What: A Hindu festival that commemorates the victory of Lord Murugan (also known as Kartikeya), the god of war
When: Since it follows the Tamil lunar calendar, it typically falls between mid-Jan and mid-Feb. In 2024, it’s on Jan 24
Where: Primarily celebrated by the Tamil Hindu communities globally including in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Malaysia, Mauritius, Singapore, Sri Lanka and more
Why: Thaipusam marks the victory of good over evil, and is also believed to celebrate the birth of Lord Murugan
The origin story behind Thaipusam
Once upon a time, there was a demon named Soorapadman. As a result of his long penance to Lord Shiva, he had been granted a boon that no one except Shiva's offspring could either kill or defeat him.
Soorapadman also had two brothers and a sister, who collectively symbolized hatred, greed and arrogance.
One day his sister tried kidnapping Indrarani as a mistress for Soorapadman. (Indrarani was Indra, the King of the God's, wife). She ended up losing an arm in the process, as Indrarani's guard came to her rescue.
Well, being the "good" elder brother, Soorapadman did not take this news well. In retribution, he took all the Gods under his hostage without fear, because of his special invincible power.
Luckily, Soorapadman had forgotten his powers came with a fine print. In the midst of all this chaos, Shiva had a newborn son, Lord Murugan (also popularly known as Karthikeya or Subramaniam) -- who as you guessed it -- was the loophole that was going to save the world from these demonic siblings.
Murugan's mother, Goddess Parvati, sent him to battle with special sphere infused with Shakti, called Vel. It wasn't long before all the Gods were freed from their prison and order was restored in the universe.
But... what happened to Soorapadman?
Soorapadman begged Murugan to spare his glory. In a surprising turn of events, Murugan agreed!
...But under one condition.
Soorapadman would forever be Murugan's vehicle — which is when he assumed the form of a peacock.
- A ceremonial sacrifice in which devotees carry a kavadi (quite literally, a physical “burden”).
- It is often performed as a plea for assistance from Murugan, on behalf of someone in need of healing.
- Devotees carrying the kavadi dance along a pilgrimage route in the hopes of fulfilling their spiritual obligations.
Acts of Penance
Thaipusam is most remembered for the handful of worshippers who pierce their faces and bodies with swords, skewers and hooks. Even walking on coal is sometimes a part of the festival. These acts are claimed to be painless when devotees enter a trance.
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Thaipusam is a popular Tamil festival to commemorate Parvati's gift of the spear to her son, Murugan.
Thaipusam is most remembered for the handful of worshippers who pierce their faces and bodies with swords, skewers and hooks. Even walking on coal is sometimes a part of the festival.
These acts of "self mutilation" are seen as devotion and claimed to be painless. (I'll just take their word for it!)