Thaipusam Singapore in Little India
- A Festival for the Brave

Thaipusam Singapore Date:
Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Where:
Serangoon Rd, Selegie Road, Tank Road.

Best Time to See It:
All day

Best Place to See It:
Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Serangoon Road. Take the MRT to Farrer Park Station and follow directions to Temple.

On this page: [Meaning of Thaipusam] [Thaipusam Photo Tour] [Tips for Tourists]

Believe me. Thaipusam Singapore-style is one Festival that can give you goosebumps. No where else will you see people piercing themselves with so many types of sharp objects.

It is extremely spectacular, but a little overwhelming if you have a weak stomach. For me, it is a fascinating festival to watch.

Thaipusam usually falls in January or February. If you are visiting during this season, be sure to see the Thaipusam Singapore Festival along Serangoon Road.

Meaning of Thaipusam

Thaipusam actually celebrates the victory of the Hindu deity Subramanya over the forces of darkness. On this occasion, Hindus show the sincerity of their faith. It is a time for making and fulfilling vows. Devotees pray for divine help and make vows. When their prayers are answered, they fulfil their vows.

To do this, a devotee would pierce his cheeks, tongue, face or other suitable body parts with sharp objects. Next his friends or relatives load a *kavadi on his shoulder. Finally, in a trance-like manner, he goes on a 4km journey of faith.

Thaipusam Singapore - Friends assembling a kavadi for devotee.
* A kavadi is a cage-like structure carried by devotees during the Thaipusam Festival.

It is traditionally decorated with peacock feathers and aluminium plates  which show images of Hindu deities. Sharp spikes criss-cross its lower section.

An elaborate kavadi might weigh up to 15kg! It is quite something just to lift it. But these chaps I saw actually walked with them for 4km - kavadis, skewers, hooks, spikes and all!

Some of them even skipped and danced with their kavadis. Either they have great endurance or they have some supernatural help.

Others, including young children, might join the procession carrying only milk pots. The Thaipusam Singapore procession starts at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Serangoon Road and ends at the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple on Tank Road.

At first look, one might think that the festival starts at one temple and ends at another. Not so. Many of the devotees start fasting a month before the Thaipusam Singapore festivities. Others fast a week. Yet others three days.

A Hindu friend said this to me, "If you are going to put a 12-inch skewer through your cheeks and a hundred spikes in your chest, you'd better take your fast seriously!"

Thaipusam Festival Photo Tour

Thaipusam Singapore starts at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple.
Thaipusam Singapore turns the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple into a busy, busy place.

Many devotees pray here during the week before the procession.

On the eve of the Festival, truck-loads of equipment arrive - kavadi frames, spikes, aluminium plates, etc.


Thaipusam Singapore - Devotees offer prayers before the procession.
In the backyard of the temple, these devotees offer prayers before setting up their kavadis.

They first fill the metal containers with milk.

Next, they burn incense and light oil lamps.

If you count these milk holders, you'll notice that they amount to numbers ending with 1 - 21, 51, 101 and so on. Do you know why?

Thaipusam Singapore - Musicians create the spiritual atmosphere!
The prayers done, friends and relatives start loading the kavadi frames onto the shoulders of devotees.

Thaipusam preparations are never quiet affairs. In the background, musicians pound drums and blow bugles.

This music gets the devotees into the right frame of mind, I am told.

Thaipusam Singapore - Spikes being inserted into a devotee's body.
A trusted relative pierces tens (or hundreds?) of spikes into the devotee's body.

He then spreads these spikes out in a very interesting pattern, and slots the free ends into the kavadi.

Nobody cringes. Nobody bleeds! I mean I didn't see anybody feeling pain at Thaipusam Singapore ;).

Thaipusam Singapore - Ankke weights added to a devotee's legs.
Leather straps with bells are added to the ankles of some devotees.

I tried to look more carefully, but could not see if there were needles beneath the straps.

Do you know why they wear these?

Thaipusam Singapore - Lime & hooks on a devotee's back.
In Hindu worship, lime symbolises protection by the deities.

Look at the number of fruits on this young man's back. No prizes for guessing what he's asking from the deities.

Thaipusam Singapore - Fish hooks on devotee's back. Notice the size of the fish hooks on this chap's back? And the milk pots that hang from some of them?

This is not kid's play.

Thaipusam Singapore - A relative helps a devotee to insert a skewer through his cheeks.
I was lucky enough to witness this body-piercing act - a skewer being pushed through the cheeks of a devotee.

The devotee's friends chant and sing in the background. Meanwhile, one of them massages the devotee's cheeks with some white powder.

At first, I thought the stuff was talcum powder.

My Hindu friend, Jelena, laughed. "Use talcum powder, and the poor chap would be screaming when the skewer goes through," she said.

"It has to be holy ash!" she insisted.


Thaipusam Singapore - Skewering in progress!
Then the moment of truth. The skewer goes in.

Amazingly, there is no blood, no tears, and no moaning!
 

Thaipusam Singapore - Devotee gets ready once the skewer is in place! Finally, the skewer comes out from the other cheek. Truly astounding stuff.

Please don't try this at home.

Thaipusam Singapore - Devotee with pierced cheeks. Young men, old men, and everyone in between - they all go through the same age-old Thaipusam rites.

Thaipusam Singapore - the crowds at Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple. Once ready, the devotees with kavadis queue up to leave the temple. Friends and relatives rally around them.

Kavadi after kavadi, they line the temple grounds.

Thaipusam Singapore - A relative makes a coconut offering. As each devotee makes his way out of the temple, a friend lights up a de-husked coconut and chants a prayer.

Next, in one fell swoop, this helper smashes the coconut against the ground. The fruit breaks into bits.

What does all this mean?

Clue: The coconut represents an obstacle that the devotee wants to overcome...


Thaipusam Singapore - The procession begins on Serangoon Road. Finally the man of the moment makes his way onto Serangoon Road.

He carries his own load. But he's not alone. There are hundreds of others doing the same.

At some places, traffic comes to a standstill. Who would not stop to look?

During the Thaipusam Singapore Festival, drivers are unusually tolerant of slow-moving traffic.

Thaipusam Singapore - A colourful kavadi with images of deities and peacock feathers.

For some of the devotees, nothing less than the best will do.

Look at the elaborate decorations on this kavadi.

When a devotee dances and skips, these shiny plates dazzle under the mid-day sun.


   
Thaipusam Singapore - Family members accompany the devotee during the Thaipusam procession. In times like this, it's nice to have friends and relatives around you.

Thaipusam Singapore - Friends alongside Thaipusam devotee on Serangoon Road. Especially if they walk the whole way with you to Tank Road, singing, chanting and cheering you on...

Thaipusam Festival 2012 - Tips for Tourists

  1. Cheap hotels near the Thaipusam Singapore Festival:

  2. The preparations for the 'big day' actually begins the night before. Therefore, for Thaipusam Singapore 2012, you'll be able to see the prayers, burning of incense, et cetera, on the night of 6 Feb 2012.
If the Thaipusam Singapore Photo Tour has fascinated you, why not see my other Little India Singapore Photo Tours?


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