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During Thaipusam, devotees undergo rituals of self-mortification as they seek the favour of Lord Murugan.

Photo by Lionel Boon

Anchored by a large, colourful annual procession, Thaipusam sees Hindu devotees in Singapore seeking blessings, fulfilling vows and offering thanks.

The festival is celebrated in honour of Lord Subramaniam (also known as Lord Murugan), who represents virtue, youth and power, and is the destroyer of evil.

The festival generally lasts for 2 days. On the eve, the chariot procession (with the Lord Murugan statue) begins from Sri Thendayuthapani Temple at Tank Road to Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple at Keong Siak Road.

The Thaipusam ceremony starts in the early hours of the morning. The first batch of devotees carry milk pots and wooden kavadis. Some pierce their tongues with skewers and carry a wooden kavadi decorated with flowers and peacock feathers balanced on their shoulders. Other devotees carry spiked kavadis that require elaborate preparation.

Preparing for the ritual

Indeed, for devotees, Thaipusam is often the climax of an entire month spent in spiritual preparation with a strict vegetarian diet.

It is believed that only when the mind is free of material worth and the body free from physical pleasures can a devotee undertake the sacred task without feeling any pain.

A colourful procession

Of course, not all who join the Thaipusam procession commit to such extremes – many 'kavadi' have no spikes and women often simply carry a pot of milk, an offering which symbolises abundance and fertility to the Hindus.

You can witness the spectacle anywhere between Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple at Serangoon Road and Sri Thendayuthapani Temple at Tank Road, as some lanes are closed to traffic for the occasion.

Devotees will walk the 4.5 kilometres, along with relatives and friends who chant hymns and prayers to support and encourage them.

What's Unique

Mind over matter

'Kavadi' literally means ‘sacrifice at every step’ in Tamil, and indeed, this proves to be the case if you take a closer look. A semi-circular steel or wooden frame, a 'kavadi' is meant to be hoisted by a devotee for the length of the procession. It has bars for support on the shoulders, is decorated with flowers and peacock feathers, and some have spikes that pierce into the body. It can top out at 40 kilogrammes and reach a height of four metres.

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