Every day, it is festival day at Palani. People from all over India and abroad come here to have a glimpse of Palani Andavar and get His grace, but when Thaipusam comes, the festivities around Palani defies description. On the Thaipusam day, we find a sea of humanity all united with the aim of experiencing the grace of Muruga. This year, Thaipusam falls on 9th February. ‘Thai’ refers to the Tamil month and Pusam refers to the star (Nakshatram).
Muruga, the Lord of infinite grace exercises an enormous influence on the people of South, especially Tamil Nadu. Kanda Puranam describes the cause and origin of Muruga’s appearance. Having got the boon from Lord Siva that no harm would come to him from anyone born naturally in this earth, Soorapadaman, the demon, became ego-centric and started harassing Devas and devotees. Since he possessed an extra ordinary power, it needed an extra ordinary power to put an end to his atrocities. A powerful flame emerged from Lord Siva which was carried by Lord of Fire (agni). Even the Lord of Fire could not bear the heat and handed over the flame to river Ganga and river Ganga deposited the fire ball into a lake in a forest of reeds. Goddess Parvati came, took the form of fire and by her grace, the flame of fire became Muruga, the Lord of sublime beauty. It was mother Parvati (the Goddess of Sakthi) who gave the Vel (lance) to Muruga to carry out his mission of eliminating the evil forces. With the power derived from the Vel, Muruga vanquished the demon Sooran successfully and re-established the principles of Dharma (truth) in the land. Since Mother Parvati is believed to have given the Vel to Muruga on the Thaipusam day, the practice of celebrating Thaipusam day as the ‘Day of Victory’ got under way. While temples spread all over India and abroad become the venue for Muruga worship; the festivities at Palani turn out to be the most magnificent.
It is impossible to visualize the image of Muruga without Vel (lance). The Vel represents not only the power to destroy but also the power to protect. The Vel also symbolises victory. The word ‘Vel’ is derived from the Tamil word ‘velluthal’ which means victory. Thaipusam is celebrated as a mark of victory of good over evil. It is believed that devotees who worship Vel would win the battle of life and come out successfully. They firmly believe that Muruga and Vel would protect them from all external threats and also lead them to a life of happiness. Though many pundits described Muruga and Vel in glorious terms, it was Arunagirinathar, the author of Thiruppugazh, who described Muruga very beautifully and truthfully. According to Arunagirinathar, the Vel of Muruga would ward off the adverse effects arising out of our Karma (‘Vinai Theerkkum Kadir Vel’).
Even before the advent of Thaipusam, the devotees hailing from Tamil Nadu and neighbouring States start making preparation for Palani visit. They observe austerities for 41 days. Wearing saffron robes, forehead smeared with sacred ashes and shoulder carrying the arch-like offering Kavadi, they start trekking their way towards Palani by walk. With heart full of devotion, they march ahead hailing the glory of Lord Muruga. They do not care for food, shelter or rest. Their single aim is to reach Palani, worship the Lord they venerate and pray.
The Kavadi offering is unique in Palani. According to legend, Saint Agasthiar, an ardent devotee of Lord Siva, had asked his disciple, Idumbasuran to bring the two hillocks, Sivagiri and Sakthigiri from Kailash to the South for his worship. Idumban connected the two hillocks with the help of a wooden piece in the centre and tied the loose ends with a snake and proceeded towards South. On reaching South, he placed them at a spot to rest for a while. But later, when he tried to lift it, he could not do so. He then spotted a youth wearing a piece of loincloth and holding a staff (dhanda) atop the hill. He asked the lad to move away. But the child, claiming right over the hill, refused to oblige. Soon Idumban realized that the boy was none other than Lord Muruga and paid obeisance to Him. Lord Muruga showered His blessings and proclaimed that anyone coming to his place with similar arch-like objects would get peace, happiness and prosperity. Thus was born the Kavadi pattern of worship. The Kavadi gets its name by its contents such as milk, flower, rose water, etc. In some rare cases they are said to contain fish (Matsya Kavadi) and even snake (Sarpa Kavadi). There are artistes who swing and dance balancing the Kavadi on their head.
There are many pilgrims who undergo physical hardship just to give expression to their devotion. According to them the body which grows and perishes is not real. Body should be used as a medium to reach Muruga, the ultimate reality. They therefore take only what is necessary for bare subsistence. They pierce the lance through their cheeks as a mark of sacrifice. They converge at Palani Hill, hailing the glory of Lord Muruga and wait for hours together to have a glimpse of the Lord and get His grace. It was not Soorapadaman, the individual, Lord Muruga vanquished; it was the ego of the demon that Muruga destroyed. Therefore, devotees use Thaipusam as an occasion to express their prayer for happiness, prosperity and being blessed with a mind free from ego.