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Thaipusam festival guide - Singapore Colour, passion and pain

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The Thaipusam festival is not for the faint hearted – it is a visually startling experience involving a noisy and colourful procession and an abundance of body piercing.

The word “Thaipusam” comes from the name of the month “Thai” and “Pusam” which refers to a star that is at its highest point during the festival. It is a Hindu celebration of the battle of good over evil, when Lord Murugan, the Hindu God of war defeated the demon Soorapadman.

What happens at Thaipusam in Singapore?

This year the festival falls on February 9th. Although it’s not a public holiday in Singapore, many thousands will take part and certain areas of the city will come to a stand still. Gwen Gillies has been running BA Tours for more than four years and says the Thaipusam Festival is a “must see”.

Preparations for the festival take place the day before. On the second day, everyone assembles at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple where they pay homage by accepting body piercings and kavadis or burdens. The procession then follows a 4 km route down Serangoon Road to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Tank Road - also known as the Chettiars Temple - where kavadis are presented to the Hindu Gods.

What are kavadis?

Kavadis or burdens can vary, Gwen explains:

“The simplest kavadi is a wooden rod carried on the shoulders (and which may support a pot of milk.) But kavadis can be huge structures weighing up to 40kg and more than 2m high. Devotees may also spear their tongue or cheeks. This prevents them from speaking, but they say it gives them gives great powers of endurance while reminding them of Lord Murgham. More elaborate kavadis involve hooks pierced into their backs weighed down with limes.” “I love the see the families and friends supporting the devotee by praying, drumming and chanting to keep up morale. Particularly, I love to see the women and children who are gorgeous in their colourful saris and jewellery.”

How do participants prepare?

The devotees taking part in the procession will spiritually prepare themselves for several days if not weeks beforehand. Many will live a life of abstinence for a month; some will fast or follow a strict vegetarian diet, while continuously thinking of their God. This is supposed to free the mind of material obstacles and prepare the body physically.

Where else does the festival take place?

Those who have seen the festival describe it as an amazing spectacle in Singapore but the celebrations reach staggering proportions in Malaysia, particularly Penang and Kuala Lumpur. Find out all you need to know in our next post on Thaipusam in Malaysia.

Quick Facts

Singapore festival date: All Day on 9th February 2017

Location: Serangoon Road, Selegie Road and Tank Road

Best place to watch: Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Serangoon Road –

Getting there: Take the MRT to Farrer Park and follow directions to the temple. The procession ends at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Tank Road (also known as Chettiars Temple.)

More information on Thaipusam in Singapore visit thaipusam.sg.

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