Thaipusam, an annual Hindu festival that falls between mid January and mid February, is one of the most popular festivals in Malaysia. The Thaipusam Festival is a day when Hindus go through self-punishment with no visible sign of pain in order to ask for the blessings of Lord Murugan and the day is usually preceded by weeks of rigorous abstinence. On this day of thanksgiving and penance, devotees spear their cheeks with steel rods and pierce their body with small needles.
The most popular legend about the festival of Thaipusam is that it is celebrated to pay homage to the day when goddess Parvathi, the consort of the Hindu God Shiva, gave a lance to her son, Murugan, in order to destroy all the demons of the world. If you travel to Malaysia at the time of the festival, you must visit the Batu Caves Temple in Kuala Lumpur where Malays celebrate this day with a lot of pomp and ceremony. A carnival-like atmosphere can be seen in the city where a large procession in which a chariot bearing an image of Lord Murugan, accompanied by drums and music, is taken out from Sri Mahamariaman Temple in downtown Kuala Lumpur to Batu Caves. While in Penang Island the traditional six pairs of bulls draw the chariot, in Kuala Lumpur the chariot is drawn by a motorized vehicle due to excessive protest by animal rights activists. A lot of Malaysians carry pots of milk to pour over the lance and some shave their heads in humility and atonement. Many people eat only vegetarian food for 40 days after Thaipusam celebrations and avoid all worldly comforts during this period.
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