For the Tamil Hindus, the holy Thaipusam is an important religious occasion.
This is the post by Penang Deputy Chief Minister P Ramasamy where he underlines its importance for Tamil Hindus:
From a Hindu religous perspective, Thaipusam is all about worshipping and adoring the good deeds performed by Lord Muruga. However, the fervor, passion and enthusiasm for Thaipusam must also consider the political, social and economic contents where Tamil Hindus are concentrated.
Yes, Thaipusam provides a powerful opportunity for Tamil Hindus to remember and celeberate the good deeds of Lord Muruga who ended the evil designs of the demons and making the world a safer place for Tamil Hindus. However, Thaipusam for millions of Tamil Hindus is not only about strictly following traditions, but it is about making sense and coming to terms to face and deal with changing political reality, whether it is the French Reunion Island or in Malaysia.
In Penang, Tamil Hindus will be marking the ocassion of Thaipusam on a grand scale especially after the Penang Hindu Endowments Board (PHEB) announced that it will be commissining its Gold Chariot. The differences between the Nattukottai Nagarather Chettiar Trustees (NCCT) over the timing of the two chariots should not be blown out of proportions. While the PHEB respects the right of NCCT to organize their own Silver Chariot, the right to launch the Gold Chariot must be respected.
Although there are many Hindu religious events, Thaipusam in the month of either January or February is far the most famous event in Malaysia, Singapore and other countries where there is sizeable Tamil population.
Thaipusam in Penang attracts hundreds and thousands of devotees and visitors not only from within the state, but from other states in Malaysia as well from foreign countries. In comparison to Kuala Lumpur (Batu Caves) or for that matter Singapore, Thaipusam is Penang enjoys the reputation of being well organized and free from any disturbances.
Thaipusam is all about the worship and adoration of Lord Murugan, the “Tamil” God. In a specific sense, it is about Lord Muruga’s mother Mariamman who gave him a lance or spear or Vel to kill a demon. Thus Thaipusam is celebrated to mark the victory of good over evil. For millions of Tamil Hindus all over the world, it is during this religious event they translate their religious vows by undertaking pilgrimages to temples, carry kavadis, shave their heads and and perform other activities in keeping with the worship of Lord Muruga.
Thaipusam is the grandest and most significant religious event in the lives of Tamils in Malaysia and wherever Tamils are concentrated. Even in the French island of Reunion, Tamils who have lost their language, still cling on to Hindu religious traditions and celebrate Thaipusam on a grand scale. Yes, they might have lost the their Tamil language, but they identify themselves strongly as Tamils as result of their unshakeable faith and belief in the worship of Lord Muruga.
The worship of Lord Muruga is not just another religious worship, but practice that embodies and reinforces the idenity of Tamils as Hindus and vice-versa. Thaipusam provides a powerful avenue for Tamil Hindus an opporrtunity to reinforce their identity, renewed faith in Lord Muruga and meaning to their own lives especially in confronting the changing political, social and economic realities.
Thus, in the coming Thaipusam in Penang, the overwhelming support for the Golden Chariot cannot be merely reduced to their support to the efforts of the PHEB or their anger towards the NCCT. In the larger sense, Golden Chariot represents a powerful effort on the part of Tamil Hindus to take control of what is theirs. The Silver Chariot is considered as “non-Tamil”!
In a countries like Mauritius, Reunion Island and others, where Tamil have the lost their language, the worship of Lord Muruga during Thaipusam reinforces both their religious and ethnic identity as Tamils. Even if they have lost their Tamil language, the worship of Lord Muruga and the strict adherence to the traditions keeps alive their identity as Tamil Hindus.
In Malaysia, Thaipusam while outwardly is a Hindu religious event, but from a broad perspective it represents a poweful idenity marker for Tamils in the country. In a country where Tamil Hindus have been systematically marginalized by the UMNO-controlled state, religious events like Thaipusam seems to provide an avenue or opportunity for Tamils to gather for an expression of collective solidarity.
The increased fervor and participation of Tamil Hindus in an event like Thaipusam not only reinforces their idenity as Hindus but also as Tamils. While the UMNO-controlled state can marginalize Tamil Hindus in social, political and economic realms, they find it difficult to control or subdue the passion Tamil Hindus have for Thaipusam.
Thus, in the Malaysian context, Thaipusam provides a way for Tamil Hindus to overcome their subordination in other areas. More than this, it presents an opportunity for them to search for meaning in a country that seems to have forgotten them despite their herculean sacrifice.