YOUth should know: The significance of Thaipusam Festival
Here are five things you should know about the Hindu Tamil festival.
While many may be familiar with Deepavali, the festival of lights that is observed by Hindus worldwide, there is another lesser known religious festival celebrated by the Hindus of Tamil descent here in Singapore – Thaipusam.
The thanksgiving festival honours Lord Sri Murugan, the god of war, and acknowledges his victory over the evil forces. This year, Thaipusam is set to take place on Feb 5 and the procession is expected to kick off on Feb 4 at 11.30pm.
Here are five things you should know about the festival that is native to the Tamils.
1. The festival is celebrated in the Tamil month of Thai
Thaipusam takes place in Thai, the tenth month of the traditional Tamil calendar, to commemorate the day Lord Murugan defeated the evil Soorapadman.
The exact date of Thaipusam is determined based on the position of the moon every year. The festival is only observed on a full moon day during the auspicious month of Thai, where the moon is at its brightest.
The religious festival is celebrated by the Hindu Tamil community in southern India and the Indian diaspora worldwide.
2. Devotees must observe strict physical and mental discipline
Throughout the month of Thai, the purification of the body is required. This includes having only one vegetarian meal a day, and practising sexual abstinence.
Additionally, a 24-hour fast is observed on the eve of Thaipusam. Devotees are expected to purify themselves before they can carry the kavadi (sacrifice at every step).
The kavadi is a semi-circular wooden structure that is covered with a piece of cloth and carried on the shoulders by devotees.
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.
3. Devotees must carry offerings with some that involve piercings
Devotees who have made vows will then decide on their thanksgiving offering on the day of Thaipusam: carry a palkuddam (milk pot), a kavadi with palkuddam hung at each end, a heavier kavadi held by spikes on the devotee’s body or a chariot hooked on to the body.
The kavadi aattam (burden dance) is done to seek forgiveness or to offer thanks to Lord Murugan as it is believed to wash one’s sins through self-inflicted suffering. It was first practised in Singapore over a 100 years ago through religious worship in Hindu temples, especially by worshippers who are dedicated to Lord Murugan.
Piercings are commonly done on the tongue or cheeks with silver skewers for devotees who carry small kavadis and on the body for the spike and chariot kavadis. Only experienced devotees can do the piercings.
They must also be clad in yellow and saffron robes with clean-shaven heads and walk barefooted from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple to the Sri Thendayuthapani temple carrying the kavadis and palkuddams.
Female devotees in Singapore are not permitted to carry kavadis and can only opt to carry a palkuddam, which is filled with fresh cow’s milk and taken to Lord Murugan’s shrine on one’s head. The milk is poured over the deity statue at the end of the procession.
In the event of an emergency, the paramedics and the Singapore Police Force who are deployed at the festival will attend to the devotees.
4. There are different types of kavadi to carry
There is a range of kavadis for a devotee to pick from on the day of Thaipusam.
The pal kavadi features a picture of Lord Murugan and is decorated with peacock feathers. Pots that are filled with milk will be placed within the kavadi and carried over the shoulder by the devotee.
Pushpa kavadis (flower kavadi) are eye-catching and are typically decorated with colourful flowers that are specifically arranged to resemble religious symbols and Lord Murugan.
Largely uncommon in Singapore, the karumbu kavadi requires the devotee to carry their baby using sugar cane stalks to express their devotion to Lord Murugan.
Non-devotees can watch the procession at selected lanes
Non-devotees can witness the Thaipusam procession by standing behind the barricades along the close-to-4km walk to the Sri Thendayuthapani temple.
Route marshals will also be present during the procession to ensure both devotees and non-devotees comply with directions.