IT might come as a surprise to some that the biggest and most colorful Thaipusam is celebrated in Malaysia. And it’s coming up next week.
Over a million Hindus gather every year at various temples nationwide to celebrate the Hindu festival marking the day when Lord Shiva’s son, Muruga, was given command of the celestial forces to vanquish three Asura demons.
But it is the gathering in the capital, Kuala Lumpur that is the most spectacular, full of dance, devotees and bizarre body piercings. The celebration is taking place Wednesday, Jan 31 when the moon is full in the 10th Tamil month of the Thai calendar. The experience can be a mind-spinning assault on the senses for first timers but it’s well worth the early morning wake up call.
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Devotees take approximately 48 days to prepare for the festival, undertaking special diets and cleansing routines, sleeping on the floor and practicing regular prayer.
The lengthy procession culminates at Batu Caves, a limestone outcrop just north of Kuala Lumpur and the site of a prominent Hindu temple and shrine. Thousands flock to the temple to give thanks to the gods. Along with worshippers, you’ll also find hundreds of monkeys left free to roam the 272 temple steps and entrance way.
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Starting in the very early hours of the morning at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in the city center, a procession carrying Lord Muruga’s silver chariot, makes its way out to the caves accompanied by dancers and kavadi carriers.
The Kavadi carriers are probably the most famous image that people associate with the festival of Thaipusam. The devotees in a trance-like state, pierce themselves in an almost masochistic display of thanks to the God.
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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.
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Only those who are truly prepared are advised to take part in the piercing ritual. Each year, doctors are inundated with calls from people doing damage to themselves due to lack of focus and training.
It truly is a spectacle. And the overwhelming sights, sounds and smells make it well worth the journey.
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