Celebrated by the Tamil population of Singapore, Thaipusam is a two-day festival dedicated to Lord Murugan - the Hindu God of war and epitomizes youth, power, and virtue. It falls on the day of the full moon during the Tamil month of Thai. Celebration of Thaipusam in Singapore involves early morning prayers, asceticism, self-control, processions and piercings.
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. The most distinct feature of Thaipusam in Singapore is the huge adorned kavadi, which is carried by the devotees and involves a lot of skin piercings. Women and children also actively take part in the celebration by carrying large pots of milk to offer to God to thank him for fulfilling their dreams and desires.
As per the tradition, Thaipusam 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.
Rituals Associated with Kavadi
The literal meaning of the word ‘kavadi’ is ‘sacrifice at every step’ when translated to English from the Tamil language. The kavadi is a large and elaborate wooden and metal structure, which is carried throughout the procession and is secured to the devotees by means of the piercings. It is, in fact, a walk which requires a lot of dedication, given that devotees walk on shoes that have been made up of spikes. The chest, back, and tongues of the participants are pierced, which even prevent them from speaking, and thus give them great endurance levels.
The tradition of the Kavadi goes back to the ancient times and revolves around the Puranic legend wherein a worshipper of Lord Murugan carried two hills on his shoulders. The Lord then declared that whosoever would carry an object similar to the two hills suspended by a pole would be blessed to his/her heart’s desire.
Today, a kavadi can weigh up to 40 kilograms and is around 4 meters in height. Usually built in a semi-circle shape, the kavadi is adorned with fruits and peacock feathers. Though there are bars to provide some sort of support to the carriers, much of the weight is born by the piercings itself. It is believed that by carrying this physical burden, the devotees play to the Lord for their divine help.
The spiked kavadis also resemble the vel of Lord Murugan, or his spear: a divine weapon that his mother has given him. It is thus believed that getting pierced does not hurt, because when the mind and body of a devotee are free from all material and physical pleasures, the body can withstand such tasks without suffering from any pain.
Where to Go for Celebrating Thaipusam in Singapore
One of the largest Thaipusam celebrating communities resides in Singapore, and thus the festival there is a grand affair. The Hindu Tamils are very proud of their traditions and rituals, and they take delight in sharing their tradition with other people. Thus, if you happen to be in Singapore during this time, be sure to step out and witness the flamboyant festivities.
The major landmarks where these celebrations take place include:
Little India The annual kavadi procession starts from the charming streets of this historic place, and then goes on for 4.5 kilometres, with more and more visitors joining in between.
Sri Thendayuthapani Temple Built in the dedication of Lord Murugan, the temple never fails to mesmerize onlookers with its dazzling roof and etched glass panels that cleverly catch the sparkle of the rising and the setting sun. How to Reach - 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 Mariamman Temple One of the most easily recognizable and famous landmarks of Singapore, Sri Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. The temple also boasts of having an elaborate gopuram, which is adorned with the sculptures of various deities as well as mythological beasts. How to Reach: 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.