|January 26, 2013 | Asia, Photos By J.Yuenger, Travels

Penang, Malaysia.  Thaipusam ( Tamil: தைப்பூசம்  ) is a Hindu festival celebrated by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai ( January / February). It is not only observed in countries where the Tamil community constitutes a majority, but also in countries where Tamil communities are smaller, such as Malaysia. “

” The word Thaipusam is a combination of the name of the month, Thai, and the name of a star, Pusam. This particular star is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel ( spear or javelin ) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. “

” On the day of the festival, devotees will shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi ( burdens ). At its simplest this may entail carrying a pot of milk, but mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with “ vel “ skewers is also common. “

” The simplest kavadi is a semicircular decorated canopy supported by a wooden rod that is carried on the shoulders, to the temple. In addition, some have a small spear through their tongue, or a spear through the cheeks. The spear pierced through the tongue or cheeks reminds the devotee constantly of Lord Murugan. It also prevents him from speaking and gives great power of endurance. Other types of kavadi involve hooks stuck into the back and either pulled by another walking behind or being hung from a decorated bullock cart or more recently a tractor, with the point of incisions of the hooks varying the level of pain. “

” In Malaysia, the temple at Batu Caves, near Kuala Lumpur, often attracts over one million devotees. The procession to the caves starts at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in Kuala Lumpur and proceeds for 15 kilometers to the caves, an 8-hour journey culminating in a flight of 272 steps to the top. Thaipusam is also celebrated at Arulmigu Sri Balathandayuthapani Temple along Jalan Waterfall in Penang. “