Some days, you just want to go home and instead find yourself in the middle of Tamil Festival. That ever happen to you?
Last week found me in doozy of one. It’s the celebration of Thaipusam. What’s that you ask?
It’s a march from a temple near our house, to a temple near my work. How convenient.
A warning now, the images and ideas behind Thaipusam are not for the faint of heart, or squeamish of stomach. Stop now if you are that person.
Thaipusam is a highly symbolic Hindu festival celebrated by Singapore’s Tamil community. It is an annual procession by Hindu devotees seeking blessings, fulfilling vows and offering thanks. Celebrated in honour of Lord Subrahmanya (also known as Lord Murugan), who represents virtue, youth and power to Hindus and is the destroyer of evil, it is held during the full moon in the 10th Tamil month, called Thai, which falls in mid-January each year.
In Singapore, the Thaipusam ceremony starts in the early hours of the morning where devotees fulfill their vows with a 4.5 km walk from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple along Serangoon Road to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Tank Road. The first batches of devotees usually carry milk pots and wooden Kavadis. A Kavadi consists of two semicircular pieces of wood or steel which are attached to a cross structure that can be balanced on the shoulders of a devotee. It is often decorated with flowers, palm leaves and peacock feathers. The milk they have been carrying is then offered to Lord Subrahmanya at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple.
The day marks an important event in Tamil Hindu culture, and devotees show their respects by carrying ‘burdens’. That’s the Kavadis mentioned above. What they don’t tell you is this large apparatuses that rest on the shoulder has many long ‘needles’ (metal wires) which then pierce the skin. Yes, you read that correctly. Pierce. Long Needles. Many.
You fast, you get pierced, you do a pilgrimage to the temple across town. Along the way you have your friends with you for support and they sing songs and cheer you on so you do a few dances to take you mind off those needles.
I saw several variations. A couple of guys had MANY limes hanging from their chest in rows of 3 x 10 (?) each hanging from a needed piercing their chest in a grid. These guys had a common element as well, two long (6″) needles, that pierces the cheeks left to right, while the tongue is extended and pierced with a needle up and down.
Still with me?
Lest you think this was a messy event, I will say it was OK for me to see, and I am very squeamish, there was not really a lot blood that I saw, just needles, skin, and things hanging from them.
In any event, it was something to see, I am glad I got to catch it, it’s definitely one of the more exotic events I have seen.
Some pics and a video. The video shows one of the elaborate Kavadis that many would carry. Some had LED flashing lights, some feathers, some statues, but the they all had the needles. As he dances you see the arm of the Kavadis flex, the chains are held my needles to his sides, so as he spins those things are flexing, which means (I imagine) he’s feeling them work his skin…..that’s devotion.