Thaipusam is the most spectacular Hindu festival in Malaysia, marking the day when Lord Shiva’s son, Muruga, was given command of the celestial forces to vanquish three Asura demons. A wild orgy of body piercings – cheeks, tongues and lips are all skewered, often multiple times -- this fascinating festival can be a mind-spinning sight for a first-timer.
take approximately 48 days to prepare for the festival, which takes place
mid-January to mid-February, when the moon is full in the 10th Tamil month of
the Thai calendar. They undertake special diets and cleansing routines, sleep
on the floor and practice regular prayer.
takes place deep in the Batu Caves.
Thousands of people flock here to give thanks to Muruga, the Hindu god of war.
Inside, you will find monkeys scampering and bounding up the 272 steps into
Temple Cave, the vast main cavern that houses a golden statue of Muruga. The caves were “officially”
discovered some 120 years ago by American naturalist William Hornaday.
place in the festival is Lord
Muruga's silver chariot, which makes its way from the Sri Mahamariamman Temple
in Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown to the caves. Carrying statuettes of Lord Muruga,
as well as consorts Valli and Teivayanni, the chariot tips the scales at 350kg of
silver – a jaw-dropping display of wealth when it was first unveiled in 1893.
Thaipusam, devotees perform a dance to Muruga known as kavadi attam. The dance helps the devotees appeal to Muruga for divine
assistance or give thanks for his help. But it is not just dancing that happens
greatest sight is the kavadi carriers, the devotees who subject themselves to
seemingly masochistic acts as fulfilment for answered prayers. Many of the
faithful carry offerings of milk in paal kudam (milk pots) often
connected to their skin by hooks. Even more striking are the vel kavadi
– great cages of spikes that pierce the skin of the carrier and are decorated
with peacock feathers, pictures of deities and flowers. Some penitents go as
far as piercing their tongues and cheeks with hooks, skewers and tridents.
While it looks excruciating, a trance-like state stops participants from
feeling pain; later the wounds are treated with lemon juice and holy ash to
Interested in taking part in the pierced
proceedings? Only the
truly faithful should attempt the ritual – insufficiently prepared devotees
keep doctors especially busy over the festival period with skin lacerations.
Make sure to take plenty of water with you, as the heat can be just as
overwhelming as the sights.
The article 'Malaysia's Thaipusam festival' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.