Jan 30 2012
Will you be in Singapore on February 7, 2012? If so, you won’t want to miss Thaipusam, a gruesome but very fascinating festival practised by the Tamil Hindu community. This annual religious event is also celebrated in India, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia (the Travelfish.org Kuala Lumpur correspondent wrote about it, too).
Update February 8, 2012: Like to see photos from the day? See our photo essay on Thaipusam 2012 in Singapore.
Thaipusam commemorates the victory of the Hindu god Murugan over an evil demon. Murugan also happens to be the patron deity of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and so, by extension, the patron deity of the Tamil people. Thaipusam is an opportunity for Tamils around the world to demonstrate their devotion to this deity, and this may be as simple as making an offering of milk at a Hindu temple or as extreme as self-mortification.
The most spectacular form of this self-sacrifice is the carrying of kavadi, metal semi-circles that are ornately decorated and pierced through the carrier’s body. When I watched the Thaipusam festival last year, I also saw people who had pierced their cheeks with spears and walked on shoes made from nails. The rule seems to be: the more pain, the more merit with Murugan!
In Singapore, preparations for Thaipusam begin early in the morning at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Little India. Many participants – especially the kavadi carriers – spiritually cleanse themselves before participating in Thaipusam by fasting, praying and shaving their heads. Once they’re ready, they walk through central Singapore to another Hindu temple 4.5 kilometres away. Between the intense heat, long walk and metal pierced through their flesh, this is physically exhausting, and the kavadi carriers are cheered on by family and friends.
The end point for the Thaipusam procession is the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple near Clarke Quay. After they’ve entered the temple to make a final prayer, the festival participants can remove their kavadi and any other burdens then sit down to recharge their bodies with a vegetarian meal. There is no set time to begin the Thaipusam procession, so there are new kavadi carriers and supporters arriving at the temple throughout the day. In a uniquely Singaporean twist to this traditionally Indian event, you’ll also see Chinese Hindus and Taoists participating in Thaipusam.
Thaipusam takes place on the full moon during the Tamil month of Thai, which this year falls on February 7, 2012. Thousands of people take part in Thaipusam – and even more come out to watch – so do expect the temples to be extremely crowded!
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