Friday, January 28, 2011

Thaipusam - a colorful festival

Thaipusam is known as one of the most colorful festivals in Malaysia, and it is truly a festival filled with colors.
Like all festivals, Thaipusam is also a celebration of the triumph of good over evil.

Thaipusam is a festival of Hindu origins; and commemmorates the victory of the Lord Murugan over the evil demons following the granting of a vel (which is a spear) by the Goddess Parvati.
It is also believed that the Lord Murugan is also known as the God of War, and He was created by the Lord Shiva who granted the request of the Devas during their battle with the Asuras. As the Devas could not defeat the might of the Asuras, they prayed for Lord Shiva's help and He created Skanda or also known as Murugan or Achintya Shakti to defeat the Asuras.
Of course, the Lord Murugan indeed emerged victorious in the battle.

It is to celebrate this occasion that Thaipusam was regarded as such an important festival among the Tamil communities around the world.
The festival is widely celebrated among the Tamil communities in India, and outside India in places like Mauritius, Malaysia and Singapore.

In Malaysia, Thaipusam is a public holiday declared in most states such as Penang, Selangor, Perak, Johor, Negeri Sembilan, Kuala Lumpur and also the new Federal Territory of Putrajaya.
Celebrations are grand and popular particularly in the states of Selangor, where Batu Caves is and also in Penang and Perak.

Thaipusam falls on a full month in the 10th month of Thai in the Tamil calendar and the word Thaipusam is derived from the month name Thai, and the star at its highest point, Pusam.

During the festival, there will roads which will be blocked in Penang, which are cleared for the journey of the devotees bearing kavadis to the holy temple of Nattukottai Chettiar Temple along the Waterfall Road in Penang.
In Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, the journey starts from the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in KL to the famous Batu Caves temple in Selangor.

Last year in 2010, I decided to make a trip to witness the celebrations of Thaipusam in Penang as it was one of the states popular for the grand and large scale celebrations.
In fact, even the local Chinese community partake in the celebrations of Thaipusam.

The celebrations start from the early hours in the morning, where faithful devotees are already spotted making their way towards the temple; dressed in elaborate attires in respect for the honourable festival.
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It is not uncommon to spot devout devotees bearing Kavadis in different forms as they make their offerings to the Lord Murugan.
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Kavadis are associated with debts bondages; and originated from the Kavadi attam dance which is performed as a form of worship to the God of War, Lord Murugan by the religious believers.
The Kavadi is also a form of burden to be imposed on the devotees physically as they seek the help of the Lord Murugan.

Before one can bear the Kavadi, there are several rules to be observed by the devotee.
For instance, the devotee would have to prepare himself/herself through spiritual cleansing by fasting and praying for 48 days. The fasting also means the person has to give up all forms of luxuries in life and to focus his/her thoughts only on God.
It is only through this way that the person can bear the kavadi to show his/her sincerity.

Kavadi come in different forms; and the bearer would have to select one form of kavadi (burden) on the day of Thaipusam while taking on the pilgrimage along the journey (the route has been set) bearing the kavadi.

The simplest form of the kavadi is the carrying of a pot of milk

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This is commonly spotted among the devotees who held a pot of milk on top of their heads as they made their way towards the temple.

Another form of kavadi would be a semicircular decorated canopy supported by a wooden rod and to be carried by the devotees upon their shoulders(source from Wikipedia)
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The most common and popular form is the piercing, or also known as the mortification of flesh.
The spears or vel would be pierced through the flesh through the tongue, cheeks or some on their back.

Those on the tongue or cheeks are to prevent the devotee from speaking and to focus on the Lord Murugan and his powers. It is also a test of endurance.

Another form of kavadi would be the sticking of the hooks on the back of the devotee and then being pulled by strings attached to vehicles or another walking person with each incision on the back to indicate the level of pain.
It is believed that the merits earned from the gods and Lord Murugan would increase accordingly to the increase of the level of pain from the back.
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It is often a mystery, particularly to the foreign tourists as there were no blood shed nor do the devotees scream of pain during the bearing of the kavadi and they could usually succeed making their pilgrimage all the way to the temple.

This is often associated with the strong faith and belief among the devotees.
It is believed that you need to be truly devout and faithful in order to complete this task as the devotees and the kavadi bearers have to follow the earlier preparation of fasting and prayer before bearing the kavadi.
During the bearing of the kavadi which includes the piercing, the devotees have gone into a trance and this is believed to be the blessings and protection by the great Lord Murugan.
Therefore, this is not a matter of science, but more of religious faith.

It is not a surprise to spot Chinese believers making their way to pray to Lord Murugan as well.
Ah, such is the faith of the believer, bless them!

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Jalan Utama leading all the way to Waterfall road in Penang is the main road blocked for the worship and pilgrimage journey of the devotees and preparations would start a few days earlier.

There were several booths set up and were elaborately decorated; sponsored by the various local and multinational companies in the state.
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The whole road would also be lined with stalls by eager patrons selling food and drinks and ornaments to the pilgrims
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It is truly an elaborate festival and attracted crowds from not just the locals and the Hindu devotees in the states, but also tourists from near and afar.
In fact the place would be really crowded and some devotees would even camp near the temple!
It is indeed a touching sight indeed, and I even spotted the little children having their meals by the roadside while waiting for their elders, maybe?
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The celebrations would usually cease by noon; with all the devotees completing their rituals and prayers and the devotees would usually cooperate to clean up the road to ensure traffic returns to normal.

I was truly touched by the amazing festivities and worship of the devotees during Thaipusam and I feel blessed to be in a country where all races and religions could learn from each other.

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It is indeed a magnificent sight indeed and it is great to know of the existence of such great faith in this contemporary age whereby everything is dictated by science.

Faith is a mystical thing, and it brings comfort and peace to all those who believe.
All of us believe in our religion and we are taught to do good, no matter what religion we believe in.

Blessed are those who believe!

The True Meaning of Christmas

December 25th every year is observed worldwide as Christmas Day, and come December, you would be hearing Christmas songs/carols being played everywhere, especially in public shopping malls and decorations would be strung across the walls and on the streets, lighting up the pathways wherever shoppers are.

It may have started out as a Christian festival/holiday, but the cheer of Christmas season have spread throughout the globe, whereby everyone would be decked with boughs of hollies and laughter whenever December looms near.
Shopping malls would be filled with busy shoppers looking for that perfect gift for their loved ones and decorations for their homes as they look forward to the cheerful festive season.

You may say that the festivity have been portrayed as one of a joyous and merry celebration from the media; televisions showing our Western counterpart's scale of celebration and making it look so much fun and glamourous. Christmas has always been associated with parties as it is all about having fun and celebrating as well.
In short, December is not just a month anticipated for the year end and bonuses, but also the sales and shopping for Christmas season.

However, amidst all the busy preparations and excitement surrounding the arrival of Christmas, how many of these people celebrating Christmas around the world truly know what they are celebrating in the first place?

It is funny how the whole world comes together and shout for joy when they exchange presents and even rejoiced when midnight strikes after their countdown, and yet they are not aware what they are truly anticipating.

Therefore, I would like to share my own thoughts and research of the knowledge and the TRUE meaning of Christmas.

Let's start with the word, Christmas.
Christmas is a compound word which meant 'Christ's Mass'
The below excerpt is taken from Wikipedia
The word Christmas originated as a compound meaning "Christ's Mass". It is derived from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038.[9] "Cristes" is from Greek Christos and "mæsse" is from Latin missa (the holy mass).

Perhaps it is also due to the earlier histories whereby Western influences have set foot in most of the countries they have conquered, thus spreading the beliefs of Christianity and promoting Christian festivals that makes Christian festivals so widely celebrated everywhere in the world.

Christmas is not just any celebration, it is a celebration of Christ's Mass.
It is the day where we commemmorate the birth of Jesus Christ, the only son of God who was to be the Saviour of all mankind.
Christmas Day, or the 25th of December was not believed to be the actual date of his birth but it was set due to the coincidence with the birth of Christ during that season (the exact date was not known) and the Roman Winter Solstice at that time.

Therefore, be aware that each time you celebrate Christmas, you are actually rejoicing in the birth of Jesus Christ and inadvertently, you are also believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.
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This post is not meant to discourage anyone from celebrating Christmas but it is important to respect and honor Christmas as a religious festival rather than get too carried away with the celebrations without knowing what you are truly celebrating about.

We are of course proud to see the wide celebrations of Christmas and we do not prevent anyone from celebrating and enjoying the fun.

Christmas is not about merely indulging in parties and good food, nor is it about the music and presents, but it is about praising the presence of the Lord amongst us mortal beings and the meaning of salvation with HIS birth.

Christmas is meaningful to all Christians worldwide, and is observed for Jesus Christ is believed as the Saviour of the World. He is the Chosen One, and He is the only Son of God who was sent to us to be with us and to salvage mankind from our sins.
Christ's Mass means that we are participating in a banquet/feast held in honor of Jesus Christ; and therefore this is one of the obligation masses in the church's calendar.

Catholics attend mass on Sundays and there are still obligatory masses?
Yes, Sunday masses are gatherings on Sabbath Day and to celebrate with the Lord's feast, reliving all He had done for us and coming together to receive his presence and listen to His Word.
On obligation masses like Christmas and Easter, the mass is dedicated with a purpose to celebrate (masses are all celebratory in nature anyway) the Birth of Jesus Christ and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So, Christmas is all about religion as we rejoice in the birth of Our Lord and to welcome him into our homes.
To make it easier to understand the traditions of the celebration, I would try to make it as simple as possible with relativity to the present day activities.

There are lots of elements associated with Christmas (which is why it is such a joyous occasion!); some of them were traditional and some have been assimilated with the contemporary culture and trends.

1. Santa Claus
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He is also known as Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, or merely Santa.
In truth, he originated from the story of Saint Nicholas, a noble saint canonized for his generosity with gifts to the poor when he was a bishop. Saint Nicholas was remembered for his kind heart and this slowly evolved to the big and jolly man who came bearing gifts to the children during Christmas.
It was also associated with hope, love and charity with Santa Claus depicted in that burly man with a white beard and in red attire with a large sack filled with gifts.

2. Christmas Tree
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Christmas trees come in various forms and shapes these days.
They are known as Yule trees, and are often associated with evergreen (that's why Christmas trees are usually green in color)
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The most commonly used type of tree is the fir tree as it is known for its properties of shedding its needles when the tree dries out, thus signifying the evergreen and eternity of life. It is for this reason that the trees are set up to rejoice in the coming of hope and salvation of life.
Most of the Christmas decorations are also associated with the greenery and on the same concept as the tree such as the boughs of hollies and the wreath of mistletoe.
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3. Gift giving and Presents
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I would decipher this as an act of showing love and kindness to each other; not to mention gratitude and thanks for their presence in our lives. The act of gift-giving is usually among family members and close friends/loved ones as you make it a point to remember them and to appreciate them for all that they have done.
It is not about how much you receive that signifies the abundance of love, but sometimes it is also about how much you give.
The tradition is also somewhat associated to the giving nature of God and Jesus Christ, who are always forgiving and generous with their gifts to all mankind, especially to each and everyone of us.
God even gave us His only Son, to save us from our sins, and it was truly a noble and much honourable thing to all Christians worldwide.

4. Winter
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Snow is often associated with Christmas as well, if you have noticed but that is really simple as it is usually the winter season in most countries during the end of the year thus making Christmas seem like it is covered with snow and making it look so beautiful.
To be honest, I have often dreamt of a white Christmas myself too!~

There are much more celebrative items such as bells (associated with Church and the joyful sounds), candies and cakes (delicious items typically used in celebrations), wine, stockings for gifst, roasted turkey, decorative lights, parties, etc and there are just lots which have been adopted from the modern trends to make Christmas much more merrier than its original celebration.

Due to the gift giving as the notion of Christmas, this has also heightened the sales in major shopping malls, hence offering retailers with the opportunities to make profit during this period.

Whichever reason it is that constitutes Christmas, please bear in mind that the TRUE meaning of Christmas is to rejoice in the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and not just celebrate for the sake of celebrating.

When we celebrate, we rejoice and we believe in Him.
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Praise the Lord Jesus Christ, and may everyone's heart be filled with joy, hope and love every Christmas!