Tag Archives: Thaipusam

Experiences Photography

Thaipusam Festival in SG

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I’ve finally uploaded pictures of the Thaipusam festival I visited last year while in Singapore.  Pictures are uploaded to the usual place, but this time I’m putting the link at the bottom of this post since viewers may find some of the pictures a little upsetting if you don’t know what to expect.

One of the guys in the SG office is a shutterbug as well, and when he learned that a group of his photography friends were planning a visit to the temple where preparations for the festival were taking place, he asked if I wanted to come along.  I’m always up for any kind of photo walk, so I happily agreed.

Preparations for the festivities start EARLY – so I had to wake up around 4AM to grab a taxi to the Little India area.  There I met up with my colleague and we headed to the temple.  Once there, you have to take off your shoes (luckily I was wearing sandals) before you’re allowed to go in.  I’m used to taking off shoes when going in Japanese shrines/temples, but always within buildings.  This temple was more or less “open-air” though, and it took me a while to get used to walking on dirt and grass barefoot (I’ve grown pretty spoiled since I’ve come to Japan). 😛

I also hadn’t expected so much leeway in taking pictures, but there were tons of photographers and tourists already at the temple snapping away, some really up close and personal – I was rather surprised at how easygoing the devotees were and how well they took things.

The preparations for the event were fascinating to observe, if a little…unorthodox (at least for me).  More information can be found at the Wikipedia link for Thaipusam here, but the gist of it is that it’s a festival celebrating commemorating the defeat of an evil demon by one of the Hindu deities.  Devotees prepare several days in advance with fasting and prayer, and on the actual day of the festival, take on various burdens which they will present to the Hindu deity Murugan.

The types of “burdens” vary greatly as you can see in the pictures.  Some only carry pots of milk on their heads, while others pierce their bodies while carrying a portable canopy called a “Kavadi” (example shown in the picture at the beginning of this post).  Even the degrees of piercing vary – from thin rods that barely pierce the skin, to skewers that jut through one cheek and out the other, rods that punch through the skin of the belly, and nasty looking hooks that snag the flesh on the back.

Some devotees handle the pain fairly stoically, even appearing nonchalant, while others (notably the younger ones) were in obvious pain.

There were other preparations as well, such as the manufacture of incense (the place positively reeked of incense which lingered on my clothes throughout the day), offerings of food and drink, prayers, and more.  While watching one of the men get fitted with his kavadi, one woman appeared to get possessed, and started throwing herself first against him, and later rolling around the dirt.  I actually got a video clip of this which I may later upload, but sufficed to say it was a little disconcerting.

My colleague and I stayed until about 8AM, after which we packed our cameras away, washed our feet under a convenient nearby faucet, and headed to work (we had brought a change of clothes).

It was an intriguing experience, and despite the early hours and the somewhat disturbing displays of self-mortification, I’m glad I went.  For a look at all the pictures I took, and if you’re not averse to piercings, head on over to the gallery section.