A festival occurring in the Tamil month Thai (January-February), the day of the star Pusam around Pournami (Full Moon) is celebrated as ThaiPusam.
It is a special day for worship of Lord Muruga (also known as Subrahmanya or Thendayuthapani) and is celebrated in a very grand manner at all Murugan temples, especially at the 'Aaru Padai Veedu' of Murugan (Six temples in India dedicated to Lord Muruga).
This festival honours Muruga or Subramanya, the son of Shiva.
There are several legends about this festival.
Here are a few of them:
A rich legend lies behind the origins of Thaipusam. Popular narration goes that the great Saint, Agasthya, instructed his student, Idumban to uproot two hills called Sivagiri and Shakthigiri belonging to Lord Murugan and bring it back to him. As commanded, Idumban flew to Mount Kailai Range where the hills rested and picked them up ready to fly back. But alas, Lord Murugan had other plans. He wanted to test Idumban’s mettle and devotion to his master. He reduced his size, to that of a small child and promptly stood atop one of the hills. Suddenly Idumban found that he couldn’t carry the hills anymore. To his bewilderment, a child was standing haughtily on the hill. Idumban humbly requested the boy to get down. When the child refused, Idumban flew into a rage and tried to attack him, only to find himself falling like an injured bird. Lord Murugan then reverted to his original self and appeared before Idumban. "I am pleased with your courage and determination," he said. "Your devotion to your guru is admirable. I now bestow on you the honor of being my guardian" Lord Murugan then proclaimed that henceforth, those who carried kavadis to see him, would receive his blessings. Today, thousands of Hindus carry kavadis as offerings to the Lord during Thaipusam. The kavadis symbolize the hills of burden that Idumban shouldered.
The other version was a demon named Tharakasuran who was troubling the Rishis and Saints. Lord Muruga was called by his parents Lord Shiva and Parvati and given the job of destroying the asuran. Lord Muruga set off with the blessings of his parents, to destroy the demon. He carried twelve weapons, eleven of which were given by his father Lord Shiva and the 'Vel' given by his mother Parvati. Lord Muruga destroyed Tharakasuran on the Pusam Nakshatra day in the Tamil month of Thai and hence Thai Pusam is celebrated in all Murugan temples.
In another legend, that on a Thursday in Thai that also happened to be the day of Pusam star and pournami, Shiva and Parvati were engaged in an ecstatic cosmic dance, as Brahma, Vishnu, Indra and the Devas watched. This indicates that this is a day ideal for worship of Shiva.
According to another legend, as Shiva was imparting a mantra to Parvati, Subrahmanya eavesdropped on them. For that error, Parvati laid a curse on him, in line with the rule that even a son, if erring, must be punished. To be redeemed from her curse, Subrahmanya offered hard penance at Thirupparankundram. Pleased with his penance, Shiva and Parvati manifested before him and lifted the curse. The day on which Parvati's curse on Subrahmanya was lifted was a Thai Pusam. It is thus a special day for worship of Lord Subrahmanya. Yet another legend has it that Kaveri, grieving that she had not secured the eminence acquired by Ganga through her position atop Shiva's locks, sat under a peepul tree on the banks of Sara Pushkarini and offered penance to Narayana. Pleased by her penance, Narayana appeared as a baby in her lap. That day when he manifested thus was, again, a Thai Pusam.
No matter what the legend, the rites that are followed are fairly similar. On Thaipusam day, devotees make offerings to Lord Muruga for eradicating the ills that afflict us. Perhaps the most potent propitiatory rite that a devotee of Shanmukha undertakes to perform is what is known as the Kavadi. The benefits that the devotee gains from offering a Kavadi to the Lord are a million-fold greater than the little pain that he inflicts upon himself.
Generally, people take a vow to offer the Lord a Kavadi for the sake of tiding over a great calamity. Though this might, on the face of it, appear a little mercenary, a moment's reflection will reveal that it contains in it the seed of supreme love of God. The worldly object is achieved, no doubt, and the devotee takes the Kavadi; but after the ceremony he gets so God-intoxicated that his inner spiritual being gets awakened. This is also a method that ultimately leads to the supreme state of devotion.
The Kavadi has various shapes and sizes, from the simple shape of a hawker's storehouse (a wooden stick with two baskets at each end, slung across the shoulder) to the costly palanquin structure, profusely flower-bedecked and decoratively interwoven with peacock feathers. In all cases the Kavadi has a good many brass bells adorning it and announcing it as the Kavadi-bearer draws it along. As the Kavadi-bearer very often observes silence, the bells are the only eloquent signs of a Kavadi procession.
The two baskets hanging at each end of the Kavadi contain rice, milk or other articles that the devotee has vowed to offer the Lord. The more devout among them, and especially those who do it as a Sadhana, collect these articles by begging.
They travel on foot from village to village, and beg from door to door. The villagers offer their articles directly into the basket of the Kavadi. The Kavadi-bearer continues begging until the baskets are full or the avowed quantity is reached, and then offers the Kavadi to the Lord.
Some keen devotees undertake to walk barefoot from home to one of the shrines of Lord Subramanya, bearing the Kavadi all the way and collecting materials for the offering. They have to walk a hundred miles sometimes!
The people who place the articles in the baskets considered to receive Lord's blessings.
The Kavadi-bearer is required to observe various rules between the time he takes up the Kavadi, and the day of the offering. He has to perform elaborate ceremonies at the time of assuming the Kavadi, and at the time of offering it to the Lord. He also puts on the dress of a Pandaram, a Saivite mendicant.
It consists of a saffron-coloured cloth, a conical scarlet cap, and a cane, silver-capped at both ends. Lord Siva, the Supreme Pandaram Himself, loves to wear this dress. The Pandaram lives on alms only. The bare chest of the Kavadi-bearer is covered with several rudraksha malas.
The Kavadi-bearer observes strict celibacy. Only pure, Sattwic food is taken; he abstains from all sorts of intoxicating drinks and drugs. He thinks of God all the time.
Many of the Kavadi-bearers, especially those who do it as a spiritual Sadhana, impose various forms of self-torture. Some pass a sharp little spear through their tongue, which is made to protrude out of the mouth. Others may pass a spear through the cheek. This sort of piercing is done in other parts of the body also. The bearer does not shave; he grows a beard. He eats only once a day. The spear pierced through his tongue or cheek reminds him of the Lord constantly. It also prevents him from speaking. It gives the Kavadi bearer a great power of endurance.
The Kavadi-bearer enjoys a high state of religious fervour. He dances in ecstasy. His very appearance is awe-inspiring; there is divine radiance on his face.
Devotees often experience the state of feeling united with the Lord. Devotees at times feel the Lord enters in to soul of the Kavadi Carrier and and possesses them while carrying Kavadi.
ThaiPusam in Our temple
ThaiPusam is celebrated during the Tamil month of 'Thai' around January/February. On the previous day, the deity Lord Murugan is taken on a city procession in the Silver Chariot to Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar temple at 73 Keong Saik Road and returns in the evening followed by Chettiar Kavadies. This event is popularly called as Punar Pusam or Chetty Pusam in Singapore.
On ThaiPusam day, hundreds of devotees offer prayers either by piercing their body with spikes and lemon, pulling a chariot or carrying Kavadis from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, Serangoon Road. The devotees then offer their prayers and fulfill their vows. The Vel (holy spear) in the sanctum is showered with milk continuously for hours.
Several Chinese devotees and people of other religion and races also fulfill their vows on this day.
Sri Thendayuthapani temple is celebrating this festival in Singapore for more than hundred years. This is also a day in Singapore that attracts thousands of foreign tourists.
Annathanam (Free Food) is provided from 12.30 pm to 4.00 pm on THAIPUSAM day, at the Chettiar Wedding Hall located within the temple premises.