Devotees honour their god of war

The Thaipusam festival is held in honour of the Hindu war god Murugan, who is fabled to have vanquished evil with a spear given to him by Parvati, the goddess of love. 

Observed mainly in Tamil communities throughout the Hindu diaspora, the festival is marked by a procession of devotees famed for their ceremonial piercings.

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Hooks, skewers and miniature tridents are among the ceremonial items used to pierce the skin of devotees during the festival. (Edgar Su/Reuters)

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Hooks inserted in the skin of this man's back are used to pull a chariot in Singapore. (Edgar Su/Reuters)

Participants also carry pots of milk …

Malaysia Thaipusam

This man has milk pots hooked onto his back while participating in a procession in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Joshua Paul/Associated Press)

And other ceremonial burdens

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A devotee in Singapore carries a ceremonial kavadi, or burden, during a Thaipusam procession. (Edgar Su/Reuters)

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Thaipusam is also an occasion for dancing, while carrying a burden. (Edgar Su/Reuters)

A cleansing ritual is held

Devotees prepare for the festival by cleansing themselves through prayer, fasting and smoke. On the day of Thaipusam, participants have their heads shaved before setting off on a short pilgrimage along a set route.

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Before starting a pilgrimage to the Batu Caves, in Kuala Lumpur, devotees cleanse themselves in water and through prayer. (Olivia Harris/Reuters)

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This man, at the Batu Caves, uses smoke to purify himself during the annual event. (Olivia Harris/Reuters)

The pilgrim route in Kuala Lumpur ends at the Batu Caves

The Batu Caves, in Malaysia, is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India. The temple is dedicated to Murugan and is a popular place to celebrate Thaipusam.

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The Batu Caves, a network of tunnels in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, attract over one million devotees and tens of thousands of tourists for the annual festival. (Olivia Harris/Reuters)

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The Batu Caves, where this woman had her tongue pierced, have been used during the Thaipusam festival since 1892. (Olivia Harris/Reuters)