Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Thaipusam without piercing

Welcome to the second posting on the Hindu Festival Thaipusam. The first, if you missed it is here. There is no health warning this time as there are no photos of piercing!

The shots are mostly of people that caught my attention, like the lovely profile of this young lady.

The Festival was a fascinating glimpse of an Indian culture of devotion. It was an honour to witness it and it stimulated further my fascination for India, its culture and its people.

The following two lines of a poem called "Listen" by Mirabai, a devotee of Krishna, give an insight into the "road" of the Guru-devotee relationship.

"Listen, my friend, this road is the heart opening,
kissing his feet, resistance broken, tears all night"

I hope you enjoy the photos.

And next time, I hope you like Orchids! Do come and have a look.


Music is an essential part of the festival

Part of the Sri Perumal Temple

The entrance to the Temple.
The Gopuram (tower) shows
the different incarnations of
Lord Vishnu.

Lord Vishnu with his wife Lakshmi,
the goddess of prosperity and abundance.
Thaipusam is an expression of
devotion to Lord Murugan.
Vishnu is his maternal uncle.
(Relationships between Hindu
Deities are a bit complicated)

Warming up for the procession

Not sure why these ladies attracted my
attention! I'll leave it to you to work out.
I'd love to know what they were talking about

A Brahmin priest one cannot ignore

Puja at a Vishnu shrine that
will get pulled by one of the
devotees in the procession

Not sure why these young people are dressed
in yellow

Little ones surrounded by photographers. It
all got a bit too much for one of them, but....

....Dad comes to the rescue and all is forgotten,
including the photographers

What a great instrument. I used to
have lessons in playing the recorder at
primary school. But mine wasn't as
grand as this one!

Quiet contemplation

Another striking profile

Washed and cleansed and eager to participate

That "recorder" again. Notice the
finger tips of the drummer

The priest without the shades.
What a great beard!

The guy in the middle needs to tie, very
tightly, the waistband of the guy on the right

So the guy on the left is helping him draw in
his stomach

Flowers adorn this lady. And I love the specs!


These houses overlook the road where the
procession takes place. The man, looking
down at the street is probably a foreign
worker, wondering what's going on!

Free breakfast was being served here.
A place to rest for the elderly lady

What a shirt and hat!

Devotees wear these uncomfortable sandals
as part of their sacifice to Lord Murugan.
They are in the shape of padukas, shoes
worn by the Guru. Except the guru's
padukas would not have the spikes

Festival equipment for the devotee......

.......and a moment of stillness in the hustle
and bustle

Offerings of rice and bananas are favourite
offerings to the Gods. Limes signify protection
and the coconut is the purest form of offering
one can offer

Devotee preparing himself, surrounded
by his friends and family

Out on the street, a deserved rest for four
colourful ladies and a little one

Friday, February 05, 2010

Thaipusam Hindu Festival, Singapore 2010

Welcome to Thaipusam, Singapore 2010! I have been in Singapore for 5 years and had never managed to get to witness this amazing Indian Hindu Festival. But on Saturday 30 January Daniela and I got up early and went to the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Serangoon Road to do just that..

What we witnessed was a very moving and wonderfully expressive display of devotion.

It is mostly a Tamil Festival and so popular in Singapore where most of the resident Indians come from Tamil Nadu in the south of India.

Thai is the name of the Tamil month Jan/Feb and Pusam refers to a star which is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates both the birthday of Murugan (also Subramaniam), the youngest son of god Shiva and his wife Parvati, and the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel (spear) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman.

A health warning. A key part of the devotional practice is to to undergo various degrees of body piercing. There is no blood. but if you are sensitive to images that show piercing, then many of these images are not for you!

In two weeks I'll show you some other photos, without any piercing, of the people of Thaipusam

Come with me now on a photographic tour of this very singular event.


7.30 in the morning and already some
devotees were out of the temple and
taking part in the procession

On the day of the festival, devotees will
undertake a pilgrimage along a set route
while engaging in various acts of devotion,
notably carrying various types of kavadi
(burdens). At its simplest this may entail
carrying a pot of milk

Milk is also in these small containers hooked
to this man's back

The forms of kavadi vary in style
and intensity. This devotee is
pulled back as he pushes forward,
the hooks straining in his skin

The most elaborate kavadi is a cage-like
structure. It is traditionally decorated with
peacock feathers and aluminium plates
which show images of Hindu deities.

They can weigh 15 KG. This
is one of the more elaborate

Typically devotees do not demonstrate pain
when they are being pierced. It is said
this is because of their devotion and they
are in a trance like state. Some claim
they are drugged

You can see the kavadi is supported on the
shoulders with cushions

Beautifully elaborate

Many had lovely staffs. Typically the devotees
would walk up a hill to a shrine as they do in
Kuala Lumpur. But it's all flat in Little India!

Generally, Hindus take a vow to offer a kavadi
to Murugan for the purpose of tiding over or
averting a great calamity

The greater the (burden of) pain the more
worthy the offering

The temple was full of devotees being
prepared (painfully) for the procession.

But even in the midst of the intensity a
smile breaks through!

Some devotees prepare for the celebration
by cleansing themselves through prayer
and fasting.

Most of the devotees who took kavadi were
men but there were also some women. The
spear that goes through the cheeks and
tongue is called a vel.

The vel represents the lance or spear
carried by Lord Murugan to ward off
evil and it also symbolises wisdom

99.9% of worshippers are Indian but there
were also a few Chinese

This is a mega vel!

The remaining photos are dedicated to two
devotees of Murugan. The first, an experienced
Thaipusam participant, the second possibly a
a Thaipusam virgin. They both held my
attention......... and camera! So we start with
a very stoic and patient and striking devotee
at the beginning of his preparations

The vel is in place through the cheeks.....

....and the tongue and then the mouth is
hidden by a decorative and beautiful cover.

Small chains are attached and the head is
glorious and complete

All the work has been finished. He sits in silent
contemplation, apparently oblivious to the
photographers jostling to get the perfect shot.

All hooked up and ready to pull
his chariot

Coming out of the temple to start the 3 km
to the second temple we leave this devotee.
Now I'd like to introduce you to the other

He was not quite so stoic! Typically the people
that prepare and support the devotees who
take kavadi are the relatives

The limes signify protection

The face says it all. He did need, and get, lots
of encouragement and support from his family

And he managed to complete the process.
It was very moving to see the way the
family interacted and his determination
despite the pain he was clearly feeling

One last shot of a man's tongue being pierced
Look away now if it makes you queasy!

And this is the temple where it all happened,
Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple. In two weeks
I'll post a second edition of the other people
I saw. It will be the pierce-free edition!
I hope to see you then.