Thaipusam in Singapore's Little India

Yesterday marked the beginning of Thaipusam, a Hindu festival celebrated by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai, which falls in January or February. The festival honors Lord Subrahmanya, also know as Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war and victory.

The festival is perhaps best known for the extravagant and, some might say, grotesque piercings of some of the participants. So, gentle reader, be prepared as I have included a few pictures below. 

The procession began around 11:30PM from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Little India and ended at Sri Thendayuthapani Temple (also known as the Chettiars' Temple). The 4.5km walk down Serangoon Road of thousands of men and women in orange garb was an amazing spectacle, with loud cheering and chants from the participants. The scene inside Sri Srinvasa Perumal Temple was wild, completely jam-packed with people singing and dancing. I did not venture into this bedlam.

Most of the crowd were carrying milk pots (Pal Kavadi) as offerings, while others attached larger kavadis (see below) and spikes pierced on their body. The piercings most often appeared on their faces (Alavu Kavadi), though some chose to also pierce their back with various clips and such. These serve tokens of their spiritual debt. In fact, the preparation for Thaipusam begins 48 days earlier, when Hindus take vows of purity while beginning a long period of fasting and abstinence.

Interestingly, the procession is not limited to Hindus, as some Chinese people also celebrate this opportunity of cleansing. 

*Piercing pictures at the end*

Pal Kavadi

 Thol kavadi
Alavu Kavadi

Every person that had some form of piercing was accompanied by at least one helper, who would sometimes be physically holding the other person upright. The piercings here, though shocking, were somewhat tame compared to others in Southeast Asia, like these devotees in Malaysia. I did not hear any complaining from those who underwent the piercings, though they were clearly walking faster than their unharmed compatriots. 

Little India has never failed to surprise or awe me whenever I visit. It continues to maintain its own little world amidst the hustle and bustle of Singapore. The festival continues into Friday, where others also undergo the walk. 

UPDATE - I was in Dhoby Ghaut after a long day for dinner, and lo and behold, they were still marching. The kavadi were much more elaborate, and I finally saw a vel kavadi, which is a giant altar that devotees hold over their head. They are also pierced with 108 vels in a very specific fashion.

Yes, there is a man underneath there

108 piercings, and they all look like they hurt