on Monday, February 09, 2009

This post is a follow on from the last post on the topic of body scars.

This year, the 9th of February so happens to be Thaipusam which is a very special Hindu festival which is especially celebrated by the Tamil peoples throughout the world. It is celebrated on the full moon during the Tamil month of Thai. Pusam refers to a star that reaches its highest elevation in the sky during the festival. The festival honours the birthday of the Lord Murugam and his acquisition of the spear that would enable him to triumph over the evil demon Soorapadman.

Today, the festival has been celebrated in India and nearly every other part of the world where there is a sizeable Tamil community. There are major celebrations in Malaysia and in Singapore. The main site of the celebration in Kuala Lumpur is at the massive limestone outcrop called Batu Caves where today, more than 1.3 million devotees and tourists converged.

One major component of the festival is the carrying of the kavadi. Devotees who have asked favours from or prayed to the Lord Murugam often make pledges to carry the kavadi. The simplest form of the kavadi is a semi-circular frame with a wooden rod which is placed across the shoulders of the devotee. Other forms include piercing the skin and supporting the kavadi with metal spokes or spears. Another variant involves using hooks embedded into the skin to carry heavy objects or to pull a chariot. Other devotees may pass a skewer through their cheeks. Basically, the more pain you endure, the more merit you score.

Kavadi Carrier, Thaipusam Festival, Penang

However, devotees go through a strict purification ritual which includes prayers and specific diets. Special powders are applied and prayers chanted. As a result, most devotees enter a trance-like state where they seem to feel no pain from their self-inflicted wounds.

Dude, do you know you have a bunch of hooks in your back?

These kavadis may be carried along a procession route but in Kuala lumpur, they end up at Batu Caves where they will be carrried up these 272 steps leading to the cave temple complex.

its a long way up, imagine doing this with the spiked kavadi for thaipusam

Another aspect which is very much identified with the festival is the smashing of coconuts as offerings after their prayers. This results in a sea of smashed coconuts which is entusiastically welcomed by resident monkeys but less so by the cleaning crews the next day.

Smashing the coconut

This squirrel has been to Batu Caves a number of times and it certainly worth a visit if you are ever in Kuala Lumpur. However, this squirrel is also smart enough not to be there in the mad crush of 1.3 million people in the equatorial heat and humidity.

That is all for now from this squirrel, reporting from a safe and comfortable distance from the Batu Caves.


Gledwood said...

I travelled overnight from Goa via Bangalore to Chennai/Madras (home of the famous Chicken Madras curry!! though I looked and could find NOWHERE selling it!!!!)... I did all this purely because I was so fascinated by the mysterious Dravidian Tamils...

now on the subject of human-spearing if I atempted to spear myself through the tongue: first it wouldn't go in, then it would bleed horribly everywhere and I'd get my aim wrong and slice my tongue half in half... then it would fail to heal and turn into a worm-hole coughing maggots with every word I said... what on earth these people do for aftercare I'd LOVE to know...

hey Lonegrey I was under the impression you were Christian, no..?...?? said...

Just as well for squirrel to stay away from so many feet.

Ruth W. said...

you are a very wise squirrel indeed.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

It seems like my last couple of posts (including "Emergency Exits") caused you some confusion. Thats because you are super observant but I did not intend to play with your mind intentionally. In this case, you are right that I am a Christian. However, I live in a multiracial country and it is quite normal to learn about and to share about other people's religious beliefs.
Religious tolerance is something that is important in Malaysia although even that has been strained from time to time.

I am amazed about your tongue piercing episode. You didn't try to pierce it yourself, did you? I am no expert but as part of the ceremony, some "holy ash" is placed on the body where the hooks or spears will later enter. There may be something in the ash or in combination of going into a trance like state so that many report little or no bleeding or pain. After the hooks come out, another applicatuion of "holy ash" is done which may continue to limit the bleeding and infection. I have no information on tongue piercing though. What an experience you must have had! Not one you will repeat anytime soon, I wager. :)

Anonymous said...

Isn't it astounding what humans do to please their Gods? The body as a kind of instrument. It goes over all religions, think of some Muslim rituals and the Christian flagellants.

geewits said...


the walking man said...

While I understand some of the other qualities of pain, spurring of gratitude to be without it for example, I was never able to suss out why to some it is a purifying essence.

jmb said...

I'm afraid I never understood mortification of the flesh, as this is probably called even though they are Hindus. I can't believe that it would be something required by the god of any religion.

Luckily it has disappeared from Christianity on the whole.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Absolutely! 2.6 million feet is no place for a small squirrel.

Not really wise but apart from the risk of being stepped on and squashed, can you imagine the smell of 2.6 million feet?

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I like the body that God gave me and wouldn't want it punched full of holes but then I am also a coward.

My thoughts precisely.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

It has to do with the concept of crime and punishment, I think. Modern world does something similar. WHen something goes wrong, they bash (not themselves) but someone else.

When you think about it, that's what did Jesus did for all of us.

tsduff said...

ouch ouch ouch all the way around looking at those pictures. Pretty interesting though! In sympathy with Gledwood, I self pierced my own ears... my experience turned out much better than his.

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