Thaipusam, a form of pilgrimage under torture, falls on a full moon day in the auspicious 10th Tamil month of Thai (Jan/Feb) when the constellation of Pusam the star of well-being, rises over the eastern horizon.
Before the actual festive day, devotees who undertake a vow must follow certain spiritual disciplines to purify themselves; a viratham or fast from all forms of pleasure. Some shave their heads bald as a symbol of humility and atonement while many others observe a strict vegetarian diet for about 40 days and renounce all forms of comfort and pleasure-giving activities. The 40 days are spent in meditation and prayer.
The devotees walk miles to a shrine along a set route on spikes sandals, the spikes sticking into their feet, with lemons pinned or anchored into the muscles of their bodies. Sometimes, spectacular edifices, made of wood or metal adorned with pictures or statues of Hindu deities, flowers and peacock plumes, or kavadis are often carried or pulled by the devotees with chains and ropes anchored in the skin of their backs or chests.
The act is done by piercing one’s cheeks with sharp skewers and bare body with hooks. It may seem extremely painful bit to the devotees, it is painless as they are usually in a trance. Fire-walking can be witnessed as well.
For devotees, Thaipusam is the day of thanksgiving or atonement for wrongs.