Religious fervour has had its fair share of bonkers moments throughout history. Sadly, most of it involving killing/torturing non-believers or other people that an old book told you to…not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Thaipusam, thankfully, restricts the torture to its very friendly and devote Hindu followers. Not that torture should play a part anywhere in life but there you go. Here’s where Thaipusam originates from:
This festival was created during one of the battles between the Asuras (or to be more specific Soorapadman) and the Devas. At one point, the latter were defeated several times by the former. The Devas were unable to resist the onslaught of the Asura forces. In despair, they approached Shiva and entreated to give them an able leader under whose heroic leadership they might obtain victory over the Asuras. They surrendered themselves completely and prayed to Shiva. Shiva granted their request by creating the mighty warrior, Skanda, out of his own power or Achintya Shakti. He at once assumed leadership of the celestial forces, inspired them and defeated the Asura forces and to recognise that day the people created the festival, Thaipusam.
According to Skanda Puranam, the legend of Murugan, and Thirupugal which are divine verses on Murugan, adhere to Shaivam principles. Murugan is the embodiment of Shiva’s light and wisdom and devotees pray to him to overcome the obstacles they face, as He is the divine vanquisher of evil. The motive of Thaipusam festival is to pray to God to receive his grace so that bad traits are destroyed.
Today, Thaipusam centres around the Kavadi Attam or the “burden dance” where Hindu followers ask for help through physical burden. This can be as little as carrying a jug of milk on your head to piercing yourself like a human-porcupine hybrid.
Thaispusam in Singapore
This was my second time experiencing Thaipusam in Singapore. On the second day of festivities devotees get all prepped up (and poked up) at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple (SSPT) and take the 4km trek to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple (STT).
SSPT is where it’s at as an observer/weirdo taking photos of people getting impaled and/or possessed. I spent nearly 3 hours there taking it all in. Smoke, skull shaking drumming, incense, crushed squeezed limes under feet, sweat, throngs of devotees and observers clambering over each other to experience…something, and every sense under siege with every turn of your head.
When I stood still allowing the drumming to wallop over me and the smoke to fling itself around me I got a vague semblance of how these environments could elevate the stirrings of devotion you may have inside you to something more….tangible. When you have so much attacking your senses you get to lose a lot of sense. I was physically and mentally exhausted after it. I can only imagine how the people who actually took part in it felt. I loved it.
If you find yourself in Singapore for Thaipusam you need to experience it for yourself. Here’s some photos.