If you walk through Little India or along Selegie Road during this time of year, you might catch a glimpse of Thaipusam activities going on! Unfortunately, the festival has been subjected to changes this year because of Covid-19 safety distancing measures. In case you are unfamiliar with Thaipusam, here is a simple guide to get you started!
In Singapore, Thaipusam is celebrated by Hindus of Tamil descent. The festival is dedicated to Lord Subramaniam, also known as Lord Murugan, who is the deity of youth, power, and virtue. It is a day for devotees to pray and repent while also commemorating the occasion when Lord Subramaniam overcame the asura, also known as demons or forces of evil, with a vel (spear).
Thaipusam is held every year between 14 January to 14 February during a full moon day. It is one of the most important public rites observed by the Hindu community in Singapore. This year, Thaipusam falls on 28 January 2021.
The Thaipusam festival in Singapore is one of the largest in South East Asia. The annual procession in Singapore includes devotees with kavadi walking barefoot from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road.
Kavadis are usually made of wood or steel with the arch decorated with peacock feathers, margosa leaves and various other materials. Kavadi-bearers often practice self-mortification with sharp skewers piercing through their tongues, cheeks, and bodies. According to Roots, Singapore is one of the few countries that includes kavadi-bearers during the annual Thaipusam festival.
Women devotees will carry paal kudam or milk pots that are filled with offerings like fruits, flowers, and milk. It is not that simple to be a devotee. In fact, preparation for Thaipusam starts months before the festival. Devotees may fast about 48 days before Thaipusam while adopting an austere lifestyle.
At the end of the procession, the offerings are presented to Lord Subramaniam in a ritual called abushekam. It involves pouring the offerings by the devotees over the scared vel. Afterward, devotees receive sacred ash from the temple and then have the kavadi removed.
Finally, the devotees will carry out the final ritual called idumban puja held in their homes. It includes domestic worship to Lord Subramaniam followed by a festive meal served to their friends and family. During this time, thousands of less fortunate people are also feed in the temple precincts.
Did you know that Thaipusam used to be a national holiday in Singapore? In 1968, Bill No. 33/68 was in the Holidays (Amendment) Act and changes were made with consultation with the Hindu Advisory Board.
Another major change occurred in 2016 when live music is permitted again after nearly 42 years. According to the Straits Times, playing live musical instruments are banned during Thaipusam because fights between competitive groups disrupted the procession.
In that same year, the number of kavadis increased from 250 to 330 with the cost of carrying the kavadis lowered to $75.
This year, the Thaipusam festival is subjected to changes due to Covid-19 safety distancing measures. Unlike the past years, it will only be conducted in and around Sri Thendayuthapani Temple and there will be no foot procession.
The number of paal kudams will be limited and only the ones prepared by the temple will be allowed as offerings. Devotees with and without paal kudams must book a timeslot to enter the temple via the online portal. Those without a pre-booked timeslot will not be allowed in.
In order to ensure more devotees are able to participate, each devotee can only be accompanied by one other person. Anyone with a temperature above 37.5 degrees will not be allowed entry.
Sadly, all forms of kavadis are not allowed this time around, and devotees with body piercings or carrying other forms of objects will not be permitted to enter the temple.
Even though there will not be a procession, Singaporeans can still experience the Thaipusam festival online with Vel Vel: A Sonic Walk. The multidisciplinary audio-visual-text experience will recreate Singapore’s colourful and lively Thaipusam celebration from the past five decades.
This virtual experience is great for anyone who wants to learn more about Thaipusam and the true history behind the procession routes. It will be up on Thaipusam, 28 January 2021, and run until 18 January 2022.
You do not have to be a Hindu to appreciate the lively procession and rich culture that is shown during Thaipusam!