photo by: Catherhea Teoh

DENESH Ratnam has been part of the Thaipusam celebration at the Waterfall Road in Penang since he was a young boy. His father used to take him to the Lord Murugan temple atop the hill during Thaipusam. Denesh remembers the yearly pilgrimage as an event that he and his siblings would look out for.
“Thaipusam is a big deal in my family. Although I honestly am not sure about the reasons for the celebration, I think of it as an event that brings my family closer as it’s one of the few times in the year that my family goes to the temple together,” said Denesh, 27.
The religious event is a holy festival for Lord Murugan and it is observed by the Tamil-speaking community all over the world. The word “Thaipusam” comes from the name of the month “Thai” (in the Tamil calendar) and the name of a star “Poosam”, which is  believed to be at its highest point during the festival,.
This Sunday’s Thaipusam holds a special significance for Satesh Shern and he wants to make it a memorable event for him and his family. That’s because Satesh is planning to further his studies in Melbourne, Australia and will not be able to celebrate the religious occasion with his family for the next three years.
The 22-year-old account executive who is a devout Hindu said that he never skips a single prayer at the temple during Thaipusam as it gives him a sense of calm. However, Satesh expressed his disappointment over how some youths choose to “celebrate” the auspicious event, without really taking into account its religious significance.
“These days, some youth think of it as more of a social function than a sacred festival. They don’t participate for the prayers. They are just looking forward (to attend) an event where there will be thousands of people,” he said.
As a child, Priyanka Supramaniam and her sister, Rathika Sheila, used to go to the Hindu temple for Thaipusam prayers. Now at 22 and 20 respectively, they are going to sit out the up-coming celebrations. Priyanka feels the event is just another public holiday for her.
“Growing up, I never understood the meaning of the festival. I feel that my faith was forced on to me rather than nurtured out of willingness,” she said.
Rathika said it’s saddening to know they are no longer part of the festival.
“I needed to understand how the rituals work and what it all meant but sadly no one could explain it to me,” she said.
With that said, Priyanka hopes that families would take the time to be more involved with their young ones; especially when it comes to matters of faith.
“Without the bond of a close family relationship, you are bound to do things on your own, and you lose a sense of family oneness.”
In the spirit of Thaipusam, it has become tradition for clerk Ravi Mannan Alagamalai to grow a beard for the religious festival. This year, the father is going to ask Lord Murugan to protect his family and bless his son with good luck. Sooriarasan Ravi Mannan, 17, is SPM-bound and he hopes the blessing of Lord Murugan will give him the peace of mind he needs to achieve good grades.
“Last year we couldn’t celebrate Thaipusam because my uncle passed away. So we’re definitely looking forward to this one,” said Sooriarasan.
Ravi Mannan added that it’s important for parents to explain the significance of religious festival rituals to their children.
“Parents must tell their children about Thaipusam and teach them the traditions. The festival does not only encourage unity amongst all devotees, butstrengthens the family bond.”
The Star’s Deputy Executive Editor Dorairaj Nadason is preparing himself to carry a kavadi in Penang for Thaipusam this Sunday. Follow his journey on Twitter at @ndraj and #MyThaipusam.

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