08 February 2012


Let me just begin by saying that I am so grateful to believe in a God who sent his Son to take all of my pain so that I would never have to think about doing this stuff to myself in order to show my faith. What you are about to see is what I call nuts – not to offend anyone (I do nutty things from time to time). Some of the photos in this post portray pain and some may make you cringe; none of the photos show blood or bones.

Thaipusam (TIE-pu-sum) is a Hindu celebration observed by an Indian tribe (actual Indian, not American Indian) known as the Tamil. Singapore has a very large Indian population so it is no surprise that all of Little India came out to celebrate this day to worship Lord Murugan (we saw the statue in Kuala Lumpur at the Batu Caves – post dated 27 November 2011).

The day began very early at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Little India. Men, women and children gathered to prepare offerings for Lord Murugan later in the day. The highlight of the celebration is seen throughout the 4.5-km (2.8-mile) walk that devotees walk from one temple to the next. Men and women of all ages carry Kavadis, or burdens, from one temple to the other. Kavadis may be a jug filled with milk carried on one’s head, a stick with baskets on either side, typically carried on one’s shoulder, a small box-shaped apparatus called a palanquin carried on one’s shoulder or a large structure that is attached to one’s body and is intricately decorated.

Those bearing Kavadis must follow strict rules from the time one decides to bear the Kavadi and the time of the offering. Requirements include a period of celibacy, abstaining from intoxicating drinks and drugs, bearers must grow beards and wear saffron-colored cloths and eat only once per day. On the day of the walk, Kavadi bearers may impose self torture, and many did.

Yesterday was Thaipusam. I began my journey into Little India’s Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple around 9 and arrived nearly an hour later. Some Kavadi bearers had already begun their trek to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple near Dhoby Ghaut by the time that I arrived but there were still many, many more gearing up for their walk.

This was my first time inside an Indian temple so I took a few photos of the inside.

Shoes lining the walls inside and outside of the temple. Yes, my shoes were left outside. 
Those participating in the Thaipusam walk exited the temple through this corridor.

The energy inside the temple was amazing. People were singing, yelling and chanting while drums and wind instruments played. There was excitement all around as the families prepared the Kavadis.

The steel Kavadis take hours to prepare. There are so many pieces and each is so different. Take a look at the various decorations:

Here is a 2-minute video showing how many people it takes to put just the top portion of the Kavadi onto one bearer.

The chants were the loudest when a man’s face was being pierced and when a man had completed the process of assembling and attaching the Kavadi.

Some of the men pierce their bodies to secure fruits and bells (this is when you may cringe).

These are the spikes...
...that go through the holes...
...and into a man's torso.

The finished Kavadi

A path between the two temples was sectioned off along the main roads through town and policemen were positioned to control both foot and vehicle traffic throughout the day. All along the route, friends and family members walked beside and encouraged those carrying Kavadis. 

Cringe Warning!

At one point, I found myself in the middle of the parade. I thought I might look a little funny in some of the onlookers’ photographs.

As we neared the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple, some devotees handed out drinks for the trekkers. At one point, a couple people came out with jugs of water and doused the Kavadi bearers’ feet. It was definitely a hot day in Singapore and walking barefoot on the pavement would certainly add to the pain the men were likely already experiencing.

While the men were stopped, one devotee came into the street and asked the Kavadi bearers to dance; the man excitedly participated.

The second temple was just as crowded as the first with more singing and chanting as each Kavadi bearer entered the temple.

Many people were seen worshiping and providing their offerings inside.

Once the Kavadis were unstrapped from the men’s bodies and the jugs and the palanquins were unloaded, the steel Kavadis were taken apart and the spears were removed.

Preparing to remove the Kavadi

These markings are seen after only a minute or two. I can only imagine what they look like today.

Many people, men, women and children, have their heads shaved on Thaipusam. I did see a sign for the head saving area at the far end of the home stretch but I did not actually see the area near the temple. The heads are shaved as an offering of thanks and gratitude.

I was fascinated by the colors, the grandness of some of the Kavadis, the crowds that came to support the bearers and, of course, I was fascinated by the people who would willingly torture their bodies and complete a 5k. The last time I did a 5k I wanted to kill myself…and I wasn’t carrying anything but self-doubt and my will to survive. 

1 comment:

Stacy said...

Hello, I just found your blog. I really enjoy reading it, i think it's interesting to read about how you think of Singapore. You make it sound like such a lovely place to live in. It's weird how I'm from Singapore and I hate it so much. I'd rather live in Ohio.