February 17th this year, will see the celebration of a remarkable Hindu festival. The festival of Thaipusam, is celebrated on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai, which occurs in January/February. The word Thaipusam itself is a combination of the name ‘Thai’, and the name of a star, Pusam. It was on this day that Lord Murugan was asked by his parents Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, to vanquish the demon army of Tharakasuran. Lord Murugan set off with the blessings of his parents to destroy the demon. He took with him twelve weapons, eleven of which were given by his father, Lord Shiva, and the Vel or spear, given by his mother, Goddess Parvati. Perhaps the most remarkable aspects of this festival are the austerities undergone by its celebrants. Devotees are known as kavadi-bearers (kavadi means burden). The kavadi-bearers prepare for the celebration by cleansing themselves through prayer and fasting approximately 48 days before Thaipusam. At this time, they observe celibacy and eat Satvik food, once a day, while continuously thinking of God. 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. This can vary from carrying a pot of milk to piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers. Amazingly, the pilgrims who go to these extremes claim that they don't feel any pain because they are in a spiritual and devotional trance, which brings them closer to Lord Murugan. The trance can be induced by chanting, drumming and incense. Later, the wounds are treated with lemon juice and holy ash. This is definitely a case of don’t try this at home!
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