.
The religious significance of Thaipusam piercing
There are differences in opinion regarding the celebration of Thaipusam. Some people argue that the festival is celebrated for commemorating the birthday of Lord Murugan, which some others believe that his birthday comes at a later date in May or June. Regardless of that, the festival honors the gift of spear (‘vel’) that Lord Murugan received from Parvati, his mother and the Hindu goddess of fertility. Thus, it is common to hear participants of Thaipusam shout “Vel!” repeatedly during the procession, while getting thaipusam tongue piercing done.
The gift of Vel is also where the concept of Thaipusam piercing has come from. Tongue and face piercings are common during this time, and so are the other kinds of self-mutilation through piercings. Burdens, called kavadis, are hung by the devotees from thaipusam tongue piercing and back piercings.
The time for celebrating the festival
Thaipusam is celebrated during the month of Thai on a full moon day. Pusam is, in fact, the name of star which is said to be at its highest point at the time of the festival. Since, it is based on the lunar calendar, the dates do not remain constant for every year. But, generally the festival takes place either in the month of January or February. For instance, it was celebrated on 21st January this year. In the year 2020, it will be celebrated on 8th February.
The rituals of Thaipusam
Thaipusam piercing is not the only ritual of the festival, though it is the most important part of it. The devotees wear thaipusam clothes in orange and yellow which are the colors of the Lord. Peacock feathers and flowers are brought to decorate these thaipusam clothes. Devotees also carry pitchers of milk on their head for offering the Lord. Two skewers are used to pierce the cheeks and tongue as the symbol that the pilgrim has sacrificed the gift of speech.
The pilgrims also shave the heads and take long walks to reach the temples to pray, as is seen in most Murugan festivals. Apart from the kavadis that are stabbed or pierced to their body, the pilgrims are also seen pulling heavy sleds that are attached to the bodies using hooks. Even bearing a kavadi involves a long ritual. The devotee has to cleanse himself/herself for at least forty eight days through celibacy, continuous prayer, and a special diet. They must take bath only with cold water and sleep on the floor during this time.
Some devotees have kavadis so elaborate that they need help carrying it to the place of worship, where these are removed before the prayer. An interesting thing to mention here is that worshippers have made miraculous claims about Thaipusam piercing. People hardly bleed and claim that they feel no pain after the ceremonious piercings. In fact, many claim that their wounds end up healing almost immediately and leave behind no scars.
Featured Photo of ‘Thaipusam Festival 2013, Batu Caves Malaysia’ by Elviz Low under CC BY-SA 2.0