This morning I woke up early to head out to Little India’s Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple and walk with the devotees in honor of Thaipusam. This holiday is celebrated every year by the Hindu-Tamil community in the Hindu month of Thai. Thaipusam honors the Hindu god Murugan. Devotees carry milk pots on their heads, over poles they carry on shoulders, or on their bodies, attached by hooks. Piercings of the cheeks and tongue are a common sight, and in many cases a devotee will carry a portable wooden altar that is attached to the body by 108 spears, spiked through the skin (above). In Singapore, devotees walk from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple along a fixed route to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple, approximately 4.5 kilometers. I walked along the route outside of the gated area set aside for devotees and found the experience very moving. I think I would struggle to even carry the jug of milk on my head for 4.5 kilometers. The level of devotion required to carry these heavy altars while pierced through the skin is just amazing to me. If you are interested in attending next year, just show up at Sri Srinivasa Temple (Farrer Road MRT) around 8 or 9 in the morning and follow the crowd.
WARNING: Photos that follow are not for the squeemish.
Above are several kavadi-bearers. Kavadi means the physical burden that devotees endure in offering and supplication for help from Lord Murugan. Notice the men in the far right photo have small milk jugs attached to their backs while the others carry the altar with peacock feathers and other decorative touches. These men are surrounded by family and supporters who chant, sing, dance, and play drums, chimes and recorded music to keep the devotees going. These attendants pour water in their mouths and help adjust bandages on knees. Many of the altar-bearers walk with a cane. They also routinely stop and do a short dance. You can click on the images to see larger view.
This photo was taken in the waiting area outside the temple. It was a long wait to get in.
Here’s a portion of the crowd outside the temple. You can see a few people with shaved heads and orange dye on the head, as well as those carrying milk jugs on their head.
Another type of kavadi is to pierce hooks through the back. Devotees are then restrained by their fellows or pull an altar.
Goparum of the Sri Thenayuthapani Temple, where the Singapore Thaipusam procession ends.
Once inside the devotees offer prayers and milk is collected. Here, the small pots of milk are cut from the hooks so the milk within can be added to a giant receptacle. This milk is then poured on a sacred spear at the temple. This spear represents the one Parvati gave to Murugan to defeat a demon.
Thaipusam is celebrated in January or February in countries with a large Tamil-Hindu population. The most famous and widely attended celebration of Thaipusam in Southeast Asia is held at the Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The procession there is 15 kilometers. We hope to attend someday. Maybe next year?