Thaipusam Celebration in Malaysia

Carrying Kavadi during Thaipusam Celebration
Carrying Kavadi during Thaipusam Celebration | Source

Thaipusam Celebration in Malaysia : What is Thaipusam

Thaipusam is a holy festival celebrated by Hindus of Tamil origin from South India, as a thanksgiving to their deity, Lord Subramaniam (also known as Lord Muruga). It is perhaps the most elaborate and spectacular of all the Hindu festivals, mainly due to the combination of what seems like a painful body piercing and a religious practice.

Hindu Celebrations and Festivals

Hindu celebrations and festivals such as Thaipusam and Diwali celebration, are celebrated not only in India, but also in countries where there are major concentrations of Tamils such as in Malaysia and Singapore. Thaipusam celebration in Malaysia is in fact one of the major religious festival in the country. It is also the biggest among the countries that celebrate Thaipusam, including India.

Thaipusam 2016

This is celebrated on the tenth day of the Tamil month of Thai, which coincides with the full moon and is usually in late January or early February.

For 2016, Thaipusam in Malaysia will falls on Sunday, 24th January and is a public holiday (the next day) in the states of Wilayah Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Negeri Sembilan, Johor, Penang, Perak, and Selangor only.

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Check out the annual self-flagellation & crucifixion held every Holy Friday in the Philippines, which is akin to Thaipusam celebration.

Thaipusam Rites and Rituals

Hinduism Festival

Devotees who have made their vows and prayers to Lord Subramaniam will subject themselves to sacrificial acts in exchange for an answered prayer. The devotees have, in the past asked for help, such as to get well or to recover from their sickness, seeking forgiveness for past misdeeds, childless couple asking for baby etc. In return they proposed to do a sacrificial act if the request is fulfilled. This sacrificial act could be carrying kavadi weighing several pounds which is attached to the body by skewers and hooks, that pierce through the body. (see photo above). This is usually undertaken by the really serious Thaipusam pilgrims and are usually by men.

Other forms of doing penance

For the Thaipusam festival, not every devotee will carry the kavadi, some may go for a 'simpler' form of sacrificial act like piercing skewers to tongues and cheeks (see photo below).

Shaving the head, (especially for the children, see photo far below), carrying pots of milk (by the women folks) giving foods and drinks to devotees, and providing other essential services, are also another form of penance that can be observed.

The Thaipusam Procession

The Thaipusam procession from one temple to another main temple (varies according to region) could be three miles or even longer. Family members and supporters will be following the devotees during this procession , chanting prayers and offering encouragement.

Brief Information on Kavadi

Types of Kavadi

There are four types of kavadi and are as follows:

  1. Idumban Kavadi: Pots filled with milk and suspended on rods and carried on the shoulder
  2. Mayil Kavadi: Similar to Idumban kavadi except that it is decorated with peacock feathers
  3. Pal Kavadi: Metal pot filled with milk and carried on one side of the shoulder only
  4. Pushpa Kavadi: Pot filled with milk and carried on the head

Materials Used for Kavadi

Materials that are commonly used for kavadi are aluminum plates, wooden plates, nuts and bolts and peacock feathers.

The design will vary according to the wishes of the kavadi bearers and with new creative designs mean uses of new materials.

Kavadi made of polystyrene is popular in Ipoh and Penang while kavadi decorated with LED lights is popular in Ipoh.

A Devotee who has taken a Vow for the Thaipusam Celebration
A Devotee who has taken a Vow for the Thaipusam Celebration | Source

Pre-Thaipusam Rituals

The Thaipusam devotee who has taken the vow for Thaipusam celebration, is required to cleanse themselves by undergoing at least a month of prayer, fasting and several series of strict physical and mental disciplines. These include a strict vegetarian diet and maintaining self discipline such as abstinence from sex.

It is said that these will help put the devotees into a trance-like state that will prevent them from feeling the pain. It is also claimed that the piercing of skewers and hooks will not leave any scar.

Before the devotees use their respective kavadis, prayers will be conducted at their homes for a smooth procession of the kavadi.

Visit Malaysia & Discover its Mysteries

There so many cultural events in Malaysia that you must get to know. Read here to uncover its mysteries:

Thaipusam Celebration in Malaysia : The Event

Malaysia's population consists of many ethnic groups and Indian form part of this group. This multi ethic, multicultural and multilingual society makes the country a melting pot of various cultures & religious festivals. Thaipusam is just one of these festivals.

Thaipusam celebration in Malaysia is held in most part of the country but the largest gatherings are in Kuala Lumpur. Unlike Diwali celebration, Thaipusam is not a public holiday for the whole country but only in certain states.

In Kuala Lumpur, this three day Thaipusam festival starts from the Sri Mahamariaman Temple in Chinatown and ends in Batu Caves, covering a distance of about 9.5 miles.

The Procession

In the early morning on the eve of the celebration, the Thaipusam procession will depart Sri Mahamariaman Temple with Lord Muruga's idol, leading the procession. Hundreds of devotees, carrying their kavadi or whatever form of sacrificial act that they have opted for, will follow on this 9.5 mile journey, which takes about 8 hours to reach the destination.

Batu Caves Temple

On arrival at the destination, which is the Batu Caves temple, a prayer ceremony will be held at the foot of the caves. The Batu Caves temple is very unique and is an attraction of its own, even outside the Thaipusam celebration day. The temple is sited in one of the biggest caves and to reach it, you will need to climb the 272 steps (see photo below)

Devotees, carrying their offering, will climb these 272 steps, and offer their prayer in the temple. Those who had their body pierced with skewers and hooks, will have them removed whilst the priest chant over them. Amazingly enough, there will not be a drop of blood and the wounds that will be treated with hot ash, will not leave any scar!

Batu Caves Temple with the famous 272 steps leading to the temple. The 140-feet statue of Lord Murugan took 3 years to complete and was unveiled during Thaipusam festival in January 2006. It was built by 15 artisans from India.
Batu Caves Temple with the famous 272 steps leading to the temple. The 140-feet statue of Lord Murugan took 3 years to complete and was unveiled during Thaipusam festival in January 2006. It was built by 15 artisans from India. | Source

Thaipusam Celebration and Festival in other parts of Malaysia

Thaipusam Celebration in other parts of Malaysia is celebrated in most towns with a large Tamil community. The bigger celebration sites, outside Kuala Lumpur, are at the Nattukottai Chettiar Temple in Penang, and Sri Subramaniar Temple in Gunong Cheroh, Ipoh, Perak (another cave site)

Bearing Kavadi by other ethnic group

Although this does not happen every year, in Malaysia, you can see people of other ethnic groups and faiths, such as the Chinese and Caucasians bearing the kavadi.

More Thaipusam celebration photos

Devotee piercing mouth with small skewer and hanging limes to the body for Thaipusam festival
Devotee piercing mouth with small skewer and hanging limes to the body for Thaipusam festival | Source
A women devotee who has opted to have her penance done by having a metal skewer pierce through her mouth and part of forehead during Thaipusam celebration
A women devotee who has opted to have her penance done by having a metal skewer pierce through her mouth and part of forehead during Thaipusam celebration | Source

Thaipusam Celebration in Malaysia: Advice and Tips for Visitors

If you intend to visit Malaysia for this event, it is advisable to make your travel booking early.

The celebration starts early at 5am and usually goes on till night. So, be up early and bring your fully charged still and video cameras if you want to capture the full action of Thaipusam.

Admission to the celebration is free and every year the crowd keeps growing. With more than 1million devotees, supporters and visitors, you can get overwhelmed especially within the confined temple area. So be sure to carry some extra drinking water and food with you. Although all these are available at the sites, it is always best to have them with you, so as not to lose precious time.

Getting there

If you are visiting the celebration at Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, the best way is to take the commuter train from KL Sentral Station to Sentul Station. Buses and taxis are other options but with the heavy traffic and traffic diversions, it will be slower. Your hotel will be able to assist you on how to get to KL Sentral station or getting the buses or taxi, from your hotel.

Visit Malaysia

If you are not able to make it for the Thaipusam celebrations this year, you can always plan for the following year. As I had mentioned earlier, Malaysia is rich in various religious and cultural festivals. You are bound to be in one of these festivals, when you visit Malaysia.

Malaysia is also noted for the variety of foods from its many ethnic groups, that has made the country, a gourmet center. So come over, not just to savor the sights and sounds but also the flavor of Malaysia.

A child with shaved head, as part of penance for the minor during Thaipusam
A child with shaved head, as part of penance for the minor during Thaipusam | Source

Thaipusam 2012 photos

Devotees and visitors at Batu Caves for Thaipusam 2012
Devotees and visitors at Batu Caves for Thaipusam 2012 | Source

Thaipusam Trance : Warning, contain scenes that may be disturbing

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Comments 10 comments

greatstuff profile image

greatstuff 22 months ago from Malaysia Author

Hi Lee, do you know that today is Thaipusam day and Batu Cave is now packed with devotees and both local & foreign visitors? Thanks for dropping by


traveleze profile image

traveleze 22 months ago from Preston

Great hub and very interesting

Thanks again

Lee


greatstuff profile image

greatstuff 4 years ago from Malaysia Author

Hi jojokaya.. thanks for the compliment. The festival for 2012 just ended about a week ago. Unfortunately I couldn't make it to the celebration. Will try to get new 2012 festival photos and upload to this hub.


jojokaya profile image

jojokaya 4 years ago from USA

Beautiful and interesting hub.


greatstuff profile image

greatstuff 4 years ago from Malaysia Author

Hi Lila, when someone prayed for something and they got what they asked for, and if in their prayer they vow to do something in return, Thaipusam may be the day that they will fulfill this vow. So the celebration is a thanksgiving celebration. It may sounds odd to you that with all the body piercing, how can someone celebrate? Well this has a religious undertone and when one believes in something, the whole act is also a spiritual journey. Come over to my country Malaysia to see and experience all the many religious festivals of many ethnic races, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism etc


lila 4 years ago

how do they celerate?????


greatstuff profile image

greatstuff 4 years ago from Malaysia Author

Hi Arlene, thanks for dropping by and for your kind words. Thaipusam is an interesting event, to see and experience. Should try and make it one day. Malaysia is affordable, maybe airfare is the only expensive part of the total budget. If you do research online, you might get some very competitive airfare rates.


Arlene V. Poma 4 years ago

Simply fascinating Hub with equally fascinating photographs. Never been, but I am bookmarking this. Voted up and everything else. Thanks for the escape.


greatstuff profile image

greatstuff 4 years ago from Malaysia Author

Thanks geoffclarke. Looking forward to your hub on Malaysia.


geoffclarke profile image

geoffclarke 4 years ago from Canada

Hi Greatstuff, very interesting hub. Thanks for explaining the Thaipusam Celebration. I visited the Batu caves in November, climbed the 272 steps and saw the monkeys! Love the photo, the golden statue of Lord Murugan was covered in scaffolding when I was there!

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