Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (January/February). In Malaysia, the temple at Batu Caves north of Kuala Lumpur attracts over one million devotees, many of them with body piercings that would make a surgeon cringe... (more: see blog post of January 22, 2009 Celebrating Ecstatic Thaipusam).
Georgetown on Penang is a second place where the Tamil community of Malaysia (together with many members of the predominant Malaysian Chinese island community) celebrates this boisterous Hindu festival. Thaipusam commemorates the occasion when Parvati (the Hindu goddess of fertility, love, devotion, strength and power) gave Murugan (the universal granter of wishes) a spear so he could vanquish an evil demon. During the festival devotees pray to Murugan to receive his grace and favors and to make penance. In Penang, on the first day, a pilgrimage procession takes place to bring the statue of Murugan on a silver chariot led by more than 60 kavadis from Georgetown’s Little India to the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple. The chariot is pulled by two decorated bulls and thousands of coconuts are smashed in front of it to cleanse the road. On the second day, Tamil devotees go through a physical endurance of being skewered and pierced on back and front of their bodies as an act of penance. Some have arrows through their tongues and cheeks whilst others carry numbers of small milk pots attached with sharp hooks to their skin. Thunderous loud music, singing, dancing, the beating of drums and playing of devotional songs are the norm during Thaipusam.
"Yes I am, I am also a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, and a Jew."
The kavadi attam (burden dance) is a ceremonial sacrifice and offering practised by Hindu devotees during Thaipusam and emphasizes spiritual debt bondage. The kavadi itself is a physical burden, the bearing of which is used by the devotee to implore Murugan for assistance, usually on behalf of a loved one who is in need of healing, or as a means of balancing a spiritual debt. The devotees process and dance along Georgetown’s Thaipusam route from Little India to the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple while bearing these burdens. The more elaborate kavadi consists of two semicircular pieces of wood or steel which are bent and attached to a cross structure that can be balanced on the shoulders of the male Hindu devotee. It is often decorated with flowers and peacock feathers and can weigh up to 30 kg.
Thaipusam in Penang is not only celebrated by Hindus but also by many members of the Malaysian-Chinese community. The Chinese worshipers and devotees of Murugan celebrate the festival together with the Tamil Malaysians and and do pierce themselves exactly in the same way as the Malaysian Indians do.
More portrait photographs with exif data, geotags and other specs in Matt Hahnewald's