Thaipusam is a highly symbolic Hindu festival celebrated by Singapore’s Tamil community during the full moon. It commemorates the birth of Lord Murugan, the God of War and patron deity of Tamil Nadu, the state in India where Singapore’s Tamil community has its roots.
Usually held in the months of February or January, Thaipusam, derived from the word “thai” (10th), and “pusam” (when the moon is at its brightest). The festivities surrounding it is, in itself, a stunning spectacle; the centrepiece of the occasion being a procession that consists of devotees going on a 4.5 km walk of faith carrying kavadis (steel canopies that can weigh up to 40 kg spiked through and on to various parts of the devotee’s body, including the mouth, face and back) and items such as milk pots (the milk is poured over the statute of Lord Murugan after the festival) on their shoulders, as well as fruits and flowers. These are symbolic references to their “burdens” and atonement for past sins.
In addition to being revered as a symbol of virtue, bravery, youth and beauty, the Hindus believe that Lord Murugan is also the universal dispenser of favours. Hence, those who have made vows and pledges to Lord Murugan also show gratitude to him by undergoing self-mortification on Thaipusam day. The festival is not just an exclusively Tamil affair; several Chinese devotees and people of other religions and races also come to fulfill their vows on this day.
The festival is a visual spectacle and it brings traffic in the city centre to a standstill, with a colourful procession that’s full of chanting, blaring horns and the dizzying rhythms of Indian drums; as well as a lot of blood, sweat and tears. The devotees have usually fasted for a month (with only one vegetarian meal a day and must practise sexual abstinence) to purify themselves for this gruelling and intense journey, and the procession, which begins in the middle of the day, can take up to six hours to complete, from the start-point of the procession at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Serangoon Road in Little India to the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple on Tank Road, which is also known as Murugan Temple.
The devotees are normally accompanied by friends and family members who cheer and offer support – usually in the form of prayers and chants – from the sidelines. Visitors and locals normally catch the procession by the roadside, respectfully observing the ongoing sacred ritual.
Dates to note:
Thaipusam – 20 January 2011