30 January 2017

Understanding Asia’s Unusual Thaipusam Festival

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Travelling in Asia during a festival is guaranteed to be a highlight of your trip. Imagine street parties, festival feasts and a chance to interact with exuberant locals not at work. This is why we spent time creating this extensive guide to festivals and events in Asia, so that you can plan your trips with these holidays in mind.

Yet, with their particular cultural phenomena, the real meaning and significance of festivals in Asia can be hard for visitors to grasp. What is really going on in that procession? Why are those people dressed in those elaborate costumes and how did this event begin in the first place?

Buffalo Tours Travel experts are here to help educate and inspire and, today, we’ll be understanding the fascinating Thaipusam festival which takes place February 9th, 2017.

All images in this post were taken by our Master Class Photographer Mohandas Shyree.

Thaipusam JPG-13 Mohandas Shyree 2What is the Thaipusam Festival?

The Hindu festival of Thaipusam celebrates the great Lord Murugan, oldest son of Shiva, and acts as a time of rejuvenation for worshippers. Lord Murugan is the indigenous God of war of the Tamil speaking Hindu population and gained his title by defeating demons with a special lance given to him by his mother, Parvati. In honour of Murugan, worshippers pierce their bodies with needles to rid themselves of their own demons in an act of penance.

Alongside these drastic acts of penance, parades take place with hundreds of thousands of devotees.  Many worshippers, particularly those practicing penance, are in a state of trance. A silver chariot is carried between temples, colourful offerings are made and presented to Murugan statues, and a ceremonial smashing of coconuts is carried out to the beat of drums. This equally intriguing act symbolises the breaking of one’s ego to reveal the purity inside.

Thaipusam penance JPG-68 Mohandas Shyree

Why is it celebrated?

The idea of suffering for a spiritual purpose isn’t something you see every day but devotees come from all walks of life and not simply in the name of Lord Murugan. Many practice these acts as a type of Sadhana, which means the conquering of sins- ego, hatred, anger, lust and greed. Still many more will take part at just one time in their lives; it is thought to bring good luck for a certain event or issue in your life.

When is the Thaipusam Festival?

The festival is celebrated in the Tamil month of Thai, on the day of the full moon. This falls around January and February on the Gregorian calendar and is celebrated on February 9th in 2017. While the festival is only a day, Hindus will fast and restrain themselves from luxury for a full month leading up to the full moon. The coming of Thaipusam is a time for cleansing the mind, body and spirit.

Thaipusam JPG-118 Mohandas ShyreeWho celebrates Thaipusam?

The festival, like most ancient rituals in Asia, has evolved over time and now many non-Hindus take part, Christian, Buddhist and non-believers alike. For their own reasons they practice penance and feel a sense of belonging with this strange and diverse community.

Where is it celebrated?

While Thaipusam is celebrated throughout India and among many Tamil-speaking communities worldwide, it is celebrated with the most fervor in Malaysia.

The most famous Lord Murugan shrine can be found in the magnificent Batu Caves outside of Kuala Lumpur. The imposing 43m gold statue has become an icon of the city and is one of the most important spiritual sites in Malaysia. The festival begins in Kuala Lumpur itself where a century-old silver chariot is pulled through the streets, 16km to the Batu Caves. An incredible 2 million visitors visit the caves during the festival.

You can experience the festival with us in both Penang and Kuala Lumpur by contacting us today. The festival is also popular in the up and coming destination of Ipoh in the Perak region.


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