Photo of Thaipusam devotee by tajai / June (Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cayce/104567964/)
Four percent of Singapore’s population is Hindu. Thaipusam, which this year falls on Tuesday, February 7, is an important festival among the tamil-speaking members of this group. The celebration is rich in legends and honors Murugan, a Hindu deity and son of Shiva and Parvati. One popular story is that Thaipusam marks the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a spear so that he could vanquish a feared demon.
Thaipusam is perhaps best known for the procession of Hindu devotees who, on the day of the festival, carry a burden called a Kavadi. Some bear simple Kavadi such as milk jugs, while others pierce their mouth, cheeks, and skin with rods as a demonstration of their faith. Still other devotees balance large, complex alters boasting colorful displays of flowers, deities, and peacock feathers. These structures are supported by metal hooks and skewers, which pierce the brave participants’ upper bodies.
Well before the festival begins, devotees undertake a regime of mental and physical purification, which includes, among other things, a strict vegetarian diet. They believe that only when they are free of all distraction can they undertake this pilgrimage without pain.
Singapore hosts one of the largest Thaipusam festivals in Asia. The procession begins early in the morning, as devotees carry their Kavadi on a four-kilometer route between the Sri Srinivasa Perumal and Sri Thendayuthapani Temples in Little India. Family and friends stand by, chanting, praying and drumming to maintain morale during this sacred journey.
This year, Erik and I plan to get up before dawn to witness this festival firsthand. Stay tuned for photos of this unique event.
For more information on where to celebrate local holidays in Singapore, visit www.yoursingapore.com.