Thaipusam is a Hindu festival, Thai refers to the Tamil month that the festival takes place and Pusam is the name of a star, at its highest on that day. This festival celebrates the day a Hindu God Murugan was gifted a Vel (spear) from his parents and sent to conquered an evil demon and protect mankind. After doing so legends tell us he appeared to his devotees, carrying a Vel and decorated with ornaments, sitting on a silver chariot. Below is an image of him with his spear. The festival is generally celebrated in countries where there is a significant Tamil community.
In Singapore the festival starts the night before with a Murugan procession between two local temples. In the early hours of the following morning devotees gather at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Serangoon Road.
Prior to this day devotees will have followed a strict period of preparation where they eat only vegetarian food, sleep on the floor and abstain from the comforts of life, for a period of 48 days. It is believed that this preparation builds the faith that God will not let them shed blood, or feel pain, for the acts of self mortification that follow.
The devotees carry a Kavadi, the simplest of which might be a wooden pole carried over the shoulders with milk pots at either end, often carried by children. I also saw many women and children carrying simple milk pots of their heads.
The men however were generally much more extravagant. The carried large Kavadis, perhaps a meter wide which were attached to their bodies with spikes.
Some walked on nailed shoes…
And some dragged Murugan shrines with spikes in their back
I arrived at the temple at Serangoon Road at 5am to, what was for me, a truly unique atmosphere. Tamil families in their finery, often with special matching outfits. Burning incense, music and drums and ritual chats being sang everywhere. The music and chanting encourages the men to feel no pain as they are fitted with the Kavadis. The idea is that they should almost be in trance, thinking only of God.
Once they are fitted with the Kavadi, they leave the temple and walk 4.5km to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Tank road. They usually have an entourage of family and friends walk with them and they sing and dance along the way. When they arrive in Tank road they empty the milk pots over a statue of Murugan. I wish photographs could better capture the sounds, smells and colours of this festival.
The Vel spikes render participants speechless, so they can concentrate fully on their act of devotion.
Devotees believe that this festival is their way of paying penance for their sins, or as an act of thanks for a year of good fortune. They are carrying a burden, some say carrying themselves and pouring their blood (milk) over Murugan, giving their entire being over to him. In South East Asia the festival has reached a bit of a cult status and Chinese and even Europeans are sometimes seen taking part. It is believe that it may have been used as a secret society initiation.
Whatever the reason I felt privileged to be able to see these incredible acts of devotions.