Thaipusam: The Hindu festival of piercings

Thaipusam is an intriguing Tamil festival which is highlighted by piercing the body as an act of contrition and devotion.

The Tamil festival of Thaipusam. (Image Credits: Daily Mail)
The Tamil festival of Thaipusam. (Image Credits: Daily Mail)

Thaipusam is a Tamil festival observed in India which is celebrated on the full moon of the Tamil month of Thai, during January or February. While it might seem like any other traditional New Year celebration, the festival is a unique window into the ancient traditions of the Hindu Tamil culture.

Part of the celebration involves thanking Lord Murugan, the son of Lord Shiva and asking him for good health, peace and forgiveness in the coming year.

Besides this, some interesting traditions are also a part of the celebration. The festival brings together a large number of devotees who show their reverence for Lord Murugan by controlling their senses. To elaborate, devotees show their respect by getting piercings done on their tongue, cheeks and skin.

Some devotees have also been known to walk on a field of burning coal, as a sign on contrition and respect. These acts are performed to cleanse the soul of a devotee and help him reaffirm his Hindu faith.

The celebration is not limited to the Tamil community in India alone and is celebrated with zeal and gusto in nations like Malaysia and Singapore as well. This has a lot to do with the fact that these far eastern countries have large, naturalized populations of citizens who are of Tamil Indian origin.

The festival is celebrated on a specific date each year but devotees begin fasting and preparing for it several days prior to the fact. The celebrations are also not limited to one day alone and events are organized for multiple days.

The official site of Thaipusam celebrations in Singapore has this to say about the festival, “The word Thaipusam is a combination of the name of the month, Thai, and the name of a star, Pusam This particular star is at its highest point during the festival.”

One of the most anticipated traditions that is observed during the festival is the kavadi pilgrimage. The pilgrimage is a large procession laden with colours and festivities that begins on the morning of Thaipusam.

Devotees wear Lord Murugan’s favourite colours, yellow and orange while carrying kavadis or offerings in the form of bamboo structures decorated with peacock feathers. Others carry pots of milk and fruits which are also offered to Lord Murugan.

There are others who join the procession after piercing their faces with metal spikes and getting hooks inserted into their bodies.

Hence, Thaipusam gives people a glimpse of a unique form of devotion and religious zeal.