Lord Skanda

Thaipusam

Thaipusam (தைப்பூசம்) (or Thai Poosam Kavady) is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (Jan/Feb). Pusam refers to a star that is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates both the birthday of Lord Murugan (also Subramaniam), the youngest son of Shiva and Parvati, and the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel (lance) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman.

Origin

The origin of Lord Skanda, the purpose of His avatara and its significance are of much importance to all seekers after Truth. During the battle between the Asuras and the Devas, the latter were defeated several times by the former. The Devas were unable to resist the onslaught of the Asuric forces. In despair, they approached Lord Siva and entreated to give them an able leader under whose heroic leadership they might obtain victory over the Asuras. They surrendered themselves completely and prayed to Lord Siva sincerely. The gracious Lord granted their request by creating mighty divine warrior, Lord Skanda, out of his own power or Achintya Sakti. This great son of Lord Siva at once assumed leadership of the celestial forces, originated them, inspired them and attacked the asuric forces. The asuras were routed and a glorious victory was gained by the Devas.

Kavadi

Generally people take a vow to offer a kavadi to the Lord for purpose of tiding over or averting a great calamity. For instance, if the devotee's son is laid up with a fatal disease, he would pray to Shanmuga to grant the boy a lease of life in return for which the devotee would take a vow to dedicate a kavadi to Him. Though this might on the face of it appear mercenary, a moment's reflection will reveal that it contains in it the seed of love for God. The worldly object is achieved: and the devotee offers the kavadi. After the ceremony is over, he gets so much intoxicated with love of God that his inner spiritual chamber is opened. This too ultimately leads to Para Bhakti -Supreme devotion.

Origins of Kavadi

The kavadi itself is steeped in mythology. At Mount Kailas, Lord Shiva entrusted the dwarf saint sage Agastya with two hillocks, with instructions to carry and install them in South India. But the sage left them in a forest and later asked his disciple, Idumban to get them. Idumban found the two hillocks, but could not initially lift them, until he obtained divine help. Near Palani in South India – where to this day there is a famous shrine of Murugan — Idumban put the hillocks down to rest awhile. When he attempted to continue with his journey, he found that the hillocks were immovable.

Idumban sought the help of a scantily dressed youth, but the youth claimed the hillocks belonged to him. In the ensuing scuffle, Idumban was defeated. Idumban then realised that the youth was Lord Murugan. Idumban pleaded to be pardoned and asked that anyone who comes to the hills to worship Murugan with an object similar to the two hillocks suspended by a rod, may be granted his heart’s desire. Idumban’s wish was granted. And so the kavadi came to play its role in Hindu festivals.

Preparations

Devotees prepare for the celebration by cleansing themselves through prayer and fasting. Kavadi-bearers have to perform elaborate ceremonies at the time of assuming the kavadi and at the time of offering it to Lord Murugan. The kavadi-bearer observes celibacy and take only pure, Satvik food, once a day, while continuously thinking of God.

On the day of the festival, devotees will shave their heads undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi (burdens). At its simplest this may entail carrying a pot of milk, but mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers is also common.

The simplest kavadi is a semi circular decorated canopy supported by a wooden rod that is carried on the shoulders, to the temple. In addition, some have a little spear through their tongue, or a spear through the cheeks. The spear pierced through his tongue or cheeks reminds him constantly of Lord Murugan. It also prevents him from speaking and gives great power of endurance. Other types of kavadi involve hooks stuck into the back and either pulled by another walking behind or being hung from a decorated bullock cart or more recently a tractor, with the point of incisions of the hooks varying the level of pain. The greater the pain the more god-earned merit.

The most spectacular practice is the vel kavadi, essentially a portable altar up to two meters tall, decorated with peacock feathers and attached to the devotee through 108 vels pierced into the skin on the chest and back. Fire walking and flagellation may also be practiced. It is claimed that devotees are able to enter a trance, feel no pain, do not bleed from their wounds and have no scars left behind. However, some of the more extreme masochistic practices have been criticized as dangerous and contrary to the spirit and intention of Hinduism.

Celebrations

The largest Thaipusam celebrations take place in Singapore, Mauritius and Malaysia. It is a public holiday in several states in Malaysia, including Selangor, Penang, Johor Bahru, Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur.

The temple at Batu Caves, near Kuala Lumpur, often attracts over one million devotees and tens of thousands of tourists . The procession to the caves starts at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur in the heart of the city and proceeds for 15 kilometers to the caves, an 8-hour journey culminating in a flight of 272 steps to the top.

In Malaysia, although rare, scenes of people from different ethnic groups and faiths bearing "kavadi" can also be seen. Interestingly, Thaipusam is also increasingly being celebrated by the ethnic Chinese in Malaysia. Thaipusam is also celebrated at another cave site, the Sri Subramaniar Temple in Gunong Cheroh, Ipoh, Perak and at the Nattukottai Chettiar Temple along Jalan Waterfall in Penang. Temple secretary P. Palaiya Sri Subramaniar Temple in Gunong Cheroh reported that about 250,000 devotees participated in the festival 2007, including 300 kavadi bearers, while 15,000 came with milk offerings.

In Palani, Tamil Nadu, India, Thai Pusam is celebrated with grandeur. Thousands of devotees flock to Palani and attend kavadi. According to palani.org, "The number of kavadis reaching Palani for Thai Pusam is about 10,000. For Pankuni Uttiram, 50,000 kavadis arrive. It is kavadi to your right, kavadi to your left, kavadi in front of you, kavadi behind you, kavadi above you and kavadi below you."

In Karamana, Kerala, India, Thai Pusam festival is conducted at Satyavageeswara temple. The utsava moorthy is taken in procession on a vahanam(mount). There is nel(Paddy)parai alappu or Nel alavu, as a ritual performed for good luck and prosperity.

In 2008, Thaipusam was celebrated on 23 January 2008.

See also

External links

Notes and references

  • (1996) Pancorbo, Luis: "Los picados de Thaipusam" en "Fiestas del Mundo. Las máscaras de la Luna". Pp. 85-93. Ediciones del Serbal. Barcelona. ISBN 84-7628-168-4

Thaipusam in Singapore

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