Penang Thaipusam Kavadi Attam Procession

Penang, Malaysia boasts a multicultural heritage. Additionally, a cornerstone of Penang’s multiculturalism is the large population of Tamil Indians. As a result, annual Hindu festivals such as Thaipusam are important events on the calendar. Indeed, the Thaipusam kavadi attam procession is a central component of the annual Penang Thaipusam Festival.

The Importance of Lord Murugan

The Penang Thaipusam Festival is held in honor of the Hindu deity – Lord Murugan. Lord Murugan is the embodiment of Shiva’s wisdom and he is also the Hindu god of war. Indeed, it was Lord Murugan who Shiva dispatched to defeat the army of evil demons (Asuras) at the behest of the Devas.

Devotees of Lord Murugan perform kavadi attam as a means of absolving sin and gaining his favor. Additionally, they hope to overcome obstacles in their lives and red themselves of impurities.

Lord Murugan statue
Photo of Lord Murugan statue at Batu Caves in Gombak District in State of Selangor, Malaysia.

The Performance of Kavadi Attam

Kavadi Attam means “burden dance”. The kavadi is a physical burden devotees carry to Lord Murugan’s temple. Additionally, the Kavadi can take different forms such as a pail of milk (paal kavadi), bodily skin piercings and also heavy physical loads. Indeed, the kavadi can be significant weighing up to 100 kilograms.

Kavadi Attam Thaipusam

The Thaipusam kavadi procession has graphic attributes such as the skin piercings. However, devotees ardently believe that the skin piercings leave no scars and there is no bleeding from the wounds. Additionally, kavadi attam puts the devotee into a trance. Therefore, they feel no pain and suffering.

Kavadi Attam Thaipusam Penang
Devotee of Lord Murugan performs kavadi attam at Penang Thaipusam Festival.

Preparations for the Kavadi Attam Procession

The preparations devotees make for the Thaipusam kavadi attam procession begin a full 48 days in advance. As a result, they must cleanse themselves of all mental and physical impurities. Also, for the entire 48 days they take only one vegetarian meal per day. Furthermore, the last 24 hour period before they perform the attam requires a complete fast. Additional elements of purification include:

  1. Complete sexual abstinence
  2. No alcohol
  3. Vegetarian food only
  4. Constant prayer
  5. Transcendence of desire
  6. Bath in cold water
  7. Sleep on the floor

The Important Significance of Thaipusam

The Thaipusam meaning is a combination of two Tamil words. “Thai” is the Tamil month of January/February. Additionally, “Pusam” is the name of a star that is of great significance to Hindus. The date of the Thaipusam celebration is significant for two main reasons.

  1. The Thaipusam festival begins on the day the”Pusam” star will be at its apex in the night sky.
  2. This is the day that Parvati (the wife of Shiva) gave the “Vel” (spear) to Lord Murugan to use against the demon army of Asuras.

Destination of Thaipusam Kavadi Attam Procession

In Penang, the magnificent Hindu temple – Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani (Waterfall Temple) – is dedicated to Lord Murugan. Additionally, the temple sits on the side of Penang Hill majestically over looking George Town, Penang. As a result, it is the final destination of the annual Thaipusam kavadi attam procession.

Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani "Waterfall Temple"
View of the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani “Waterfall Temple” on Penang Hill.

Their journey to the Waterfall Temple begins in George Town over 6 kilometers away. As a result, the kavadi carry their burden over 6 kilometers through surging crowds to reach their objective at the top of the stairs.

Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani "Waterfall Temple"
“Waterfall Temple” photo from the top of the stairs.