The multicultural and multiethnic practices of Singapore come forward time and again as the citizens come together in celebration of every festival regardless of their religions. A prominent instance of the city's cultural diversity can be seen in the celebration of the glorious Hindu festival, Thaipusam. Primarily celebrated by the Hindu Tamil community all over the world, this festival falls on the full moon day in the tenth month of the Tamil calendar, Thai. On Thaipusam, people express gratitude and practice asceticism as well as complete control over their senses.
The word, Thaipusam is a blend of the word 'Thai', along with 'Pusam', which is the name of the star which shines the brightest and is positioned at its highest point in the sky during this festival. It is a day which marks the fulfilment of the vows taken by the devotees. Thaipusam is celebrated to honour the representative of youth, virtue, and strength, Lord Murugan. Also known as Lord Subramanya, Murugan is believed to be the destroyer of evil.
Dawn of Thaipusam
As per the tradition, this Hindu Festival commenced during one of the major wars waged between the Devas and the Asuras. There came a point when the latter emerged victorious too many times in a row. Unable to dodge the onslaught of the aggressive forces of the demons, the Devas, in despair and utter helplessness, approached Lord Shiva and requested him to bestow an able leader upon them, under whose heroic and efficient leadership they might be triumphant over the Asuras, particularly over Soorapadman. Their incessant penance and surrender led Shiva to fulfil their wishes. As a result, He created Murugan, the mighty warrior, out of His own enormous power, popularly known as his Achintya Shakti.
Without delay, Murugan assumed complete leadership of the Devas and along with the celestial forces, emerged victorious over the Asuras. To commemorate this day, people started celebrating Thaipusam. This religious festival also marks the day when Goddess Parvati blessed Lord Murugan with a divine spear, known as the Vel so that he could destroy the evil Soorapadman with it. In some communities, it is believed that Murugan's birthday falls on the day of this festival.
Celebration of Thaipusam in Singapore
Thaipusam is celebrated for two days in Singapore and both days are equally significant with respect to religion.
The First Day, or the Eve of Thaipusam
One of the prime events celebrated on the day before Thaipusam is a grand and magnificent chariot procession in which Lord Murugan is taken to the Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple from his shrine at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple for a day so that he can visit his brother, Lord Vinayagar. On His way to visit His brother, the chariot stops at the Sri Mariamman Temple so that Lord Murugan may offer His greetings to the Goddess residing within the sanctuary. Goddess Mariamman is believed to be the manifestation of His mother, Goddess Parvati. In the evening, the chariot with Sri Murugan retreats to His altar, and the members and devotees of the Chettiar community carry kavadis. This ceremony is usually referred to as the Chetty Poosam.
The Second Day, or the Thaipusam Day
On this day, the celebrations begin early in the morning. After offering prayers at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, one group after the other leave for the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple with milk pots as their offerings to Lord Murugan. Others carry wooden kavadis. The temple receives devotees and their offerings until almost seven in the evening. After arriving at the central shrine of the main sanctum, the milk offerings are taken from the devotees and are poured over the divine spear planted inside the temple. The devotees who fulfil their vows on completing the four-kilometre walk from Sri Srinivasa Perumal to Sri Thendayuthapani receive sacred ash.
For the devotees, Thaipusam is the day when the month-long spiritual preparation topped with practising celibacy, and stringent vegetarian diet comes to a crescendo. It is a widespread belief that only after the mind rids itself of all physical pleasures and material gains, can a worshipper be able to undertake the sacred task of carrying kavadis without being subjected to pain.
What is unique about Thaipusam?
The kavadi carrying ceremony is undoubtedly the unique feature of this sacred festival. The word 'kavadi' literally signifies 'sacrifice at every step' in Tamil. Kavadis are semi-circular frames, usually made of steel or wood, which are carried by the devotees for the entire length of the procession. The kavadis can weigh up to forty kilograms and reach up to a height of four metres. Adorned with peacock feathers and colourful flowers, these frames have bars to provide support on the shoulders. A milk pot is usually attached to each pole of the kavadi.
Many devotees go to the extent of piercing their bodies to carry spiked kavadis. However, it is not mandatory for every faithful worshipper to undertake such extreme measures in the name of religion. The ones who bear the kavadi are not only considered to offer presents to God, but the entire embellished frame is seen as a shrine for Lord Murugan. Another common spectacle during this festival is the piercing of cheeks, skin or tongues with the skewers of the Vel since the devotees believe that it gives them a tremendous power of endurance. The entire procession is aided by live traditional music.
When is Thaipusam Celebrated?
Thai, the tenth month of the Tamil Calendar, corresponds to January and February of the Gregorian calendar. This year, the religious festival was held on the 31st of January. In 2019, the festival falls on the 21st of January, which is a Monday.
Where is the festival celebrated in Singapore?
The rituals of this glorious festival are carried out at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple as well as the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple, and the procession can be witnessed at any point between these two sanctums.
Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple can be accessed both by the public as well as private transits. The nearest MRT station is Farrer Park. From the Exit G of this station, it takes only a minute to reach the holy place of worship on foot. Those who prefer to travel by road may book a cab, ride their own vehicles, or get on the bus 64, 65, 66, 67, 21, 23, 125, 130, 139, 141, 147, or 857 and disembark at the Serangoon Road bus terminal which is just a minute away from the temple.
Sri Thendayuthapani Temple is a famed tourist attraction and is connected to major routes throughout the city. It is only a short walk away from the Exit B of the nearest station, the Dhoby Ghaut MRT. The buses 64, 123, 139, and 143 can also take you to the bus stop at Tank Road. From there, it is a two-minute walk to this revered temple.
Thaipusam truly is an extraordinary festival which brings out the ultimate faith and endurance in the devotees. It is a time for heartfelt thanksgiving and pompous celebrations, of sincere prayers and faithful rituals, and of sacrifices and virtues. It is a festival which brings people together to offer themselves to their Lord and saviour, Sri Murugan.