Thaipusam is celebrated by devotees of Lord Murugan to
mark his victory over the asura (demon) Soorapadman. It was on this day that
Murugan’s mother Devi Parvathi gave him a ‘Vel’, a divine spear to defeat
Thaipusam is observed with great fervour by Tamil people living in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, Indonesia, Australia, Myanmar and South Africa. This day falls in the Tamil month of Thai, corresponding with the Pournami (full moon) and the Pushya star.
Legend has it that the asuras Soorapadman, Tharakasuran and Singamukhan acquired great powers due to a boon granted by Lord Shiva. Soon enough, they began tormenting the devas (gods). The devas pled to Shiva to put an end to the asuras. Shiva released six flames from this third eye which took the form of six babies after Agni (the god of fire) took them to the Saravana Lake. These six babies were raised by six Karthika maidens. They were trained in warfare. Parvati merged them into one person and bestowed them the strength, energy and wisdom of six.
When it was time to vanquish the asuras, Parvati gave a ‘Vel’ to Murugan in Pazhani, one of the six abodes of the Lord. Thiruchendur, his other abode, is said to be the site of the battle between Murugan and the demons.
Kavadi is the main highlight of this festival. It is a semi-circular canopy held by a wooden rod. Devotees carry the Kavadi on their shoulders all the way to a Murugan temple. Some people even embark on ‘Padayatra’, a barefoot pilgrimage, from their homes to Pazhani. Padayatras can take over seven days to complete.
Many people also undertake fasting, shave their heads, pierce their cheeks or tongue with ‘Vel’ skewers and carry a pot of milk to the destination. In Singapore and Malaysia’s Penang and Batu Caves, even the Chinese and Malay devotees of Murugan undertake such austerities to seek his blessings.