For lakhs of Tamil Hindus, Thai Pongal is a harvest festival - the Tamil equivalent of Thanksgiving. It is held to honor the Sun, for a bountiful harvest. Families gather to rejoice and share their joy and their harvests with others. Thai Pusam occurs on January 31 a fortnight before the Mahasivarathri which is on February 14th, 2002.
Women carry pots of milk and couples carry their infant babies in saffron cloth cradles slung on a sugarcane stem. The full throated cries of 'Vel Muruga Vel Muruga' resound throughout the day and night of the festival. For the womenfolk, the festival is a time to work hard, making a variety of dishes using new rice and sugarcane, and making sweets so that a feast is ready in time for the two day pilgrimage to Lord Muruga's temple.
Thai Pusam can also be called a festival of thanksgiving after the sugarcane crop is harvested. Farmers dress in their beautiful new clothes and throng the temples of Lord Murugan, expressing thanks for a bountiful harvest and asking for prosperity in future.
People who make vows for certain specific happenings in their life ( child, marriage, health, house, etc) celebrate by inserting seekhs, skewers, through their cheeks, fish hooks with lemons on their bodies. Some even have themselves hoisted up and carried to the temple with hooks sunk in their bodies. Devotees do not feel pain, as they fall into a trance, which is broken only by application of vibhuti ( holy ash) on them. Others offer their thanks by getting their heads shaved.
The month of Thai is considered to be auspicious by many for marriages and other social events in their family. The entire community participates in the festival with religious fervor to the sounds of devotional songs and immersed in a sea of throbbing drums.