Thaipusam and Its Philosophy
Many of us actively and vigorously engage in debates on the latest issue of the installation of robotic milk pipeline in Lord Muruga’s Batu Caves temple, giving various reasons for why and why not it should be used during the Thaipusam day. Are we really participating in the Thaipusam festival after gaining a deep understanding about the idea behind the worship of Lord Muruga? Or are we even interested to learn about these things before blindly following the typical Thaipusam ritualistic procedures that Hindus have been doing for a long time?
Lord Muruga, the Hero of Thaipusam
Let’s start with the divine forms of Lord Muruga Himself. We see in the first picture that He has six faces and 12 hands, sitting on His divine vehicle, the peacock, with His Wives, Valli and Devayaani. He married Devayaani through an arranged marriage and Valli through love marriage. The Lord also holds a spear of a special inverted heart shape, called ‘Vel’, and a flag with a rooster symbol on it in the second picture. If we notice the third picture clearly, we can see a snake under the feet of His peacock. The third picture also beautifully show the six fundamental places of Lord Muruga’s worship in India wherein He performed all His Leelaas (divine pastimes), collectively known as Lord Muruga’s Aaru Padai Veedu (the six Divine Armouries of the Lord).
Different Ways of Worshipping Lord Muruga during Thaipusam
There are four fundamentally different ways to worship Lord Muruga and they correspond to the three main kinds of yoga in Hinduism. Different people can choose one or more of these three yogic ways to properly worship Lord Muruga based on their individual preferences, capabilities and tendencies. So let’s look at each of these ways in detail before making a conscious well-informed decision about our Thaipusam-special worship.
1) Thaipusam Worship Through Wisdom (Nyaana Yoga)
The Lord’s Vel, which is a symbolism for the Ultimate Wisdom, and the general of Lord Muruga’s army, Veerabaahu, the personification of discriminative intelligence, were the close companions of Lord Muruga in His war against demons. The demon siblings, Soorapadman (ego), Singgamukhan (desires born out of ego), Taarakaasooran (selfish actions born out of ego) and Ajamukhi (temptations of transient and sensual desires), were born to Maya (illusion and delusion). These demons and their armies (negative thoughts) are the ones that were defeated by Lord Muruga and His army (positive and unselfish thoughts). The qualities of the Ultimate Wisdom are portrayed on the shape of the Vel itself; the Vel is sharply one-pointed on the top, wide in the center and vertically very long. Thus the Vel teaches us that the Ultimate Wisdom can be gained by having constant one-pointed concentration towards the Lord, while striving to understand and to learn earnestly the nature of everything around us as widely as possible and as deeply as possible.
The first one to be destroyed by the Vel is the demon Krauncha (laziness & crude efforts to fulfil instinctive urges); followed by Taarakaasooran and then Singgamukhan. Finally, Soorapadman, with the help of his mother, Maya, appear in many different forms to deceive the Vel. Soorapadman’s final resort was to transform as a tree (egoistic stubbornness) but it was now that the Vel split this tree into two parts, which transforms into a rooster (the ‘I’ consciousness of the soul) and a peacock (the soul’s possessive idea of ‘mine’). These two animals tried to attack Lord Muruga, but Lord Muruga transformed the peacock as His divine vehicle and the rooster as the Emblem of His divine flag; thus, the soul now became a perfectly liberated devotee of the Lord. Ajamukhi and her mother, Maya, are powerless now that the ego is completely subservient to the Lord. The devotee also becomes a master of his or her own fears (as symbolized by the snake below the peacock).
So, to worship Lord Muruga is to sit every day in silent meditation and introspection to struggle against these demon-like negative thoughts within your mind with the help of your surrender & obedience to the Lord and the cultivation of discriminative intelligence (which enables you to distinguish between which is real & permanent, and which is unreal & temporary). Constantly try your best to bring forth as many positive and selfless thoughts as you can in your mind during the Thaipusam day. Sit sincerely in silent self-contemplation for a longer time with greater will-power on this particular day, when the Lord is exclusively keen to grace you with His Vel.
2) Thaipusam Worship Through Kriya Yoga
Devayaani represents the attainment of Lord Muruga through the perpetual practice of Kriya yoga as this yoga is regarded as the ‘official and royal way’ to attain God. Those who wish to follow this path of Yoga regard their own bodies as the divine shrines of Lord Muruga. A Kriya yogi devotedly holds the first six chakras (spiritual energy centres) within his or her body as the Lord’s Aaru Padai Veedu and the entire spinal cord together with the brain as the Lord’s Vel. With unwavering one-pointed concentration on each of the first six chakras, the yogi awakens them, one by one, while beholding and mentally bows to the various manifestations of Lord Muruga on each of his or her chakra. In order to succeed in this practice of yoga, one has to practice pranayama (the yoga of regulating one’s breathing) for a considerable amount of time until the inhaling and exhaling breaths are constantly of equal intensity and equal rate in both nostrils. They also incessantly regard the very air that they breathe in as the sweet fragrance from the lotus feet of Lord Muruga. Once they have achieved this perfection in breathing, they then mentally fix the form of Lord Muruga in between their eyebrows, with their eyes fully or partially closed. They remain in this way for a very long time, fully concentrating on the Lord’s form at the forehead space, until their intense concentrated spiritual energy finally penetrates through their seventh chakra and they attain union with the Lord.
The Kriya yoga aspirants will make use of Thaipusam day as a day of complete unceasing practice of Kriya yoga. However not many people choose to follow this type of worship during Thaipusam as it takes a proper Guru, persistence, strong will-power and patience to progress spiritually.
3) Thaipusam Worship Through Pure Unalloyed Devotion (Bhakti Yoga)
Valli, on the other hand, represents the attainment of Lord Muruga through the power of intense devotion and desire for God. Now, those who follow this form of worship heralded by Valli are not impressed with all the philosophy, yogic subtleties and the mystical symbolism of Lord Muruga’s actions, His Vel etc. They simply relish the Lord no matter what. The wise nyaanis and Kriya yogis regard the Vel very highly, but to these bhaktas (devotees), the Vel is just a toy that their little Lord Muruga plays with. Some bhaktas love Him so much that they want to take the Vel away from the Lord because they’re afraid that He may hurt Himself while playing with that sharp Vel. There are many different moods that a true bhakta may possess in his or her heart as the divine love for the Lord blossoms. Some may love to serve Him as His servants; some love Him as their Friend, their Brother, their Father while some can love Him as their Son and then there are those who love the Lord as their Beloved. The thing about these devotees is that they always direct all their emotions to the Lord, both positive emotions and negative emotions. They pamper, cajole, scold, praise, advise, sulk at or even flirt with the Lord, whenever the related sentiments arise in their hearts. In this way, their minds are always full of thoughts which only revolve around the Lord and this is the aim of this yoga path.
So what do the true devotees do during the Thaipusam day? You can see their divine sentiments even several days before the actual Thaipusam. They would be in restless anticipation to go to the temple and see the Lord, just like a lover who waits for his next date with his girlfriend. Some other bhaktas would start worrying for the Lord while they’re on the way up to the temple: “It’s so crowded here. My little Subramanya would be very hungry by then … Is He being fed well up there? I heard there’s a new milk machine this Thaipusam. Is the machine working well? But the machine doesn’t know how much milk to pour into His mouth for a gulp; what if it pours too much milk into His mouth? My Subramanya might get choked… Excuse me, sir, would you please keep moving forward, I am already very worried here.” If we notice the sentiments of another kind of pure devotees, they’ll be like: “See, what has happened this year, Muruga. They are now using a machine to pour milk into Your Vel instead of bathing You with it. This is why You shouldn’t be merciful to everybody. Are You being blindly gracious just so that people may praise You that You’re forgiving, You’re this, You’re that? See, this is my last warning to You, Muruga. Next time I’m not going to bring milk for Your toy Vel all. I will only bring milk for You; if this machine is not removed by next year’s Thaipusam, then I won’t come and see You anymore. By hook or by crook, do something about this. Sollipputten aamaa.”
See, my friends, true devotees with unalloyed pure love in their hearts do not channel their negative emotions to other people. They channel all their emotions, positive and negative, soaked in deep love, to Lord Muruga. Whatever you are carrying, milk, flowers, fruits or kaavadi, carry it with selfless love, i.e. without expecting anything in return for yourself. That is true bhakti. Forget about all those things, I’ll give you a better idea that will melt the Lord’s heart. Don’t carry anything in your hands, just carry some genuine tears in your eyes and when you see Him in the temple, cry your heart out. For whatever reason, cry that you’re unable to bring anything for your Beloved, cry that you have committed sins whilst being His devotee, cry that you forgot Him whenever you were happy but remembered Him only when you were in trouble, cry out of repentance, cry. Even if you’re unable to go to the temple on Thaipusam, cry that you missed Him. Those tears you shed for Him will induce deep divine love for Him in your heart and you will progress very quickly on this path of bhakti.
If you cannot shed tears for Him, then there’s one last thing you can do. Chant the divine names of Lord Muruga while you’re walking up the hill either mentally or in a very slow volume or even both simultaneously. As you’re chanting His names, within your heart, sincerely pray to Him so that you’d be able to love Him truly in a selfless way. The divine love of the Lord and the ability to love the Lord for His own happiness are the only things that a true devotee should ever pray to the Lord for. Everything else is business, not love. They’re not His devotees; they’re His business partners. Some of them are particularly awful business partners as they expect the Lord to give them thousands of ringgits of profit as an exchange for a RM5 milk bottle. Remember, if what you’re doing do not fit in any of the above criteria, then, you’re just making a show under the pretext of bhakti. Stop deceiving yourselves and quit this type of worship, if that’s the case.
4) Thaipusam Worship Through the Worship of His Devotees
So if you are unable to practice the first three kinds of worships above, then most probably this is the best type of Thaipusam worship that suits you. The service to the devotees of the Lord is actually much more special than the service to the Lord Himself. In Saiva Siddhaanta scriptures, Lord Shiva has declared that “Adiyaarkku Yaam Adiyen” (I am the servant of My devotees) and in Vaishnava literature, Lord Krishna has asserted that “Know that he who claims to be My servant is actually not My devotee; only he who is a servant of My devotee is My true devotee.” So, join the associations which open up booths to serve food and drinks for the devotees of the Lord; help them out. If you see any dirt, rubbish or coconut pieces along the temple road that may hurt the Lord’s devotees who are walking barefooted, pick it up and throw it in the proper place. Do whatever you can, to help the people around you during the Thaipusam day. Do it without expecting any reward, name, fame or praise in return; simply do it because you know in your heart that it is a good thing to do so. If you do so, you don’t have to climb up the hill to see the Lord; the Lord Himself will walk down the hill and enter right into your heart. Then, you can enjoy the bliss of practicing any of the previous 3 yogic worships effortlessly.
There is one little point that I would like to make before I let all of you to go for Thaipusam. You might have heard of the divine pastimes of Lord Muruga in which even Valli Herself and the great saint Avvaiyaar were not able to recognize Him at first when He appeared before them as an old man and as a young cowherd boy. The Lord does not have to necessarily appear before you with His grand, transcendental Viswaroopam with six heads and 12 hands. Want to know a secret? Every day you leave your house for work after sincerely praying to the Lord, you are literally walking past God Himself and yet, you didn’t recognize Him. He appeared as your neighbour last week. The crippled beggar you see in the street a few days ago, that was Him! You watched Him cry for mercy and you walked away pretending that you didn’t hear Him. The blind person who approached you for donations while you were eating non-vegetarian food in KFC and you turned a deaf ear to him? Guess who it was. And yet, you’re telling me God didn’t listen to your prayers la; God is stone-hearted la; God has never answered your prayers la… See, all the above practices are not going to mean anything if you’re not capable of recognizing that the same Lord that is in your heart is the same Lord who has manifested as your fellow living beings. See the Lord in all, serve the Lord in all, love the Lord in all. Have an enlightening Thaipusam this year. Vetrivel!