In the 10 days before Thaipoosam Cavadee, devotees observe a period of fasting. On the day of the festival, many of the devotees will have their cheeks, tongues and chests pierced with needles before walking in bare feet to the temple.
On their way to the temple, the devotees carry the cavadee (an arc made from wood, metal or plastic), which symbolises sacred mountains from an ancient Tamil legend about an outlaw who was asked to carry two mountains on a cavadee.
A reformed bandit called Idumban, whose name means 'arrogant' was a disciple of a guru known as Agattiyar. One day, to test his dedication, the guru told Idumban: "go to the mountains, and bring me back the two summits! Attach them at the ends of a cavadee."
Idumban was happy to obey his guru and set off to the mountains. He tied the two peaks to his yoke and started his journey back to Agattiyar. On the way, Lord Muruga, son of Shiva, changed himself into a little boy and hid inside one of the peaks making it even heavier. Idumban discovered the boy and began to hit him, not realising it was Lord Muruga. In retaliation, Muruga fatally injured Idumban with his spear.
Hearing this misfortune, Agattiyar and his followers implored their god to resurrect Idumban. Their prayers were answered and Idumban was brought back to life. Since then it has become a custom that any devotee who carries the Cavadee to the temple will have their wishes granted.
The cavadee is covered with flowers and with a pot of milk. When they reach the temple, the cavadee is placed at the feet of the statue of a divinity.
As part of the ceremony there are also spectacular fire-walking and sword-climbing rituals.