Thai Pusam is a festival celebrated in the Tamil month Thai (January-February), which occurs on the day of the star Pusam and Pournami (Full Moon) .
It is a highly significant day to worship Lord Muruga, who is also known as Subrahmanya or Thendayuthapani. Thai Pusam is celebrated in a very grand style in all Murugan temples, particularly at the ‘Aaru Padai Veedu’ of Murugan (the six temples in India dedicated to Lord Muruga).
This festival reveres Lord Muruga, the son of Lord Shiva.
There are several legends about this festival.
Here are some of them:
Here is a legend behind the origin of Thaipusam. Agasthya, the great Saint, ordered his disciple Idumban to uproot two hills named Sivagiri and Shakthigiri belonging to Lord Murugan and bring it to him. As ordered by the saint, Idumban flew to Mount Kailai Range where the hills were located. He pulled up the hills and was ready to fly back. However, Lord Murugan decided to test Idumban’s bravery and devotion to his master. The Lord reduced his size to become a small child and stood on the top of one of the hills. Suddenly, the hill became too heavy that Idumban felt that he couldn’t carry the hills anymore. To his confusion, he saw a child standing proudly on the hill. Idumban politely requested the child to get down, but the child refused to do so. Idumban became angry and tried to attack the boy, but was not successful. Lord Murugan then returned to his original form and appeared before Idumban. The Lord was pleased with his courage and determination. Murugan admired his devotion to his guru and bestowed on him the honour of being his guardian. Lord Murugan then declared that from then onwards, those who carried kavadis to see him would receive his blessings. Presently, thousands of Hindu devotees carry kavadis as offerings to Lord Murugan during Thaipusam. The kavadis denote the hills of burden that Idumban had shouldered.
There is another version of the legend. There was a demon named Tharakasuran, who troubled the Rishis and Saints. Lord Shiva and Parvati called their son Lord Muruga and assigned him the duty of destroying the demon. With the blessings of his parents, Lord Muruga set off to destroy the demon. He had with him twelve weapons, of which eleven were given by Lord Shiva and the ‘Vel’ by Goddess Parvati. Lord Muruga killed Tharakasura, which happened to be on the day of Pusam Nakshatra in the month of Thai and since then Thai Pusam is celebrated on that day in all Murugan temples.
As per another legend, on a Thursday in the month of Thai, which coincided with Pusam Nakshatra and pournami, Shiva and Parvati performed an elated cosmic dance, while Brahma, Vishnu, Indra and other gods watched. Hence, this day became auspicious for worship of Lord Shiva.
As per another legend, while Shiva was conveying a mantra to Parvati, Subrahmanya overheard the same. For that mistake, Parvati cursed him, following the rule that even if one’s own son committed a mistake, he must be punished. To relieve her curse, Subrahmanya observed severe penance at Thirupparankundram. Pleased with his penance, Shiva and Parvati appeared before him and removed the curse. This event of relieving Parvati’s curse on Subrahmanya happened on the day of Thai Pusam. Hence it becomes a special day for worship of Lord Subrahmanya.
Yet another legend says that Kaveri became grief-stricken as she felt that she did not have the importance acquired by Ganga through her position above Shiva’s locks. She sat under a peepal tree on the banks of Sara Pushkarini and offered severe penance to Narayana. Pleased by her penance, Narayana appeared as a baby on her lap. It happened, again, on a Thai Pusam.
Whatever be the legend, the rituals followed are mostly similar. On Thaipusam day, devotees perform special offerings to Lord Muruga for eliminating their problems. Kavadi is one of the most powerful and important offering a devotee of Shanmukha undertakes on Thai Pusam. The benefits the devotees achieve from offering a Kavadi to the Lord are definitely a million-fold greater than the negligible pain that he imposes upon himself.
Usually, devotees take an oath to offer a Kavadi to the Lord for the sake of overcoming a difficult situation. Though it may be interpreted as greed, careful thinking will reveal that it denotes the supreme love of God. Other than achieving any material gain, by performing the ritual of taking Kavadi, the inner spiritual being of the devotee becomes awakened. Thus, it is also a method to reach the ultimate state of devotion.
The Kavadi is made in various shapes and sizes. The simple shape involves a wooden rod slung across the shoulder, with two baskets at each end. It can also be a costly palanquin structure, liberally adorned with flower and decoratively intertwined with peacock feathers. Kavadi has a number of small brass bells adorning it, which are the powerful signs of a Kavadi procession.
The two baskets hanging at each end of the Kavadi contain the offerings that the devotee has promised to offer the Lord, which may include rice, milk or other items. The more sincere devotees among them, particularly those who perform it as a Sadhana, collect these offerings by begging.
The devotees travel on foot across the villages and beg from door to door. The villagers put the articles directly into the baskets of the Kavadi. When the baskets are full or the specific quantity is reached, The Kavadi-bearer offers the Kavadi to the Lord.
Many sincere devotees walk barefoot from their home to the shrine of Lord Subramanya, shouldering the Kavadi all the way and begging the articles for the offering. Sometimes they may have to walk hundreds of miles barefoot!
It is believed that the people who place offerings in the baskets of the Kavadi receive Lord’s blessings.
The Kavadi-bearer has to follow some specific rules starting from the time he takes up the Kavadi till the day of the offering. Elaborate ceremonies are to be performed at the time of assuming the Kavadi as well as at the time of offering it to the Lord. He should wear the dress of a Pandaram, a Saivite mendicant.
The dress is usually a saffron-coloured cloth, a conical scarlet cap, and a cane with silver-cap at both ends. It is the favourite dress of Lord Siva, who is regarded himself as the Supreme Pandaram. The Pandaram should live on alms only. The Kavadi-bearer wears several rudraksha malas.
The Kavadi-bearer should observe strict celibacy. He should eat only pure, sattvik food and should be abstained from all sorts of intoxicating drinks and drugs. Every moment he thinks of God.
Most of the Kavadi-bearers, particularly those who take it as a spiritual Sadhana, inflict various forms of self-torture. Some of them pass a small sharp spear through their tongue, which projects out of the mouth. Others pierce a spear through the cheek. Such piercing is done in the other parts of the body also. The Kavadi bearer does not cut his hair or shave. He eats only once a day. They pierce spears through their tongue or cheek which make them always think about God and also prevent them from speaking, thus attaining a great power of endurance.
The Kavadi-bearer experiences great spiritual contentment and he dances in trance with a divine aura encircling around his face.
The devotees feel that they have become united with the Lord and feel that the Lord enters into soul of the Kavadi carrier and possesses them.
Thai Pusam in Sri Thendayuthapani Temple:
Thai Pusam is celebrated in the Tamil month of ‘Thai’ which usually falls in January/ February. On the previous day of Thai Pusam, the deity Lord Murugan is taken on a procession along with the city in the Silver Chariot to Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple at Keong Saik Road. It is then returned in the evening, accompanied by Chettiar Kavadies. This grand event in Singapore is popularly called Punar Pusam or Chetty Pusam.
On the day of Thai Pusam, a large number of devotees offer prayers to the Lord. Many of them pierce their body with spears and lemon, or pull the chariot or carry Kavadis from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple at Serangoon Road. Then they offer their prayers and fulfil their oaths. The Vel (Holy Spear) in the sanctum is continuously showered with milk for several hours.
Several Chinese devotees as well as people belonging to other religion and races also fulfil their oaths on this day.
Sri Thendayuthapani temple has been celebrating this festival in Singapore for more than a hundred years. This is also a significant day in Singapore that attracts thousands of foreign tourists.
On Thai Pusam day, Annadhanam (Free Food) is served from 12.30 pm to 4.00 pm at the Chettiar Wedding Hall located within the temple premises.