For Thaipusam I opt for simple scenes in a quiet location. I choose to avoid the sensationalised circus at Waterfall Temple. I enjoy a quiet Thaipusam in Georgetown Penang watching intimate family gatherings at Little India’s Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple. Throughout the day small gatherings and ceremonies take place in front of the temple before a coconut is smashed and the Kavadi is carried to the crowds on the Thaipusam pilgrimage to Waterfall Temple.
A kavadi is a piece of wood or steel shaped in a half circle and decorated with flowers and peacock feathers. It is held on the shoulders of the Hindu devout who carries it as an act of ‘penance and fulfilment of a vow’. The devotee treks 5 miles with the Kavadi on his shoulder until he arrives at Waterfall Temple.
The Vel Kavadi
To outsiders Vel Kavadi may look like a game of dares gone wrong. An extreme ceremony of physical endurance. Here the Kavadi is attached to the body of the devotee using 108 ‘vels’ or spears which pierce the skin. In a trance-like state devotees (apparently) do not feel pain, bleed or remain with scars. Other forms of physical endurance include piercing cheeks, tongue, and skin of the body with hooks and Vel skewers. Piercings are made at the beginning of the pilgrimage and are removed at the finish line at Waterfall Temple.
Kuan Yin Temple
Ceremonies on Thaipusam are practised by other religions ( Full Moon). In the nearby Chinese Kuan Yin Temple (aka Goddess of Mercy Temple) I find crowds, merit making and dancing dragons.