Decades ago I saw something on TV, maybe “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” or maybe “In Search Of” about a very unusual religious celebration somewhere in the world. And here we are half way around the world from the east coast of the U.S. to see it for real.
No one seems to know exactly how many Hindu gods there are, but apparently there are at least 300. However, “According to legend, Parvati (the Hindu goddess of fertility, love, devotion, divine strength and power) gave Murugan (the universal granter of wishes) a spear – the vel, so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. This is why during Thaipusam, devotees pray to Murugan to receive his grace and favors and to make penance.” I have been told, the more painful one can make the 5K walk from the city in Penang to the base of the local temple, then climb the approx. 550 stairs to the temple prayer room, then Murugan will show greater favor in forgiving the years past transgressions or will grant greater favors into the coming year. Cows milk has a big part to do with the celebration. The minimum amount of exertion requires one to carry about 2 liters of milk on their head for the duration of the trek. The marcher can sit down to rest but if they take the milk jug off their head at any time, they have to start all over again. This is a three day event. On day one, people break open coconuts on the street which has something to do with breaking away your bad traits and make room for a better year ahead. On the same day several large “chariots” make their way past the coconut shards giving blessing to plates of offerings from the crowds. Day two is when serious marchers make the trek to the “Waterfall Temple”. Day three is a wrap-up when remaining devotees return to the city and get back to work or heal from their exertion. On the next blog entry before this one, you can see some amazing video Rebecca took with her cell phone!
I am not going to resize these images as anytime I do, on this blog site, they become distorted or just don’t open properly when viewed.
When piercing, each devotee has a team of family or friends who hooks him up and feeds water to him and stays close by during the day. Rebecca said she did see only one woman pierced….she had a single spear through her cheeks.
I call him “Shell Man”. I saw him at Thaipusam 2017. This year I watched for the duration of his pinup. He stood motionless, never wincing or making a sound. There are hundreds of hooks holding individual shells….but that was only the beginning. I took pictures of him at the end of the day when he arrived nside the temple near Murugdon.
After getting a lot of piercings, I saw only one guy pass out. He had a lot of wounds from previous Thaipusams so even though he was experienced, this was just not a good day for him.
Ehawww, lots of fun dancing around with a few pounds of tin ornaments hanging onto your skin with a couple hundred fish like, hooks. Certainly none of these guys need that “mosquito bite” when they go to the dentist to have a tooth pulled!
The marcher on the left does not look too healthy. Some people don’t make the long trek in the 85 degree Fahrenheit, intense sun on hot pavement, barefoot! With hooks in the back and reins attached, some guys are tied to a worship “chariot” but the chariot is really motorized and steered by an attendant. Maybe long ago they were manpowered.
The cleanup of all the coconuts includes scraping them up with a small front-end loader, all to make way for the chariots and carts.
There is a lot of free vegetarian food, like curried rice with tofu, free water and fruit drinks….and milk. Milk plays a big part in a Hindu celebration.
Another who was having not the most energetic day. He looked pretty worn early in the march. All these extreme devotees have family and friends who are their helpers and motivators who often yell chants in their ear to keep them moving. “I jus wanna go tha distance!” Certainly Rocky Balboa would have a difficult time on this march.
Plates of incense and food offerings are blessed by the religious men on the chariots then returned to the devotee.
Cows milk is in the jugs carried on the head. They can sit down but cannot remove the jugs from their head till the jug is handed to the milk pourer inside the temple, which is far away, or they must start the march all over.
To stay in the good graces of Mundugan, the trek must be completed barefoot. There are large water trucks that spread water to cool the asphalt in some areas. In front of shops, some owners will drag out a hose to cool the pavement in front of their store. At the top of the long stairs to the temple, the crowd is set into 3 lines. One line is for non worshipers. Entering the temple, you can see two large statues who are helpers to Murugan, who is straight ahead in a little enclave where attendants pour milk over his head…..wait till you see him!!
Handing a milk container to an attendant, it gets poured into a large vat. From there, the milk is passed on to another person who pours it over the head of Mundugan. Shell man made it! He was very wobbly but certainly one very tough dude. I watched as Shell Man was unhooked. He stood for the whole process. When he opened his eyes slightly and met mine, I gave him a thumbs up and said “Good job!” He softly blinked at me saying “Thank you.” then closed them again.
The solid black statue of Mundugan is half the size of a normal human but carries a lot of influence. All the milk gets poured over his head and runs down to a catchment system. Some of the milk is served into plastic cups for anyone to drink.