Thaipusam hits you in the stomach, fills your senses with colors, sounds and harsh images, giving you thoughts about faith and worships.
It is one of the most important Hindu festival celebrated by the Tamil community in honor of Lord Murugan, god of war, lord of the dance, brother of Lord Ganesha, son of Shiva and Parvati, the goddess of love, fertility and devotion.
During the celebration of Thaipusam there is a physical and emotional engagement like I never seen before.It is observed on the full moon day in the 10th month of Tamil calendar (between January and February). The word itself derives from Thai which means “10th”, and Pusam, a star, meaning “when the moon is at its brightest”.
In this same day is believed that Parvati donated to Murugan a divine Vel (spear) to defeat the demon hordes.The ceremony is, in fact, a commemoration in honor of Lord Murugan’s victory, the triumph of the good over the evil. Lord Murugan is the universal dispenser of favors, nevertheless symbol of virtue, power, courage, youth and beauty.Pilgrims to gain Murugan’s protection, to pay gratitude for prayers answered and ask for his favors, embrace a long procession that (in Singapore) stretch for almost 4 km.The pilgrim procession starts in the evening, the day before Thaipusam, and it is inaugurated by a group of barefoot devotees in yellow /orange outfit, carrying pots filled with milk – “paal kudam” – and flowers offers. Waves of people, in small or larger group, sometimes two by two, succeed from evening through the night, until late afternoon of the following day (Thaipusam).That particular night is almost surreal, suspended between dream and reality. Thousand of devotees walk together, silent, like a long yellow river, murmuring chants and prayers. Orange is Murugan’s color and also symbol of renunciation.The milk is as an offer from the devotee and poured over the Holy Vel at the end of the pilgrimage.Many devotees, male and female, go through mortification of the flesh, to pray Lord Murugan shave their heads (symbol of humility and penance) and they have tongue and cheeks pierced, sacrificing the gift of speech to full concentrate on the Lord. They use spears, in various thickness, representing the sacred Vel itself.
Others have little spears inserted into arms or forehead, some have limes, foliage or small milk pots hooked on the skin of the body.During the body piercing ritual there is an incessant sound of drums, a chanting of ”vel vel shakti vel” and many devotees enter into a status of trance. The climax of the Thaipusam is the procession of bearers carrying or better saying wearing Spiked Kavadi.
Spiked Kavadi is a huge steel frame structure, decorated in various ways, with flowers, images of hindu deities, holy symbols and peacock feathers (symbol of Murugan, as the peacock is his vehicle), and held by a network of spears or chain with small hooks inserted into the bearer’s chest and back, and can weight up 40 kg, maybe more. They are accompanied by the family, friends, that encourage the bearers with songs played on smartphone and with loud drums, they support and cheer them up when the step gives way to fatigue, giving assistance when they need it most. I was amazed when I assisted to Kavadi Atta, “Burden Dance”. They dance, swirling around, like a feather carousel, without feeling the weight of their burden, almost in a status of ecstasy, in communication with their deity, the kavadi is a shrine for their god. I can’t describe well enough the emotional involvement of it. Some couples carry on shoulders a long sugar cane stalk with a saffron cloth cradle tied up. At the beginning I didn’t understand why, then I saw a newborn baby inside it! This is their way to to thank Lord Murugan whom given them the gift of parenthood.
Devotees willing to carry a kavadi need to purify body and mind and observe a 48 days of special vegetarian diet, practise sexual and alcohol abstinence, sleep on the floor, bath with cold water and praying continuously. In Singapore the heat and the sun are fierce and impetuous, but nobody gives up, they are willing to accomplish the journey of faith. Many devotees are workers, living far away from family and they have nothing else that faith and few friends to pay their tribute. They support each other, and I always ask myself which prayers and favor they asked to their deity in this very special and unique day. The route of the procession is full of people, tourists, curious of what it is happening, there are also refreshment positions, I see a sense of community and generosity.
More you are closer to the end, more is crowded and crazy. It is a vertigo of colors, sounds, people all together.The procession ends at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple, where bearers offer their last Kavadi Attan, milk is poured over the Vel and family groups silent go to a close compound to remove the spikes and heavy structure over their beloved one. I feel an atmosphere of relief, almost abandon, when pilgrims reach their holy destination.
Thaipusam is not only a day of penitence, but specially a day of joy. Women wear their best colorful saree and jewelry, adorn hair with jasmine flowers, offering snack to perfect strangers, they are proud to share their intimate day. I am totally fascinated by this ritual, its vibrancy, in this two days you can see euphoria and faith, children are not scared by the sights of a devotions that goes beyond body limits. Even if you are not a believer you can see that maybe there is something above that moves people. [Story by Cristina Paolucci] [Official Website]