19 January 2011

Thai Pusam Festival

Thaipusam is an important festival dedicated to Lord Muruga or Kartikeya. Thaipusam 2011 falls on thursday, the 20th January 2011.  Let us learn more about this important Hindu festival and its significance. 

Lord Murugan
Thaipusam [தைப்பூசம்] is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai [January/February]. It is celebrated not only in countries where the Tamil community constitutes a majority, but also in countries where the Tamil community is a minority, such as Singapore and Malaysia. 
The festival is also referred to as Thaipooyam or Thaippooyam[Malayalam: തൈപ്പൂയംTaippūyaṁ]

The word Thaipusam is derived from the month name Thai and Pusam, which refers to a star that is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel [spear] so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. There is a misconception among people that Thaipusam marks Murugan's birthday; however, it is believed that Vaikhasi Vishakam, which falls in the Vaikhasi month [May/June], is Murugan's birthday.

The Legends associated with Thaipusam:

Vel Myth:

Kanda [or Murugan] was created during one of the battles between the Asuras. or to be more specific Surapadman) and the Devas.  At one point, the latter were defeated several times by the former. The Devas were unable to resist the onslaught of the Asura forces. In despair, they approached Shiva and entreated to give them an able leader under whose heroic leadership they might obtain victory over the Asuras. They surrendered themselves completely and prayed to Shiva. Shiva granted their request by creating the mighty warrior, Skanda, out of his own power or Achintya Shakti. He at once assumed leadership of the celestial forces, inspired them and it is belived that Lord Murugan killed the Tarakasuran during the Pusam star of the month Thai. Hence it led to the celebration of Thai Pusam.

This festival is celebrated with much fervor everywhere in Tamilnadu.

People walk in groups the land to Palani with Kavadis to get the darshan of Lord Murugan during Thai pusam.

The curse imparted on Lord Murugan:

Lord Shiva-Parvathi with Murugan
Lord Shiva was providing an important mantra to Parvathi. Lord Murugan eavesdropped this. When mother Parvathi became aware of this, she cursed Lord Murugan. Lord Murugan, realizing his guilt prayed for apology. Parvathi, pleased by this, appeared with Shiva before Lord Murugan and forgave him. The day that Parvathi appeared before Murugan is celebrated as Thai Pusam.

The Cosmic dance:

Cosmic Dance of Lord Shiva

Another legend is that Shiva and Parvathi were involved on a cosmic dance during this period, which led to the celebration of Thai Pusam.

The Kaveri legend:

The Kaveri Legend

River Kaveri fed up with the entire attention river Ganga was receiving, prayed to Lord Vishnu. So Lord Vishnu appeared and blessed her on Thai pusam.


Kavadi Attam is a dance performed by the devotees during the ceremonial worship of Murugan, the Tamil God of War.  It is often performed during the festival of Thaipusam and emphasizes debt bondage. The Kavadi itself is a physical burden through which the devotees implore for help from the God Murugan.

Generally, Hindus take a vow to offer a kavadi to idol for the purpose of tiding over or averting a great calamity. For instance, if the devotee's son is laid up with a fatal disease, he would pray to Shanmuga to grant the boy a lease of life in return for which the devotee would take a vow to dedicate a kavadi to Him


Devotees prepare for the celebration by cleansing themselves through prayer and fasting approx-48 days before Thaipusam. Kavadi-bearers have to perform elaborate ceremonies at the time of assuming the kavadi and at the time of offering it to Murugan. The kavadi-bearer observes celibacy and take only pure, Satvik food, once a day, while continuously thinking of God.
Kavadi Rituals

On the day of the festival, devotees will shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi. At its simplest this may entail carrying a pot of milk, but mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers is also common.

Kavadi Attam
The simplest kavadi is a semicircular decorated canopy supported by a wooden rod that is carried on the shoulders, to the temple. In addition, some have a small spear through their tongue, or a spear through the cheeks. The spear pierced through his tongue or cheeks reminds him constantly of Lord Murugan. It also prevents him from speaking and gives great power of endurance. 


Other types of kavadi involve hooks stuck into the back and either pulled by another walking behind or being hung from a decorated bullock cart or more recently a tractor, with the point of incisions of the hooks varying the level of pain. The greater the pain the more god-earned merit.

Theppam or the Float Festival

Theppam or the Float Festival is celebrated with much zeal and enthusiasm in all the Murugan Temples all over the world.  

Theppam or Float Festival in Kapaleeshwarar Temple,Mylapore
This annual Float Festival called Theppam during Thai Poosam,  in the Kapaleeshwarar tank is held normally for three days starting from Thai PoosamThe East Mada Street throngs with devotees on the three days beginning from Thai poosam. 
Even youngsters gather in large numbers to take a look at the moving theppam. One can find mothers telling stories to their kids and old people in search of serenity etc.  Such is the prevailing atmosphere during this festival. 

The First Day of Theppam Festival

Theppam Festival 
On the first day, Kapaleeswarar and Karpagambal are taken on the float. On the second day, Murugan with Valli Devyanai are taken. The float is constructed on several barrels. Vedic scholars and musicians travel along with the float which goes for three rounds starting after dusk and ending around 9-30 p.m. Here are some images of the second day of 2010. 

The Decorated Float
A Closer View of the Float Festival

The Float  illuminated during Theppam Festival
After a long gap,he temple authorities have taken steps to get the float festival going and the said temple tank is having plenty of water only for the last two years. 

It is said that during the theppam , the lord showers his grace on the aquatic beings through his presence in the water. The presiding deity, Kapaleeshwara is decorated and placed in the float which sails thrice around the tank.  The float is illuminated with bright lamps, and the entire tank sparkle for all the three evenings. It is indeed a wonderful sight for one and all to witness this joyous festival.  


ThaiPusamFestival Crowd in Palani Temple
Devotees in Palani Temple
Pada-Yatra to Palalni Temple for ThaiPusam
In Palani, Tamil Nadu, India, Thousands of devotees flock to Palani and attend kavadi. According to the info,  "The number of kavadis reaching Palani for Thai Pusam is about 10,000. For Pankuni Uttiram, 50,000 kavadis arrive. It is kavadi to your right, kavadi to your left, kavadi in front of you, kavadi behind you, kavadi above you and kavadi below you.

Haripad Subramanyaswamy Temple- ThaiPusam

In Haripad Subramayaswami Temple, Alapuzha, Kerala, is famous for Kavadiyattom. Almost 5000 kavadis coming to the temple from many temples in the locality.

ThaiPusam in Vaikom,Kerala
In Vaikom, Kerala, India,  Thai Pusam festival is conducted with Kaavadis at Udayanapuram Subramanya temple. Devotees take panchamritha kaavadi, paal kaavadi, bhasma kaavadi, etc.

In Karamamana, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India, Thai Pusam festival is conducted at Satyavageeswara temple. The utsava moorthy is taken in procession on a vahanam [mount]. There is nel [Paddy] parai alappu or Nel alavu, as a ritual performed for good luck and prosperity.

Please click on the link to whatch the Video of the Karamana ThaiPusam Festival, Kerala:

In Nallur, Jaffna, Sri Lanka, Thai Pusam festival is conducted at Nallur Kandhasamy Temple. Many Tamil devotees irrespective of religion take part in celebrations. Even Tamils from Roman Catholic faith and Muslims take part in Thai Pusam celebrations and take Kavadis

Outside India

The largest Thai Pusam celebrations take place in Singapore Mauritius, and Malaysia. It is a public holiday throughout the whole Malaysia.

Thai Pusam Festival - Batu Caves, Malaysia
The temple at Batu Caves,  near Kuala Lumpur,  often attracts over one million devotees and tens of thousands of tourists. The procession to the caves starts at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur in the heart of the city and proceeds for 15 kilometers to the caves, an 8-hour journey culminating in a flight of 272 steps to the top. 

Thaipusam in Gunong,Ipoh
Lime-Kavadi-Another form of Worship
Thaipusam is also celebrated at another cave site, the Sri Subramaniar Temple in Gunong Cheroh,Ipoh, Perak  and at the Nattukottai Chettiar Temple along Jalan Waterfall in Penang.  Temple secretary P. Palaiya Sri Subramaniar Temple in Gunong Cheroh reports that about 250,000 devotees participate every year  in this festival, which  includs 300 kavadi bearers, while 15,000 come with milk offerings.

Although rare, scenes of people from different ethnic groups and faiths bearing "kavadi" can also be seen in Malaysia. Thaipusam is also increasingly being celebrated by the ethnic Chinese in Singapore and Malaysia. 

Thai Pusam in Singapore
In Singapore, Hindu devotees start their procession at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple  in the early morning, carrying milk pots as offerings or attaching "Kavadis" to their bodies.  The procession travels for 4 kilometres before finishing at the Tank Road Temple. The devotees are usually accompanied by supporters who cheer to keep their morale high.
Devotees at ThaiPusam,Singapore

Kavadi-PaalKodam in Singapore
This temple is the starting point for devotees during the annual Thaipusam festival. Devotees, their tongues and cheeks pierced by great metal skewers supporting Kavadi [cage-like constructions decorated with wire and peacock feathers], make their way to the Chettiar Hindu Temple on Tank Road in this colourful procession. This is done in gratitude or supplication to Lord Murugan

Kavadi- in Singapore 

" Vel Vel Vetri Vel "

For more info on this year Thai Pusam, you may click on the link below:


magali said...

I discovered your blog yesterday and I love it sooo much. Thank you for giving a chance to understand more about tamil culture. Keep up the good work !

Jolly R said...

Tks Magali for your valued comments.

I will definitely try to give in my best. Keep viewing.

Lalitha Ramachandran

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