Want to learn a little more about Thaipusam in Singapore? Our quick guide will tell you everything you need to know before the celebrations begin.
While Thaipusam in Singapore 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 numerous participants, with the incorporation of skin piercings. However, the popular procession celebrating the festival won’t be happening this year. But devotees are allowed to visit temples in groups of five. Those carrying the milk pot offerings are allocated a separate queue. If all this is new to you, we’ve put together a handy guide to give you a basic understanding of Thaipusam.
Who participates in the festival?
The majority of 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 melting pot of cultures.
What is it about?
Thaipusam is a thanksgiving of sorts for devotees to celebrate the fulfilment of their vows and show their gratitude to Lord Murugan for granting them favours. A month is spent spiritually preparing 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). It can weigh up to 30kg 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. Meanwhile, women and children under 16 carry pots of milk as offerings for Lord Murugan.
How is it celebrated?
Devotees carry the elaborately decorated kavadi as a form of ceremonial sacrifice in worship of Lord Murugan (also known as Lord Subramaniam). 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) once a day. This happens 48 hours before Thaipusam begins to cleanse the mind and physical state.
When does the festival take place?
Thaipusam falls on 18 January 2022. A common misconception is that the festival commemorates Murugan’s birthday. But, the date actually marks his vanquishing of the demon Soorapadman.
In light of Covid-19 restrictions, there’ll be a number of precautionary measures. Signs and barricades will guide worshippers to the entry and exit points at Tank Road where Sri Thendayuthapani Temple is located. Approximately 14,000 people are expected to attend the festivities, with hundreds of volunteers present to ensure crowd control and safety.
Thaipusam, 18 January 2022, Sri Thendayuthapani Temple, 15 Tank Road, Singapore 238065