Millions of Hindus gathered early on the morning of 24 January for the annual Thaipusam festival – a celebration dedicated to the HIndu god of war, Lord Murugan.

Celebrated 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 to the god so that bad traits are destroyed.

Thaipusam 2016
A Hindu devotee after her tongue is pierced during Thaipusam at Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaOlivia Harris/ Reuters
Thaipusam 2016
A man with his tongue pierced with a trident walks towards the Batu Caves temple during the Thaipusam festival celebrations in Kuala LumpurManan Vatsyayana/ Getty Images
Thaipusam 2016
A man has his tongue pierced, during Thaipusam festival in SingaporeEdgar Su/ Reuters
Thaipusam 2016
A Malaysian Hindu devotee is restrained with hooks pierced into his back as he walks to offer prayers at the Batu Caves temple during the Thaipusam festival celebrations in Kuala LumpurManan Vatsyayana/ Getty Images
Thaipusam 2016
A man with metal hooks attached to his back, walks to Batu Caves during Thaipusam in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaOlivia Harris/ Reuters

The exact date of Thaipusam changes each year in the Gregorian calendar and is based on the full moon day in the month of Thai in the Hindu calendar, with devotees spending at least a month on physical preparation such as living on a strict vegetarian diet for the duration.

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" which look like 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 2016
A Malaysian Hindu devotee reacts in a state of trance as she walks towards the Batu Caves temple during the Thaipusam festival celebrations in Kuala LumpurManan Vatsyayana/ Getty Images
Thaipusam 2016
A Malaysian Hindu devotee has small pots hooked on to his back walks up to the Batu Caves temple during the Thaipusam festival celebrations in Kuala LumpurManan Vatsyayana/ Getty Images
Thaipusam 2016
A man with his tongue pierced with a trident walks towards the Batu Caves temple during the Thaipusam festival celebrations in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaManan Vatsyayana/ Getty Images
Thaipusam 2016
A Hindu devotee in a trance during Thaipusam at Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaOlivia Harris/ Reuters
Thaipusam 2016
A devotee waits to have his back pierced during Thaipusam festival in SingaporeEdgar Su/ Reuters
Thaipusam 2016
A man walks towards the Batu Caves temple during the Thaipusam festival celebrations in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaManan Vatsyayana/ Getty Images
Thaipusam 2016
An Hindu devotee walks on burning coals to mark the Thaipusam festival in Chennai, IndiaGetty Images
Thaipusam 2016
A young child is washed before beginning his pilgrimage to Batu Caves during Thaipusam in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaOlivia Harris/ Reuters
Thaipusam 2016
A Hindu devotee is seen in a trance before his pilgrimage to Batu Caves during Thaipusam in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaOlivia Harris/ Reuters
Thaipusam 2016
A man walks to Batu Caves during Thaipusam in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaOlivia Harris/ Reuters
Thaipusam 2016
A devotee carries a kavad i–  a ceremonial sacrifice and offering practised by devotees during the worship of Lord Murugan, the Hindu God of War during Thaipusam festival in SingaporeEdgar Su/ Reuters
Thaipusam 2016
Devotees carrying milk pots leave the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple during Thaipusam festival in SingaporeEdgar Su/ Reuters
Thaipusam 2016
A woman showers in turmeric before beginning her pilgrimage to Batu Caves during Thaipusam in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaOlivia Harris/ Reuters
Thaipusam 2016
A man reacts after his cheeks are pierced during Thaipusam at Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaOlivia Harris/ Reuters
Thaipusam 2016
A man dances in a crowd while in a trance, during Thaipusam at Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaOlivia Harris/ Reuters
Thaipusam 2016
A Hindu devotee prays in the shower before beginning his pilgrimage to Batu Caves during Thaipusam in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaOlivia Harris/ Reuters
Thaipusam 2016
A man walks in a trance to Batu Caves during Thaipusam in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaOlivia Harris/ Reuters