Thai Poosam is a Hindu festival that honors the Hindu deity, Muruga. It is celebrated with great fanfare in Tamil Nadu and also in places where many Tamils reside. Singapore is a country that has many Tamil residents who live and work there. Thai Poosam in Singapore is a spectacular festival that thousands of Tamils take part in annually. The most distinctive feature of the celebration is the large decorated kavadi. It is carried by many devotees who have had their skin pierced. Thaipusam in Singapore is a 2-day celebration.
On the day before Thai Poosam, the deity is taken in a grand and magnificent chariot procession to the Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple from the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple to visit his brother, Vinayagar. En route, the chariot halts at the Sri Mariamman Temple so that Murugan can offer His greetings to the Goddess within the sanctuary, who is also the manifestation of His mother, Goddess Parvati. In the evening, the chariot with Murugan returns to his altar, with devotees of the Chettiar community carrying kavadis. This is called the Chetty Poosam.
On the second day, the rituals begin early in the morning. After worshipping at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, the groups leave for the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple carrying milk pots as offerings to the deity. Others may carry wooden kavadis. Devotees throng the temple until almost 7 pm. At the main sanctum's central shrine, the milk offerings are poured over the divine Vel kept inside the temple. Those who have fulfilled their vows on finishing the 4 km walk from Sri Srinivasa Perumal to Sri Thendayuthapani temple are given the sacred ash.
It is believed that when the mind rids itself of all physical pleasures and material gains, a worshipper will be able to carry the kavadis without experiencing pain.
Here are 5 things you should know about this colorful and vibrant festival.
It’s a Tamil festival:
Most of the people who take part in Thaipusam celebrations are Hindus whose mother tongue is Tamil. Muruga is the patron deity of Tamils; hence they have a special place in their hearts for him. Tamil Nadu has a cluster of temples dedicated to Muruga, called the Arupadai veedu. It is believed that they are located at the sites or battle camps where he rested while proceeding to fight the demon Soorapadman and his army. It was to kill this demon that his mother, Goddess Parvati, gifted him the divine weapon, the Vel. Thai Poosam commemorates this event.
Despite being a Tamil festival, Hindus of other ethnicities also take part in the Thai Poosam celebration in Singapore.
A ritual of thanksgiving:
Devotees regard Thai Poosam as a ritual of thanksgiving. When their wishes are granted by Lord Murugan, they fulfill their vows and express their gratitude to him. For one whole month, they prepare themselves spiritually for this day. They observe fast or a strict vegetarian diet.
Carrying the kavadi is an important part of the rituals. This is an intricate structure that is adorned with flowers and peacock feathers. The peacock is Murugan’s vehicle. The kavadi may weigh up to 30 kilos and may be four meters in height. But those who carry the kavadi do not feel the burden. Instead, they feel peaceful and go into a trance. During the procession, drummers keep beating drums, and devotees shout, ‘Vel, vel, shakti vel’ in a frenzy of devotion. Not all devotees do the piercings. Some may carry the wooden structures without the vels or spears. Women and children below 16 years old carry milk pots as offerings for Murugan.
The significance of carrying kavadi:
The elaborately decorated kavadi is carried as a form of ceremonial sacrifice during the worship of Murugan. The weight of the kavadi and the hooks that are pierced through the kavadi bearer’s skin symbolize a physical burden, through which devotees invoke Murugan’s intercession. Bearers observe celibacy and take only one meal comprising Satvik food (non-spicy, vegetarian food). The fast begins 48 hours before Thaipusam begins, and it helps to cleanse the mind and body.
The kavadi procession:
The procession of devotees carrying the kavadi starts at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple at Serangoon Road. It ends at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple at Tank Road. The entire route covers a distance of 4.5 km. not just devotees, but tourists and locals, too, take part in the procession.
The triumph of good over evil:
Though some think that the festival commemorates the birthday of Murugan, this is not the case. It is, in fact, the day he killed the demon Soorapadman. It was to kill this demon that Muruga was born. Hence, Thai Poosam, like many other festivals, celebrates the victory of good over evil.