Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai, mostly by the Tamil community. Pusam refers to a star that is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates both the birthday of Lord Murugan (also Subramaniam), the youngest son of Shiva and Parvati, and the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel (lance) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadam.
Devotees prepare for the celebration by cleansing themselves through prayer and fasting. On the day of the festival, devotees will shave their heads undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi (burdens). At its simplest this may entail carrying a pot of milk, but mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers is also common. The most spectacular practice is the vel kavadi, essentially a portable altar up to two meters tall, decorated with peacock feathers and attached to the devotee through 108 vels pierced into the skin on the chest and back. Fire walking and flagellation may also be practiced. It is reported that devotees are able to enter a trance, feel no pain, do not bleed from their wounds and have no scars left behind. However, some of the more extreme masochistic practices have been criticized as dangerous and contrary to the spirit and intention of Hinduism.