Are you thinking of getting another ring in your ear, nose or belly button? Check out these pictures from the Thaipusan festival (3 days, 1 million people) and see piercings that have been taken to the extreme. Though they say that nothing can disfigure a beautiful face, don’t try this at home.
The Thaipusam is an old Hindu festival that has gained popularity in the western world because of the lengths its followers go through to prove their religious devotion. It is celebrated annually on the full moon of the month of Thai according to the Hindu calendar (usually in January or February); therefore Thaipusam 2009 will fall on 8th February. The festival is observed mostly by the Tamils in South India, but there are big celebrations among the Tamil communities worldwide. The most well-known ones are in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore that draw a million devotees and tourists each year.
The festival celebrates both the birthday of Lord Murugan (also called Lord Subramaniam) and his victory over the evil demon Soorapadman by stabbing him with a spear. Therefore the spear is a common symbol during the Thaipusam, usually pierced horizontally through the sides of a devotee’s mouth and vertically through the tongue.
The spears used can be up to one metre long, making turing around a bit dodgy. The significance of piercing the metal rod through the mouth for the devotee is denouncing the gift of speech temporarily and channeling one’s energy toward God. Preparations for the festival include silence, prayers, fasting and abstinence.
As some of the images show, more is more. Lord Subramaniam is the universal granter of wishes but if a devotee’s wish has been granted (or he or she wants to repent for past sins), then a vow has to be fulfilled in return, namely to participate in the Thaipusam by carrying a ‘burden’ (kavadi). Not honoring the vow is considered bad luck. The burden can manifest itself in various forms but a common practice is to carry them in little silver pots, each ‘burden’ tethered or hooked to the body.
The man pictured in the first image has chosen the weightiest kavadi there is – a heavy and heavily decorated portable altar that is hooked into the flesh by dozens of metal rods. It weighs around 15 kg, and given that devotees have to walk from one temple to the next, often for kilometers, this task alone would be taxing enough.
This picture shows that hooked into the flesh means hooked into the flesh! The devotee is able to endure the pain because he is put into a trance by a swami (a yogi or guru). Just watching can be quite the experience and many a bystander has found himself in a trance as well! Apart from feeling no pain, no blood is shed and no scars will remain.
Some devotees pull carts with the hooks on their backs and really strain themselves. But all kavadi bearers have a whole following of family and friends around who will help them each step of the way.
The swastika is an ancient sign that was first used in Neolithic India, that’s around 7000 BC! The name comes from Sanskrit svastika, literally meaning ‘something associated with well-being’, or what we would call a lucky charm. It is a sacred symbol for more than one billion religious followers worldwide, namely for Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and others.
Children participate and carry burdens as well – though only small ones like this common one, a pot of milk. Many devotees also shave their heads as penance. Thaipusam is not only a family and community festival but also proves how ancient festivals are a normal part of life because, come Monday morning, it’s business as usual.
We’ll even throw in a free album.