What Is Thaipusam?

An Introduction to the Hindu Festival Honoring Lord Murgan

Thaipusam
••• A devotee with pierced face carries an offering to Lord Murgan. HooLengSion / Creative Commons

Lots of people have seen images of devotees fearlessly piercing their faces during one of India's largest festivals, but exactly what is Thaipusam?

What to Expect During Thaipusam?

Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrating Lord Murgan, the Tamil god of war. Contrary to widespread belief, Thaipusam is not meant to be Lord Murgan's birthday, but rather a day to celebrate his gift of a spear from Parvati.

Shouts of 'vel!' (spear) fill the air as thousands of devotees form large, chaotic, noisy processions and march from temples to worship areas. Thaipusam is most famous for the handful of worshipers who pierce their faces and bodies with swords, skewers, and hooks. Heavy, artistic shrines known as kavadis are attached to volunteers with piercings and then carried through the crowd. Other worshipers carry pots of milk as offerings to Lord Murgan.

Unbelievably, the worshipers who pierce their tongues, cheeks, and faces with sharp objects hardly bleed and report feeling very little pain!

  • Read more about the purpose of celebrating Thaipusam.

Where Is Thaipusam Celebrated?

Don't assume that you have to be in India to see Thaipusam. The festival is celebrated in India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, Mauritius, and pretty much anywhere that there is a sizable Tamil community.

In Southeast Asia, you'll find the largest Thaipusam celebrations in Malaysia and Singapore. Every year over a million devotees flock to the Batu Caves just outside of Kuala Lumpur.

Penang is another popular place in Malaysia to enjoy Thaipusam.

  • See more about Thaipusam in Southeast Asia.

Observing Thaipusam

If you want to witness a Thaipusam celebration, plan well ahead; transportation and accommodation will be booked solid in festival hotspots.

Remember, you're just a visitor, and getting good photos should not be disruptive or distracting for worshipers and devotees.

Stay well out of the way of processions and show respect for the religious significance of the festival. Keep an eye on belongings when pushing through the chaotic throngs gathered in the streets.

When Is Thaipusam?

Thaipusam falls on the day of the full moon during the Tamil month of Thai. Dates change from year to year, however, the celebration always takes place in either January or February.

  • 2013: January 27 or 28
  • 2014: January 17
  • 2015: February 3 or 4
  • 2016: January 24
  • 2017: February 10