What You Need To Know About Thaipusam In Malaysia And How It’s Different This Year

Malaysians will forever be grateful that we live in a multi-diverse country, and because of that, life has blessed us with an abundant number of public holidays.

The thing is, many of us don’t know why some of these public holidays are even observed, and as Malaysians, we should!

Thaipusam is one of these holidays, and the usual huge celebrations held here in Malaysia, sadly, won’t be happening this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

what you need to know about thaipusam in malaysia and how it’s different this year

Photo via Zafigo

The Hindu festival of Thaipusam is the biggest festival for Hindus after Deepavali and is usually observed on the day of the first full moon during the Tamil month of ‘Thai’, namely the 10th month in the Tamil calendar, which falls in late January or February.

It is a time for all Hindus to give thanks and pay penance to one of their Gods, Lord Murugan, a son of Shiva, and to remember the event when Lord Murugan received a holy spear from his mother, Dewi Parvati, to eradicate the evil force, Soorapadman, and bring back peace and prosperity to humankind.

what you need to know about thaipusam in malaysia and how it’s different this year

Photo via Tsem Rinpoche

The festival is rooted in Hindu legend and was brought from southern India by 19th-century immigrants who came to Peninsular Malaysia to work in rubber estates and government offices. 

As a result, Hindu is the fourth largest religion in Malaysia and Hindus now comprise over eight percent of the population.

It was first celebrated at Batu Caves in 1888, and since then, it has become an important expression of cultural and religious identity to Malaysians of Tamil Indian origin.

Devotees prepare themselves for the occasion by cleansing their bodies through fasting and abstinence, and usually observe a vegetarian diet for a certain period of time. 

Many devotees began paying penance a few days before the actual festival, with the carrying of the kavadi (a decorated structure bearing the image of several deities including Lord Murugan) on their shoulders and pal kodum (milk pots) carried above their heads.

what you need to know about thaipusam in malaysia and how it’s different this year

Photo via World Nomads

Some even pierce their body with metal skewers, which is common among male devotees but only occasionally done by female devotees.

Every year, the celebrations are held on a grand scale at Batu Caves, with about a million attendees consisting of not just devotees, but also tourists who see it as a reverential event.

Usually, on the night before Thaipusam, Hindus gather at the Sri Mahamariaman Temple along Jalan Tun HS Lee (Chinatown/Petaling Street area), where they will leave around midnight on a 15-kilometer (approximately 8-hour) walk towards the Batu Caves, where they will arrive the next morning, and climb up the flight of 272 steps to the cave entrance.

Of course, as Malaysia still braves through our third wave of COVID-19, the large-scale Thaipusam celebrations at Batu Caves, and also Penang, will not be held in order to avoid the gathering of such a large crowd.

what you need to know about thaipusam in malaysia and how it’s different this year

Photo via 2CENTS

For the first time ever, the famous silver chariot will make its journey with a limited participation of 10 people, without involving the public.

Hindus have, of course, been urged not to take part in the procession and not to turn up at the Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple on Thaipusam day tomorrow (January 28th), and observe prayers at home.

To all our Hindu readers, have a blessed Thaipusam! Stay safe, people!


by Kyle Roshen Jacob