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Thaipusam Spectacular

While there are many Indian festivals that celebrate the rice harvest, the stars and light, Thaipusam is by far the most spectacular.

An offering

Observed on the 10th month of the Hindu Calendar, Thaipusam is a colourful celebration of the birthday of Lord Subramaniam, one of the paramount Hindu deities and son of Siva. Celebrated by Hindu Indians of all classes, it is said that the celebration here in Penang today is more intense than the one in native South India.

The Hindus believe that by celebrating Thaipusam, they are cleansed of all sins and that their misdeeds can be redeemed in many ways during the festival. Thus before the actual day, Hindus must prepare themselves by observing a strictly regimented schedule of fasting, dieting and maintaining self-discipline – to purify themselves so that they may go into a trance-like state and transcend pain when carrying out the rituals on the day itself.

o fulfill vows made to Lord Subramaniam, these devotees have their

tongues and cheeks skewered with long silver needles and metal hooks pierced to their chests and backs. The most extreme form of devotion is the carrying of the spectacular kavadi for the deity.

The fesitivities begin on the very eve of the auspicious day. The Silver Chariot carries the image of Lord Muruga from the Chettiar Temple in Penang Street to the Nattukkottai Chettiar Temple at Waterfall Road.

he Chettiars carry a special yoke

of peacock feathers along the same route.

Picture

This procession starts at dawn and ends at sundown. During the process the crowds smash coconuts and make offerings of incense, fruits, flowers, and money as the chariot stops at every Hindu shrine along the way, followed by a stream of kavadi bearers.


Throughout the morning many kavadi-bearers start out at the Sivan temple at Dato Keramat Road. This is a good place to watch participants undergoing an ablution of saffron water, being put into the trance, and body piercing. The devotees, their supporters, and general festival attendants proceed down Jalan Utama to the Waterfall Temple, where offerings are made to Lord Subramaniam and the body spears are removed.

he day following Thaipusam Day closes the festivities. In the morning,

morning, the chettiars perform their kavadi dances outside the Waterfall Temple. In a night procession starting from sundown and ending at sunrise the next day, the Silver Chariot returns from Waterfall Road to Penang Street.

In previous years, concern were voiced about certain extreme forms of devotion. A Hindu scholar and chief priest Sivachariar Muthu Kumara Gurukal had said through an interview with The Star daily newspaper that Hindu scriptures "clearly states that a person must not hurt his body which is akin to a temple as it houses the soul." Hence, the need to tone down on kavadi bearers that are "exhibitionists."

A Hindu scholar and chief priest Sivachariar Muthu Kumara Gurukal had said through an interview with The Star daily newspaper that Hindu scriptures
"clearly states that a person must not hurt his body which is akin to a temple as it houses the soul."

Photography
 by Chin Mun Woh

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