Photos of Thaipusam in Singapore

One of the events of the year.

What we say: 4.5 stars

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.

Here they come!

Here they come!

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.

We'd say this could be considered at the extreme end of the spectrum.

We'd say this could be considered at the extreme end of the spectrum.

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.

Quite extreme. Also: OUCH!

Quite extreme. Also: OUCH!

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.

Very not foot massagers.

Not the foot reflexology kind.

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.

He's suffering in silence.

He's suffering in silence.

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 pain is nearly over ...

The pain is nearly over ...

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.

... until next year.

... until next year.

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.

We already said ouch, right?

We already said ouch, right?

Then the piercings and skewers are carefully removed.

We'd probably be asking for more than a little white ash.

We'd probably be asking for more than a little white ash.

And white ash applied to the wounds seems to stop the bleeding.

A well earned rest.

A well earned rest.

Once their burden is removed, kavadi carriers are congratulated by their friends and family, then finally have a chance to relax.

Thirst may be the least of his concerns.

Thirst may be the least of his concerns.

And to rehydrate after their long walk under the blazing Singapore sun.

It's a family thing.

It's a family thing.

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.

Last updated: 15th November, 2014

About the author:
Tanya Procyshyn is a Singapore-based freelance writer and photographer. With a passion for unusual destinations, she has camped alongside Komodo dragons and shook hands with soldiers in North Korea. She blogs at www.idreamofdurian.com.
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