Thaipusam or Thaipoosam is a Hindu festival celebrated mainly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of ‘Thai’. It is mainly observed in countries where there is a significant presence of the Tamil community, like India, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Mauritius. The word Thaipusam is a combination of the name of the month, Thai, and the name of a star, Poosam. This particular star reaches its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan (Karthikeya) a Vel (spear), so that he could kill the demon Soorapadman with it.
As in other countries, every year over a million of Hindu devotees gather at various temples of Malaysia to celebrate Thaipusam. The celebrations take place on a grand scale at the Sri Subramaniyam Swamy (Karthikeya) Temple, located in Batu Caves, just outside of Kuala Lumpur. Devotees prepare themselves for the occasion by sanctifying their bodies and souls through fasting and abstinence. Usually they also observe a vegetarian diet for a certain period of time. The night before Thaipusam, they start from the Sri Mahamariaman Temple along Jalan Tun HS Lee at around midnight on a 15 kilometer walk towards the Batu Caves and reach the cave in the next morning. The long trip culminates in the flight of 272 steps to the cave entrance. Some devotees carry heavy ornate structures called Kavadis, as they walked up 272 steps to the temple.
One of the horrible aspects that make Thaipusam so interesting is the way the devotees pay penance to Lord Murugan. They do this with painful piercing around the body, including the tongue and the cheeks. Over time, the rituals have become more dramatic, colorful, and bloody, with spears and hooks pierced through the chests and faces – some devotees even pull large wagons with ropes attached to their bloody backs, while some hang with multiple hooks pierced in their backs.