The word, Thaipūsam

The word Thaipūsam is made up of two words, namely, Thai and Pūsam. Thai is the tenth month of the Tamil calendar. Pūsam is the eighth of the 27 Naktram in Hindu astrology. The month of Thai corresponds to the period between mid-January to mid-February.

Significance of the Naktram, Pūsam, occurring in the month of Thai?

The first thing is that, the asterism that coincides with the full moon day in the month of Thai, is Pūsam. Many Hindu festivals fall on the day when a particular asterism coincides with the full moon day of a Tamil month

The general consensus from the Purānic point of view is that, it is the day when Goddess Pārvathi gave the Vēl, fully charged with divine power, to Lord Murukan. Kanda Purānam says that Lord Śiva Himself brought out the unbeatable magnanimous Vēl and gave it to Murukan.

Incidentally, Thaipūsam happens to be the day when Lord Śiva showed His Divine dance, Ānanda thānḍavam, to the two sages, Pulippāni and Pathañjali, who had been doing penance for a very long time at Chidambaram Temple. All the Devas and sages had the golden opportunity to witness the dance along with the two sages. Lord Śiva is said to have performed the dance on the day when the Naktram, Pūsam, was in the ascendant in the month of Thai; this divine dance is said to have taken place on a Thursday, which is known as Viyāḻakkiḻamai in Tamil. The planet Viyālzan (Jupiter) is also known as Guru.

One line in a popular Tamil kīrtthanai (a kind of composition in classical music) sounds thus: Thai mādhatthil guru pūsatthil pakal nēratthil, nadanamādinār. It means, ‘(He) danced in the afternoon (noon, more specifically) of the Thursday when the asterism, Pūsam, was in the ascendant, in the month of Thai.

Astrologically, Jupiter is the presiding deity of the Naktram, Pūsam. Jupiter is referred to as Nyānakārahan in astrology; this means that Jupiter is the agent (giver) of wisdom, spiritual wisdom, in particular.

The Origin of Kāvadi

When we hear the word Thaipūsam, the first thing that would come to our mind is kāvadi. As is the case with Hindu fasts and festivals, kāvadi also has its legendary reference. Iḍumban was the guru of Sūrapadman and his brothers. When Sūrapadman and his clan were destroyed by Lord Ārumugan, Iḍumban, along with his wife Iḍumbi, decided to lead a spiritual life in the forest (vanavāsam). On the way, near Thirukkuṟṟālam, he met Saint Agathiyar, and requested him to be his guru. Iḍumban was a devotee of Lord Murukan. Being a devotee of Lord Śiva, Devi Uma and Lord Murukan, Agathiyar wanted to bring two mountains from the vicinity of Himalayas (the location is said to be the forests in Thirukkedhāram). The two mountains were known as Śakthigiri and Śivagiri (giri = mountain). Agathiyar wanted to pray to them as Devi Uma and Lord Śiva. Therefore, Agathiyar told Iḍumban that if he could bring the two hills from the forests of Thirukkedhāram, to Podhigai hill, he will be blessed with lots of benefit.

Iḍumban, along with his wife, went northward, and prayed to both the hills, chanting the respective manthras; he used snakes to tie both the hills on either side of a pole and carried the pole on his shoulders.

As Iḍumban approached the place, where the Paḻani hills are situated at present, he placed the mountains on the ground and took some rest. After a while, when Iḍumban tried lifting back the pole, to continue with the carrying of the mountains, he was not able to do so. He found a little boy standing under the shade of a tree on Sakthigiri. Iḍumban asked the boy to move away. As the boy did not bother to move from there, Iḍumban ran up the hill to attack the boy; as he was running up, Iḍumban fell dead.

Iḍumban was brought back to life on the humble request of Iḍumbi and Agathiyar. On realizing that it was Lord Murukan, who had disguised as a little boy, he was overwhelmed with devotion and prostrated at the Lord’s feet.

Iḍumban asked the Lord to grant him two boons. One was that Iḍumban be allowed to be a sentry/guardin of Murukan’s temples; the other was that devotees, bringing their offerings, either as a fulfillment of a vow or as a gesture of devotion, the way he was carrying the two hills, be blessed by Lord Murukan. This is why we see a shrine for Iḍumban along the way to a Murukan temple, especially the one situated up in a cave, and a special poojaa for him after the Thaipūsam celebrations. The special pūjā conveys thanks to him for contributing toward the smooth celebrations of the festival by ‘guarding’ the vicinity.

This is how Kāvadi became a special mode of prayer for Lord Murukan.

Incidentally, the foot of Paḻani Hills is known as Thiruaavinankudi. Lord Murukan had landed at this place, after He left Mount Kailash, when He found that the mango was given to His brother Ganesha, who went round His parents instead of the world. Therefore, it can be inferred that it was Lord Murukan’s plan to get Iḍumban to place the two hills at Paḻani. Lord Murukan is commonly attributed by the statement kuṉṟu irukkum idamellām Muruhaniruppān (Lord Murukan will be present wherever there are mountains); hence, He ensured that He had a mountain residence adjunct to the place Thiruaavinankudi.

The legend given here is found in the Thala Puranam of Palzani. [Refer toāvadi.htm, which has used the book Palani: The Hill Temple of Muruga (Madras, 1975) by Somalay for Arulmigu Dhandayudhapani Swami Temple, Palani, as its source.]

The word Kāvadi bears the meaning ‘a pole for the shoulder with ropes attached for carrying burdens or gifts to a temple etc.’

There seems to be also a practical benefit in taking our offerings, by means of a Kāvadi, to our God who is up on a hill. When we carry our offerings to Lord Murukan who is present in a cave up on a hill, it is relatively easy to do so in the form a Kāvadi, as our hands can be used to hold our clothes or hold on to something as we climb up.

How to observe Thaipūsam?

First, let us see the obligation of a person who is planning to take Kāvadi for Thaipūsam. Usually, those who want to take Kāvadi, will fast for a certain number of days before Thaipūsam. Fast is observed for odd number of days; the number of days can be from 3 up to any number; some will fast for a mandalam (equivalent to 48 days). When we say ‘fast’, it generally denotes a disciplined way of taking vegetarian food. Apart from this, we should also ensure that our words and thoughts are also pure and divine during the period of fast. Special prayers will be conducted by those who fast, especially when people fast as a group under the guidance of a guru.

Apart from the obligations for the Kāvadi-bearers, all of us go to any of the Murukan temples in our traditional attire, and take part in the special prayers. It is best for us to be vegetarian the whole day, and dwell in divine thoughts the whole day.

What is the special boon to be prayed for on the day of Thaipūsam?

We saw above that Thaipūsam is the day, when Vēl was given to Lord Murukan. Vēl is an embodiment of spiritual wisdom. Lord Śiva showed His Cosmic dance to the two sages and other noble beings. We need the ‘eye of wisdom’ to witness the Cosmic dance. The asterism Pūsam has Jupiter (viyāaṉ or guru) as its presiding deity. From all these points of view, it can be seen that the acquisition of spiritual wisdom is inherent in the observation of Thaipūsam. Therefore, let us pray to Lord Murukan to bless us with both materialistic as well as spiritual wisdom on the day of Thaipūsam.

Maip poosum onkan madanallaar maamayilai

Kaip poosu neetRaan kabaaleecchara mamarndhaan

Neyppoosum onpul(z)ukkal nehrilzaiyaar kondaadum

Thaipūsam kaanaadheh poadhiyoh poompaavaay   (2:47:5)

The meaning of the verse, sung by Saint Sambandhar, is ‘(Oh Pūmpāvāi! Should you go without seeing the festival of Thaipūsam, where the ladies, decked with jewels, celebrate along with the offering of sweet rice, filled with ghee, to the Lord, Whose hands are smeared with thirunīṟu, present in the temple of Kabaaleeccharam, where live young girls whose bright eyes are enhanced with the eyetex)’.

Guruvāy varuvāy aruLvāy Guhaṉē!

Prepared by Dr.K.Thilagawathi