Want to learn a little more about this unique Hindu festival? Our quick guide will tell you everything you need to know before watching the procession.
While Thaipusam may not be recognised as a public holiday, this spectacular festival attracts thousands of Hindu devotees annually. Its most distinctive feature is the large decorated kavadi carried by many participants, with the incorporation of skin piercings. But if all this is new to you, or you have no clue what this festival is about, we’ve put together a handy guide to give you a basic understanding of Thaipusam.
Majority of the devotees who participate in Thaipusam are Hindu Tamils, but it’s not uncommon to find Hindus of other ethnicities taking part in the procession. This is especially true in Singapore, considering our vibrant mix of cultures.
Thaipusam is a thanksgiving of sorts for devotees to celebrate the fulfilment of their vows and show their gratitude towards Lord Murugan for granting them favours. A month is spent to spiritually prepare for the big day, with worshippers upholding a strict vegetarian diet.
The most iconic part of this festival is the kavadi itself. This intricate structure is decorated with flowers and peacock feathers (symbols of Murugan), and it can weigh up to 30 kilos and reach up to four metres. While this may seem like a harrowing experience, kavadi bearers often feel a sense of peace and may even enter a trance-like state. This is aided by live music played by urumi melam (traditional drum) groups.
But not all who join the procession have to partake in piercings from the kavadi. Some choose to carry the wooden structures without the spikes, while women and children under 16 years old carry pots of milk as offerings for Lord Murugan.
Devotees carry the elaborately decorated kavadi as a form of ceremonial sacrifice in worship of Lord Murugan (also known as Lord Subramaniam) as he represents the eradication of evil. The kavadi’s weight and the hooks pierced through the bearer’s skin represent a physical burden, through which devotees beseech Murugan for divine help. The bearer also observes celibacy and consumes a single meal of pure Satvik food (essentially vegetarian foods that aren’t pungent) just once a day, beginning 48 hours before Thaipusam begins, to cleanse the mind and physical state.
The procession of kavadi bearers begins at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple at Serangoon Road and ends at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple at Tank Road. If you’re keen to see the spectacle firsthand, then Serangoon Road is a good place to catch the procession. The entire route measures 4.5 km.
Thaipusam falls on 8 February this year. A common misconception is that the festival commemorates Murugan’s birthday, but the date actually marks his vanquishing of the demon Soorapadman. Note: In light of the 2019 novel coronavirus in Singapore, the organisers request attendees to observe basic personal hygiene and wear a mask if you’re unwell. Trained volunteers will also be stationed along the procession route, should you need assistance.
Thaipusam, 8 February 2020, Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, 397 Serangoon Road, Singapore 218123