Monday, January 28, 2013

Thaipusam Hindu Festival

WARNING: This post is quite graphic and not for the squeamish or children's eyes!  Seriously...

On Sunday, the Tamil Hindu congregations celebrated the festival of Thaipusam, a day dedicated to the god Murugan.  The devotees prepare for 48 days by fasting and devotions, then perform a ritual that involves carrying a burden (kavadi). Those who participate are imploring help from Murugan and offering thanks.  This festival is actually outlawed in some other parts of southeast Asia, but it is a big deal in Singapore.  The participants had prepared for the required amount of time, then gathered at the temple in Little India for overnight rites and then picked up their burdens and walked 2 miles to another temple for the closing rituals.

The kavadi could be as simple as a jug of milk (many women do this, carrying it on their heads) but many take up an elaborate metal cage-type structure that is attached to their bodies with spears and hooks.  The skin is pierces in many places; amazingly, there is no blood.

Let's start with a short video so you can experience the sights and sounds.  Imagine the air is filled with clouds of incense:

Each devotee makes a small altar with offerings of flowers, fruit, spices, etc. and does homage to it before and during the preparations.

The parts of the kavadi are prepared: 
Most of the kavadi are adorned with peacock feathers

This older man had quite an elaborate kavadi and also had images attached to his arms:

Family members stand by during the rituals and then will walk with them:

This group of young men prepare for their ordeal by meditating on their offerings (sorry for the bad focus),  In a few minutes they will each have their foreheads, cheeks and tongues pierced by the official "piercing team," then they will pick up their milk jugs and proceed on the journey.


(I have a video of the actual piercing of this man's tongue, but it is so hard to watch, I did not including it.  Let me know if you want to see it...)

and a boy getting ready 

We watched this man as he prepared to don nail shoes and carry milk and fruit hung from his body with hooks:

And the last of the procession that we glimpsed through the crowd (almost as many tourists like me with their cameras as there were devotees):


Throughout the morning, I couldn't help but contemplate the meaning of sacrifice.  I feel so overwhelmed by my Christianity that promises Jesus already did the sacrifice for us.  Perhaps my biggest lesson of the day was to not take my faith for granted.

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