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.
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.