Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thaipusam: The Murugan Festival

Thaipusam is an important festival observed by the Hindus of southern India during the Tamil month of Thai (January - February). Outside of India, it is celebrated mainly by the Tamil speaking community settled in Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka and elsewhere around the world.

Dedicated to Lord Murugan or Kartikeya Thaipusam is dedicated to the Hindu god Murugan, the son of Shiva and Parvati. Murugan is also known as Kartikeya, Subramaniam, Sanmukha, Shadanana, Skanda and Guha. It is believed that on this day, Goddess Parvati presented a lance to Lord Murgan to vanquish the demon army of Tarakasura and combat their evil deeds. Therefore, Thaipusam is a celebration of the victory of good over evil.

How to Celebrate Thaipusam

On the Thaipusam day, most devotees of Lord Murugan offer him fruits and flowers of yellow or orange color - his favorite colors and also adorn dresses of the same color. Many devotees bear milk, water, fruits and floral tributes on pails hung from a yoke and carry them on their shoulders to various Murugan temples, far and near. This wooden or bamboo structure called 'Kavadi' is covered with cloth and decorated with feathers of peacock - the vehicle of Lord Murugan.

Thaipusam in Southeast Asia

Thaipusam celebrations in Malaysia and Singapore are known for their festive fervor. The most famous Kavadi pilgrimage on the Thaipusam day takes place at the Batu Caves in Malaysia, where a large number of devotees head towards the Murugan temple in procession carrying the 'Kavadi'. This festival attracts over a million people each year at the Batu Caves, near Kuala Lampur, which houses several Hindu shrines and the 42.7 meter high statue of Lord Murugan that was unveiled in January 2006. Pilgrims need to climb 272 steps to access the temple on the hilltop. Many foreigners also take part in this Kavadi pilgrimage. Notable among them are Australian Carl Vedivella Belle, who has been taking part in the pilgrimage for more than a decade, and German Rainer Krieg, who went on his first Kavadi in the 1970s.
Body Piercing on Thaipusam

Many fanatical devotees go to such extent as to torture their bodies to appease the Lord. So, a major feature of Thaipusam celebrations is body piercing with hooks, skewers and small lances called 'vel'. Many of these devotees even pull chariots and heavy objects with hooks attached to their bodies. Many others pierce their tongue and cheek to impede speech and thereby attain full concentration on the Lord. Most devotees enter into a trance during such piercing due to the incessant drumming and chanting of "vel vel shakti vel." - Subhamoy Das

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10, 000 Malaysians Jobless Since Jan 1

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 28 (Bernama) -- More than 10,000 Malaysians have lost their jobs since Jan 1, Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) executive director, Shamsuddin Bardan, disclosed today.

He told Bernama that more were expected to be jobless in the days ahead as companies particularly in the manufacturing sector struggle to keep their businesses afloat.

In an urgent appeal to the government, he said it was of utmost importance for the second stimulus economic package to be released fast so that companies could know clearly where they stood.

The government released a RM7 billion economic stimulus package last month and Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had promised a second package soon.
Shamsuddin said the economic downturn this time was much worse than the one in 1997 because it was more widespread and involved the major parts of the world.



The situation he said was more critical as almost 600,000 local new job seekers were flooding the job market every year.

This comprised of university graduates, diploma holders, skilled workers and fresh school leavers.

Another factor that added to the woes of the jobless was the presence of 1.5 million to 2 million illegal foreigners who were also vying for the same jobs.

He said the MEF believed that the economic condition would take almost one to two years to improve.

"In the meantime, it would be best for the government to assist businesses and jobless Malaysians to tide over this bad times."



He suggested that the government as a long term measure deal with the situation in the following way:

+ Repatriate all illegal workers to their country of origin
+ Replace legal foreign workers in stages with Malaysians
+ Freeze foreign recruitment
+ Give job priority to Malaysians.

He hoped that government would be firm and bold in instituting measures to face the economic reality the nation was now facing.

Bernama - Thursday, January 29 - Sajad Hussein

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Four Days of Festivity

Pongal follows the winter solstice and marks the favorable course of the sun. On the first day, the sun is worshipped, signifying its movement from Cancer to Capricorn. This is also why, in other parts of India, this harvest festival and thanksgiving is called 'Makar Sankranti'. [Sanskrit Makar = Capricorn]

Each day of the four-day festival has its own name and distinct fashion of celebration.

Day 1: Bhogi Pongal

Bhogi Pongal is a day for the family, for domestic activities and of being together with the members of the household. This day is celebrated in honor of Lord Indra, "the Ruler of Clouds and Giver of Rains".

On the first day of Pongal a huge bonfire is lit at dawn in front of the house and all old and useless items are set ablaze, symbolic of beginning a fresh new year. The bonfire burns through the night as young people beat little drums and dance around it. Homes are cleaned and decorated with "Kolam" - floor designs drawn in the white paste of newly harvested rice with outlines of red mud. Often pumpkin flowers are set into cow-dung balls and placed among the patterns. Fresh harvest of rice, turmeric and sugarcane is brought in from the field as preparation for the following day.

Day 2: Surya Pongal

The second day is dedicated to Lord Surya, the Sun God, who is offered boiled milk and jaggery. A plank is placed on the ground, a large image of the Sun God is sketched on it and Kolam designs are drawn around it. This icon of the Sun God is worshipped for divine benediction as the new month of 'Thai' begins.

Day 3: Mattu Pongal

This third day is meant for the cattle ('mattu') - the giver of milk and puller of the plough. The farmer's 'dumb friends' are given a good bath, their horns are polished, painted and covered with metal caps, and garlands are put around their necks. The pongal that has been offered to the gods is then given to the cattle to eat. They are then taken out to the racing tracks for cattle race and bullfight - an event full of festivity, fun, frolic and revelry.

Day 4: Kanya Pongal

The fourth and final day marks the Kanya Pongal, when birds are worshipped. Girls prepare colored balls of cooked rice and keep them in the open for birds and fowls to eat. On this day sisters also pray for their brothers' happiness.
Subhamoy Das -
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Pongal: Great Indian Thanksgiving

Festive Time for a Sunny Harvest!

Seventy per cent of India's population lives in villages, and a vast majority of people solely depend on agriculture. As a result, we find that most Hindu festivals are directly or indirectly linked to agriculture and related activities.

Pongal is one such big festival, celebrated every year in mid January - mostly in the south of India and especially in Tamil Nadu - to mark the harvest of crops and a special thanksgiving to God, the sun, the earth and the cattle.

What's Pongal?

'Pongal' comes from the word 'ponga' which literally means 'boil' and so 'pongal' connotes 'spillover' or that which is 'overflowing'. It's also the name of the special sweet dish cooked on the Pongal day. Pongal continues through the first four days of the 'Thai' month that starts on January 14 every year.

Seasonal Festivity

Pongal is directly associated with the annual cycle of seasons. It not only marks the reaping of the harvest, but also the withdrawal of the southeast monsoons in southern India. As the cycle of season rings out the old and ushers in the new, so is the advent of Pongal connected with cleaning up the old, burning down rubbish, and welcoming in new crops.

Cultural & Regional Variations

Pongal in the state of Tamil Nadu is celebrated during the same time as 'Bhogali Bihu' in the North Eastern State of Assam, Lohri in Punjab, 'Bhogi' in Andhra Pradesh and 'Makar Sankranti' in the rest of the country, including Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal.

Assam's 'Bihu' involves the early morning worship of Agni, the god of fire followed by a nightlong feast with family and friends. Bengal's 'Makar Sankranti' entails the preparation of traditional rice-sweets called 'Pittha' and the holy fair - Ganga Sagar Mela at the Ganga Sagar beach. In Punjab, it's 'Lohri' - gathering around the sacred bonfire, feasting with family and friends, and exchanging greetings and pleasantries. And in Andhra Pradesh it is celebrated as 'Bhogi', when each household puts on display its collection of dolls.

Subhamoy Das -

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