Thaipusam is celebrated in the temples of Murugan (also called Subrahmanya, Saravana, Shanmukha, Arumugam, Dandapani, Kanda, and Vadivelan).
Thaipusam festival commemorates the occasion when Parvati Devi gave Murugan a Vel (spear) so he could vanquish the evil demon Surapadman. As believed by some, Thaipusam is not Murugan’s birthday. Vaikhasi Vishakam, which falls in the Vaikhasi month (May/June), is Murugan’s birthday.
Sage Agastya wanted to take two hills — Sivagiri and Saktigiri – to his abode in the South and commissioned his asuran disciple Idumban to carry them. Idumban was one of the very few Asuran survivors of the surāsuran war between Murugan’s forces and those of Surapadman. After surviving the war he had repented and became a devotee of Lord Murugan.
At this stage, Subrahmanya or Muruga had just been outwitted by His brother Ganesa in a contest for going around the world and He was still smarting over the matter. In anger, He vowed to leave His home and family and came down to Tiru Avinankudi at the Adivāram (meaning ‘foot of the Sivagiri Hill’). Later He withdrew to the Palani hill and settled there as a recluse in peace and solitude.
When Idumban resumed his journey, he found that he could not lift the hill. Lord Murugan who wanted to test the determination and devotion of Idumban to his guru, had made it impossible for Idumban to carry it.
Upon the hilltop, the great Asuran spotted a little boy wearing only kaupeenam (loin cloth) and demanded that he vacate at once so Idumban could proceed with his task. The boy, who was yet in a fighting mood, refused. In the fierce battle which ensued, Idumban was slain but was later restored to life.
Idumban belatedly recognised the boy as none other than his Ishtha Devata Murugan and prayed to Him that:
- Whosoever carried on his shoulders the kavadi, signifying the two hills and visited the Palani temple on a vow should be blessed; and
- He should be given the privilege of standing sentinel at the entrance to the hill.
Since then, pilgrims to Palani bring their offerings on their shoulders in a kavadi. The custom has spread from Palani to all Murugan temples.
The Significance of Carrying the Kavadi
- The Kavadi that each devotee carries symbolizes his/her burden like the two hills carried by Idumban.
- It is believed that the burden in the life of a devotee who carries Kavadi is lessened by Murugan.
- Taking Kavadi to Murugan temples during Thaipusam is considered highly auspicious.
The preparations start 48 days (one mandala) before the Thaipusam festival. The devotees purge themselves of all mental and physical impurities by observing austerities such as:
- Control of the senses
- Complete fasting or eating only one simple vegetarian meal or fruits and milk a day.
- Refraining from smoking cigarettes, alcohol or any other intoxicants
- Practice absolute continence
- Bathing in cold water
- Men usually do not shave or cut their hair during this period
- Sleeping on the floor
- Constant or at least morning and evening poojas, prayers, japa, chanting mantras, singing hymns, reading of Sastras and spiritual books and remembrance of Lord Murugan.
On the Thaipusam Eve
- Devotees after completing the 48 days vows, 24 hours before the Thaipusam, must maintain a complete fast. Some may also observe vow of silence. After a purificatory bath, dressed in proper attire, they will walk to the Murugan temple carrying their offerings. As many devotees walk barefoot, sometimes the procession will be long and slow.
- Those who carry a Kavadi or chariot will be accompanied by other devotees, playing the Tavil (Indian drum) and nadaswaram (Indian trumpets). Singing of Tirupugal, Kandar Anubhuti, Kavadi Sindhu and other Murugan devotional songs will create a spiritual atmosphere. Simple chanting of ‘Vel Vel Muruga’ or ‘Kandanukku Arogara’ will create a spiritual mood.
At the Temple
- Male devotees can shave their head and beard as an offering (Kanikai) to Lord Murugan, and take a ritual bath before proceeding to the temple.
- Male devotees can do Ashthanga Namaskaram and Angapradakshina (rolling over the floor).
- Female devotees are not required by the Sastras to shave their head. Therefore, female devotees can restrain from this practice.
- Female devotees can perform Panchanga Namaskaram. The Sastras forbid women to perform Ashthanga Namaskaram and Angapradakshina.
- Kavadi derives from the words ‘kaavu’ and ‘tadi’ which simply means a pole to carry things.
- In olden days, people used to carry things by on their shoulder using a pole of stick, bamboo or sugar cane.
- The Kavadi has various shapes and sizes.
- The simplest Kavadi has a wooden stick with two baskets or pots at each end, slung across the shoulder.
- The bigger and most costly Kavadis has ornate chariots structure, decorated with flowers, peacock feathers, and string of bells.
Types of Kavadi
Theertha/ Panneer Kavadi
Devotee will carry on their shoulder or head a pot of sanctified water or rose water to conduct abhishekam (holy bath) to Lord Murugan.
Pots filled with milk carried over the shoulder for the Abhisegam. The Kavadi also is decorated with peacock feathers and picture of Lord Murugan.
Kavadi decorated with peacock, a picture of Lord Murugan, and other religious symbols.
Pushpa Kavadi is decorated with various flowers and carried over the shoulder.
Often, those who carry the Kavadi will pierce their tongue and cheek with a small spear. The permitted length of the spear is 3 feet.
As a token of gratitude for their prayer for a child, both parents may carry their child in a bundle held by a pole of sugar cane. They can also ceremonial tonsure the child’s head and covet it with sandal paste.
More than the Kavadi, the things brought for offering are important. Items which are traditionally used in Abhishekam should be brought for offering. Care must be taken to ensure that the items for Abhishekam are suitable for Lord Murugan. Some of the easily procurable Abhisheka items are:
- Theertam (holy water),
- panneer (rose water),
- Panchagavyam (milk, curd or yogurt, honey, ghee, and cow’s urine),
- Abhisheka koottu,
- Panchamritam (mixture of five ingredients i.e. fruit, jaggery, ghee, honey and sugar candy),
- lime juice,
- sugar cane juice,
- tender coconut water,
- gingerly oil,
- sweet fruits such as mango, banana, oranges, pomegranate,
- brown sugar,
- Vibhuti, turmeric powder, kumkum, and sandal paste
Chariot Procession or Ratha Utsava
- Procession must be conducted as per the route and time set by the Temple.
- The chariot procession must be conducted along the main roads. Chariots should not go into housing areas or to specific houses.
Permitted Paraphernalia and Symbols
Thaipusam is observed for Lord Murugan. Therefore, the paraphernalia and symbols to be used must be related to Lord Murugan, such as:
- Photos and images of Murugan
- Symbol of Vel or lance
- Peacock feathers
- Symbols of Aum and other Mantras
- Rudraksha Mala
- Flower Garland
Attire and Appearance
- All devotees and visitors must wear proper decent dress. Yellow and orange are the preferable colours for Lord Murugan.
- T-shirt displaying Saravanabhava symbol can be used.
- Kavadi bearers should not dress up like Muneeswaran, Madurai Veeran, Kali, Katteri or other Kaaval Deivam or Kula Deivam.
- For male devotees, it is compulsory to wear the dhoti. Male devotees, who are bearing the Kavadi, should not wear shirt. They can cover their chest with Rudraksha mala. Men also may shave their head and beard before proceeding to the Temple.
- Women who bear the Kavadi must wear saree or Punjabi dress in yellow or orange colour. Women must tie their hair and should not let loose their long hair (or even relatively short hair) while praying at the temple. Women in their menstrual period should not bear any Kavadi or Paal Kudam (milk pot).
- Male devotees can wear the Rudraksha Mala to cover their bare body.
- Devotees can wear the Vibhuti (white holy ash), sandal paste and kumkum as per the Shaivite tradition.
- After completing all the rituals at the temple, the Ratha bearing Lord Muruga will start out from the temple. Once the Ratha’s procession is completed, the devotees can remove the Kaapu.
- Proper dress code for other devotees and visitors
“Udambinai Munnam Izhukkendru Irundhaen
Udambinukku Ullae Uru Porul Kandaen
Udambullae Uththaman Koyil Kondan Endru
Udambinai Yaanirundhu Ombukindraenae”
Meaning, “I first thought the body is a blemish. Then I realised that the Supreme Being exists in my body. In my body, the Supreme Being resides in a temple within. And hence I worship and nurture my physical body”.
(Thirumanthiram verses 725)
- Mortification of flesh is never a part of Vedic ritual or worship of Lord Murugan. The following practices are not a part of Thaipusam:
- Body piercing to pull the kavadi or chariot.
- Kavadi of durian, chillies, bottles, gory objects, knife, parang, and other weapons, chariots and flying kavadi
- Sword, trident, pole, whip, parang and any other kind of weapons.
- Red kumkum smeared over the body, face or tongue
- Cigar, cigarattes, vapes, liquor or any other intoxicants.
- T-shirts of improper/indecent images/texts.
- Black or dark colours are considered inauspicious are not acceptable in Murugan worship.
- Dressing in black as Kaliamman
- Carrying fire pots and walking on fire bed
- Drinking intoxicants and smoking cigar or cigarettes.
Paraphernalia and Symbols Which Are Not Permitted:
- Symbols of a gang or an organization, numbers, swastika, or other religions or faiths.
- Symbols of other deities such as Kali, Durga, Siva, Vishnu, Ganesha and all demigods.
- Playing musical instruments such as udukai (small drum held in hand), modern drum and guitars and signing of cinema/pop/rap songs are not allowed.
- Only devotional songs should be played in the Thanneer Pandal. Gathering, singing or dancing in front of a thanneer pandal is prohibited.
- All secular activities such as pop/rap music and dance, gambling, gang fight, and fun fair are not allowed within the temple premises and surrounding areas.
- Sales and consumption of all kinds of alcohol, drug, cigarettes, and non-vegetarian food are prohibited in the temple premises and surrounding areas.
- The custom of breaking the coconuts during the chariot procession is not a part of Murugan worship.
- Smelly fruits like durian and jackfruit, meat, chicken, blood and cooked food are not permitted in the Temple.
- Wearing sexy saree blouse, attire, shorts and miniskirts.
- All devotees and visitors are required to respect Thaipusam as a religious festival. Frivolity, public display of affection, gangsterism, quarreling, fighting, touting, gambling, abuse of the substance, and other acts of nuisance and crime are prohibited in the Temple and surrounding areas.
- Those violating the stipulations in this guideline can be stopped from entering the temple premises and proper action shall be taken.