Anyone who says Singapore is boring has obviously never witnessed the gruesome-but-fascinating festival of Thaipusam. This year it happens on January 27. Here’s everything you need to know.
Thaipusam is a religious celebration practised by Tamil Hindu communities around the world. It commemorates the victory of the god Murugan over a demon, but is also an opportunity for people to show their devotion to this deity by performing a task in his name. What this task should be is open to interpretation, and while some devotees simply make offerings at temples others take it to the extreme by piercing their flesh with metal hooks and skewers. The most spectacular form of this self-mortification is carrying a kavadi – an ornately decorated metal cage pierced through the carrier’s body.
Thaipusam is also a time of spiritual cleansing and participants may fast, pray and shave their head before the event.
As Thaipusam takes place on the full moon during the Tamil month of Thai, the date varies each year; this year, as we mentioned, it takes place on January 27.
Preparations for Thaipusam begin at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Little India. Here, the kavadi are assembled, piercings are made and prayers are said before devotees begin the 4.5-kilometre Thaipusam procession through central Singapore to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple.
In the morning, the best place to see Thaipusam is the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple. If it’s after noon, the best place is the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple (Chettiar Temple) which serves as the festival’s end point. Here, devotees remove their kavadi and piercings then refuel their bodies with a free vegetarian meal. The temple is about a 10-minute walk from Clarke Quay MRT station.
As there is no set time to begin the Thaipusam procession (and many devotees are not able to start until the end of the work day), new kavadi carriers and devotees arrive at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple throughout the afternoon and into the night.
While photography is permitted at Thaipusam, it’s important to be respectful of this religious event. Dragging a metal cage by your skin in the tropical heat is not an easy task, so it’s important that you do not get in the participants’ way, even if you think it’ll result in the perfect shot.
The largest Thaipusam celebrations take place in India, particularly the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Thaipusam is also celebrated in Malaysia where it is a public holiday and there is a spectacular turn-out at the Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur.
By Tanya Procyshyn
Last updated on 20th April, 2015.