THAIPPOOSAM – An Explanation

The word Thaippoosam and its meaning.

The word Thaippoosam is made up of two words, namely, Thai and Poosam. Thai is the tenth month of the Tamil calendar. Poosam is the eighth of the 27 natchatthirams in Hindu astrology. The month of Thai corresponds to the period between mid-January to mid-February.

What is the significance of the natchatthiram, poosam occurring in the month of Thai?

The first thing is that, the asterism that coincides with the full moon day in the month of Thai, is Poosam. Many Hindu festivals fall on the day when a particular asterism coincides with the full moon day of a Tamil month

The general consensus from the puraanic point of view is that, it is the day when Goddess Paarvathi gave the Vel, charged fully with divine power, to Lord Muruhan. Kandha Puraanam says that Lord Siva Himself brought out the unbeatable magnanimous Vel and gave it to Muruhan.

Incidentally, Thaippoosam happens to be the day when Lord Siva showed His Divine dance, aanandha thaandavam, to the two sages, Pulippaani and Pathanchali, who had been doing penance for a very long time at Chidambaram Temple. All the devas and sages had the golden opportunity to witness the dance along with the two sages. Lord Siva is said to have performed the dance on the day when the natchaththiram, poosam, was in the ascendant in the month of Thai; this divine dance is said to have taken place on a Thursday, which is known as viyaal(z)akkil(z)amai in Tamil. The planet viyaal(z)an (Jupiter) is also known as guru. One line in a popular Tamil keertthanai (a kind of composition in classical music) sounds thus: Thai maadhatthil guru poosatthil pahal naeratthil, nadanam aadinaar. It means, ‘(He) danced in the afternoon (noon, more specifically) of the Thursday when the asterism, Poosam, was in the ascendant, in the month of Thai.

Astrologically, Jupiter is the presiding deity of the natchatthiram, Poosam. Jupiter is referred to as nyaanakaarahan in astrology; this means that Jupiter is the agent (giver) of wisdom, spiritual wisdom, in particular.

The Origin of kaavadi

When we hear the word Thaippoosam, the first thing that would come to our mind is kaavadi. As is the case with Hindu fasts and festivals, kaavadi also has its legendary reference. Idumban was the guru of Soorapanman and his brothers. When Soorpanman and his clan were destroyed by Lord Arumuhar, Idumban, along with his wife Idumbi, decided to live a spiritual life in the forest (vanavaasam). On the way, near ThirukkutRaalam, he met Saint Ahastthiyar, and requested him to be his guru. Idumban was a devotee of Lord Muruhan. Being a devotee of Lord Siva, Devi Uma and Lord Muruhan, Ahastthiyar wanted to bring two mountains from the vicinity of Himalayas (the location is said to be the forests in Thirukkaedhaaram). The two mountains were known as Sakthigiri and Siva giri (giri = mountain). Ahasthiyar wanted to pray to them as Devi Uma and Lord Siva. Therefore, Ahasthiya rtold Idumban that if he could bring the two hills from the forests of Thirukkaedhaaram, to Podhihai hill, he will be blessed with lots of benefit.

Idumban, along with his wife, went northward, and prayed to both the hills, chanting the respective manthras; heused snakes to tie both the hills on either side of a pole and carried the pole on his shoulders.

As Idumban approached the place, where the Pal(z)ani hills are situated at present, he placed the mountains on the ground and took some rest. After a while, when Idumban tried lifting the pole, to continue with the carrying of the mountains, he was not able to do so. He found a little boy standing under the shade of a tree on Sakthigiri. Idumban asked the boy to move away. As the boy did not bother to move from there, Idumban ran up the hill to attack the boy; as he was running up, Idumban fell dead. Idumban was brought back to life on the humble request of Idumbi and Ahasthiyar. On realizing that it was Lord Muruhan, who had disguised as a little boy, he was overwhelmed with devotion and prostrated at the Lord’s feet. Idumban asked the Lord to grant him two boons. One was that Idumban be allowed to be a sentry/guardin Muruhan;s temples; the other was that devotees, bringing their offerings, either as a fulfillment of a vow or as a gesture of devotion,the way he was carrying the two hills, be blessed by Lord Muruhan. This is why we see a shrine for Idumban along the way to a Murruhan temple, especially the one situated up in a cave, and a special poojaa for him after the Thaippoosam celebrations. The special poojaa conveys thanks to him for contributing toward the smooth celebrations of the festival by ‘guarding’ the vicinity. This is how kaavadi became a special mode of prayer for Lord Muruhan.

Incidentally, the foot of Pal(z)ani Hills is known as Thiruaavinankudi. Lord Muruhan had landed at this place, after He left Mount Kailash, when He found that the mango was given to His brother Ganesha, who went round His parents instead of the world. Therefore, it can be inferred that it was Lord Muruhan’s plan to get Idumban to place the two hills at Pal(z)ani. Lord Muruhan is commonly attributed by the statement kundRu irukkum idam ellaam Muruhan iruppaan (Lord Muruhan will be present wherever there are mountains); hence, He ensured that He had a mountain residence adjunct to the place Thiruaavinankudi. The legend given here is found in the ThalaPuraaNam of Pal(z)ani. [Refer to, which has used the book Palani: The Hill Temple of Muruga (Madras, 1975) by Somalay for Arulmigu Dhandayudhapani Swami Temple, Palani, as its source.]

The word kaavadi bears the meaning ‘a pole for the shoulder with ropes attached for carrying burdens or gifts to a temple etc.’

If we think for ourselves, carrying our offerings to Lord Muruhan who is present in a cave up on a hill, it is relatively easy to do so in the form a kaavadi, as our hands can be used to hold our clothes or hold on to something as we climb up.

How to observe Thaippoosam?

First, let us see the obligation of a person who is planning to take kaavadi for Thaippoosam. Usually, those who want to take kaavadi, will fast for a certain number of days before Thaippoosam. Fast is observed for odd number of days; the number of days can be from 3 up to any number; some will fast for a mandalam (equivalent to 48 days). When we say ‘fast’, it generally denotes a disciplined way of taking vegetarian food. Apart from this, we should also ensure that our words and thoughts are also based on divinely nature. Special prayers will conducted by those who fast, especially when people fast as a group under the guidance of a guru.

Apart from the obligations for the kaavadi-bearers, all of us go to any of the Muruhan temples in our traditional attire, and take part in the special prayers. It is best for us to be vegetarian the whole day, and dwell in God consciousness the whole day.

What is the special boon to be prayed for on the day of Thaippoosam?

We saw above that Thaippoosam is the day, when Vel was given to Lord Muruhan. Vel is an embodiment of spiritual wisdom. Lord Siva showed His Cosmic dance to the two sages and other noble beings. We need the ‘eye of wisdom’ to witness the Cosmic dance. The asterism Poosam has Jupiter (viyaal(z)an or guru) as its presiding deity. From all these points of view, it can be seen that the acquisition of spiritual wisdom is inherent in the observation of Thaippoosam. Therefore, let us pray to Lord Muruhan to bless us with both materialistic as well as spiritual wisdom.

Maippoosum oNkaN madanallaar maamayilai
Kaippoosu neetRaan kabaaleeccharam amarndhaan
Neyppoosum oNpul(z)ukkal naeril(z)aiyaar koNdaadum
Thaippoosam kaaNaadhae poadhiyoh poompaavaay (2:47:5)

(Oh Poompaavaay! Should you go without seeing the festival of Thaippoosam, where the ladies, decked with jewels, celebrate along with the offering of sweet rice filled with ghee to the Lord, Whose hands are smeared with thiruneeRu, present in the temple of Kabaaleeccharam, where live young girls whose bright eyes are enhanced with the eyetex).

Guruvaay varuvaay aruLvaay Guhanae!

Prepared by Dr.K.Thilagawathi