Feb 08 2012
For one day each year, the streets of central Singapore are blocked off to make way for the Hindu festival of Thaipusam, a celebration of spirituality through self-sacrifice. This year it took place on February 7, 2012.
Thousands of people walk the four-kilometre Thaipusam pilgrimage route carrying flower garlands or milk pots to give as offerings to the Hindu god Murugan, but some go to the extreme by carrying ornately decorated metal structures known as kavadi.
The kavadi carrier is traditionally a male and represents his whole family. The carrier may fast and meditate for days to prepare for this ritual, and is accompanied along the way by friends and family. The kavadi can weigh up to 20 kilograms and are decorated with peacock feathers and images of Hindu deities.
Some kavadi are supported by a belt or balanced on the shoulders, but most are pierced through the carrier’s flesh. The greater the physical pain and sacrifice, the greater the spiritual merit.
In case walking four kilometers in the tropical heat carrying a kavadi doesn’t show enough sacrifice, some Thaipusam participants wear shoes made of nails.
Some participants pierce their cheeks and tongues with metal skewers known as vel. These are symbolic of the spear that Murugan, the god that Thaipusam is devoted to, used to kill a demon.
The final destination for all Thaipusam participants is the Sri Thendayuthapani temple (also known as the Chettiar Temple). Here, they give their offering to the gods and celebrate the end of their pilgrimage. You’ll never see the temple busier than it is on Thaipusam.
After passing through the temple, the kavadi carriers proceed to an outdoor tent where their entourage dismantle the kavadi and pack it away for next year.
Then the piercings and skewers are carefully removed.
And white ash applied to the wounds seems to stop the bleeding.
Once their burden is removed, kavadi carriers are congratulated by their friends and family, then finally have a chance to relax.
And to rehydrate after their long walk under the blazing Singapore sun.
Though it is the tradition that only men carry kavadis and pierce their bodies, Thaipusam is a family event and wives and children come to the temple to pray and offer support until the festival wraps up well past midnight.
Thaipusam is also celebrated in Malaysia, with the focal point being Batu Caves. Here’s what we saw there yesterday.
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