Millions of Hindus across the world celebrated the Thaipusam Festival on 8 February. Thaipsuam is a celebration dedicated to the Hindu god of war, Lord Murugan, and is held over a two day period.

Thaipusam Festival
A devotee with her cheeks pierced with a trident walks towards the Batu Caves temple in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaManan Vatsayana/AFP

Recognised mostly by the Tamil community in countries such as Malaysia, India, Singapore and Guadalupe, Thaipusam falls on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai. The festival is a commemoration of the occasion when Parvati – the Hindu goddess of love, fertility and devotion – gave Murugan a vel (spear) so that he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. The reason for the Thaipusam festival is to pray to the god so that bad traits are destroyed.

Thaipusam Festival
A Hindu devotee in a state of trance as he walks towards the Batu Caves temple in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaManan Vatsayana/AFP

The Thaipusam ceremony starts in the early hours of the morning, with worshippers beginning the rituals by cleansing themselves at a river, while thousands – mostly Tamil Indians, carry milk pots and "kavadi" – decorated contraptions – which they hold on top of the head, as they embrace the skewers and needles that have been pierced into their tongues in preparation for the festival. It is believed that only when the mind is free of material worth and the body free from physical pleasures can a devotee undertake the sacred task without feeling any pain.

Thaipusam Festival
A devotee takes part in a procession in Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaLai Seng Sin/Reuters
Thaipusam Festival
A Hindu devotee gets his cheeks pierced at Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaLai Seng Sin/Reuters
Thaipusam Festival
A devotee makes adjustments to his kavadi in SingaporeEdgar Su/Reuters
Thaipusam Festival
A Hindu devotee prepares for a Kavadi procession from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in SingaporeRoslan Rahman/AFP
Thaipusam Festival
Two Hindu devotees hold a pot of milk over their heads as they walk along the route from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in SingaporeRoslan Rahman/AFP
Thaipusam Festival
A devotee carries lime piercings on his back in SingaporeEdgar Su/Reuters
Thaipusam Festival
Hindu devotees with hooks pierced into their backs participate in a procession at Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaLai Seng Sin/Reuters
Thaipusam Festival
A Hindu devotee pierced and chained in his back takes part in a procession at Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaLai Seng Sin/Reuters
Thaipusam Festival
A devotee pulls a chariot with hooks pierced into his back in SingaporeEdgar Su/Reuters
Thaipusam Festival
Devotees walk up the 272 stairs to the Batu Caves temple in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaManan Vatsayana/AFP
Thaipusam Festival
A man carries his daughter on his shoulders to offer prayers at the Batu Caves temple in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaManan Vatsayana/AFP
Thaipusam Festival
A devotee offers prayers before walking towards the Batu Caves temple in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaManan Vatsayana/AFP
Thaipusam Festival
A devotee with his back pierced with hooks walks towards the Batu caves temple in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaManan Vatsayana/AFP
Thaipusam Festival
A Hindu devotee smokes a cigar in a state of trance outside the Batu Caves temple in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaManan Vatsayana/AFP
Thaipusam Festival
Devotees gather at a shrine in Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaLai Seng Sin/Reuters