Thaipusam is my favourite Singapore thing. Witnessing last year’s festival blew me away and opened my mind to the beauty and wonderment of a celebration that is far, far removed from anything I had ever seen before.
Thaipusam is (according to the font of all wisdom, Wikipedia) a Hindu celebration which is celebrated mainly by Tamil’s. Devotees walk a pilgrimage carrying a burden (kavadi). A kavadi can be as simple as a pot of milk (often held on the head) to the other extreme of self mortification where the devotee is pierced with spears. Devotees undergo an intense preparation that includes fasting and celibacy for weeks leading up the the festival.
Thaipusam is celebrated on the full moon in the month of Thai (according to the Hindu calendar), which fell on a Sunday this year. The Thaipusam walk begins at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Little India and as anyone who has been in Singapore longer than a month will tell you that the one place you do not go to on a Sunday is Little India, so I had been vacillating about going in the days leading up to the event. But I knew that I would kick myself for the next year if I didn’t duck down for an hour or two and headed up to Little India at about 9am on Sunday morning.
As soon as I got near to Serangoon Road and could hear the drum beats and the joyous singing and saw a man dancing while bearing an enormous kavadi I knew I’d made the right decision.
Thaipusam lifts my soul in a way that no other religious celebration I’ve witnessed ever has. Sure, opening presents on Christmas morning lifts my soul but that’s more to do with instant gratification and consumerism than religion.
I know very, very little about Hinduism but the vibe I get from Thaipusam is that is very family oriented and inclusive. Bystanders are not made to feel unwelcome (although I did see a few who I personally felt were too close to the devotees) and at the various free drink and food stations along the way everyone is encouraged to partake, not just the participants. I don’t think any of the major religions in Australia would be happy for spectators to come into their place of worship with their cameras and their curiosity in the same way the Singaporean Hindu community do.
Last year I moved from one devotee to the next, but this year I stood to the side and watched one gentleman (and his family) ready themselves for the pilgrimage ahead. It was an honour. I tried to pay particular attention to the rituals involved and whilst not understanding the language I could tell that these were rituals that had been followed for many, many years. Here is his journey (which is really only a small portion of it, of course).
The man was lying on the ground, arms extended. A group of men (family, I assume) were crouching over his back and praying/chanting.
When the men stood up I could see that they must have been praying after placing these hooks in the skin of his back.
His family helped him to stand, and I want to stress here that at no time did he appear to be in pain and there was no blood. Not a single drop.
Offering prayers. The dignity of these people blows me away.
A bowl of holy ash. This is dabbed on the site of each piercing.
Piercing his cheeks. His family/friends crowd around him and chant as this is being done. I assume this is to help the devotee keep focussed?
Tongue piercing. Not the patch of holy ash on his tongue.
At this point he was giving and receiving a blessing to a lady who I assume is his wife.
The man gives blessings (using the ash) to the members of his group. There were people of all ages involved.
Prayers before he moves off.
Blessings which involved flower petals being showered over him.
One last prayer to the altar of the temple before the party leaves for the 4.5km trak through the hot streets of Singapore.
He leaves the temple pulling his burden, surrounded by his chanting and singing family.
I consider it a massive honour to be able to watch this beautiful, colour filled, joyous celebration. What my photos can’t capture is the joy that radiates from this event. the pride that the whole family takes in showing their devotion. It’s amazing.
Thank you to the Hindu community in Singapore for your inclusiveness and your beauty.
PS: Conicidentally, I photographed this man last year, which you can see in last year’s blog post.