Revisiting Thaipusam, 2014

 

Thaipusam

Thaipusam

January 30th, 2021

After yesterday’s introduction, today we’re back at Thaipusam. This post is refreshed from 2014, my second year viewing the event.

Tomorrow, we’re back on the magic carpet.

See you then,
Kelly

Post of the Day: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together. This series features travel photos from my archives, shared with you while staying close to home.

***

Last Friday was the culmination of Thaipusam. I attended from 11:30 p.m. Thursday night until 4:30 a.m. Friday morning at the Sri Srinavasa Perumal Temple in Singapore. This is the second year I’ve attended, and I’ve come to realize (and anticipate) that I’m going to have a long relationship with Thaipusam, spanning as many years as I end up living in Singapore. By that I mean Thaipusam is so fascinating and riveting that I can’t foresee not wanting to go every time it happens. Understanding Thaipusam requires it. It’s a long event, culminating in head shaving, praying, chanting, piercing and walking between two local Hindu temples. Two years on, I barely know the sequence of events or significance of the rituals and implements involved. What I  know for sure is that few events in world culture and faith display so much color, fervor and unwavering focus in the midst of pain and discomfort.

Thaipusam, 2014

Thaipusam, 2014

Thaipusam is an event of deep devotion and personal faith. Last year I was wary of arriving at the temple with my camera, shy to point my lens at the incredulous things happening around me. This year it was easier because I came to realize that at 3:00 in the morning, the only people who were there were either participating in Thaipusam or photographing Thaipusam. So I got more comfortable. I had, after all, stood in line to get into the temple — me in my pink dress, an attempt to complement the colors of the event — with about 500 men waiting to participate. In some cultures and locations, that could have been a very uncomfortable situation. Yet I was acknowledged with kindness and never once made to feel out of place. The man at the front of the line controlling entry into the temple made eye contact with me, parted the crowd and  invited me to go forward into the temple. He greeted my curiosity with a random act of kindness and encouragement.

Thaipusam, 2014

Thaipusam, 2014

Thaipusam, 2014

Thaipusam, 2014

Thaipusam, 2014

Thaipusam, 2014

I photographed, sometimes directly in front of a participant, locked with his gaze of dignity and belief. I walked around, sat with men chanting, and witnessed men convulsing and falling down in the fervor of their experience. I watched the preparation of milk pots, saw the assembly of chariot kavadis, and wondered at the offerings so lovingly prepared by groups of men and women who had claimed their quiet floor space in the raucous yelling and drumming of the temple. I saw limes attached and tongues pierced and men readying themselves to bear the weight and pain of their burden while walking barefoot for several kilometers. It was astounding, for another year… a display of contrasts and a lesson in mindfulness. Be still, be spellbound, be loud, be silent, be within, be without. Be engaged and the essence of life will find you.

12 comments

  • It’s captivating, but at the same time something eludes me. It eludes me that people in a developed country like Singapore can engage in such extreme behaviour that they know they are out of the norm. It’s not like living in a place where everyone follows the same rite, in Singapore there is choice and comparison, other religions express their faith so differently. Thanks for giving the chance to reflect on this subject.

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    • Rereading my comment of yesterday, I find it very judgmental, whereas I simply want it to be interrogative.

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      • An event like Thaipusam conjures a lot of different thoughts and feelings which can be contradictory and take a while to process. Your first comment brought to mind the capitol riots here in D.C., which also qualifies as people in a developed country, acting in an extreme way, knowing they are out of the norm. Personally, I would judge Thaipusam as being the more civilized of the two events as it is non-violent and based on faith and tradition rather than an illegal act to advance the agenda of one person in power (among other goals). Your comment was really thought provoking for me and I appreciate that, while also appreciating that you reflected and added to it. An event such as Thaipusam can have that effect. Thanks, Lookoom!

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  • The piercings are so foreign (and cringe-worthy) to me, but as I thought about it, I remembered that there are subsets of Catholics right here who participate in self-flagellation and other painful trials to show their faith. We just don’t see it. Once again, it’s amazing to me that you were able to step right into the action there – both your willingness to do so and theirs to welcome you. My final curiosity is what has happened to a throng-like activity such as this in the time of Covid? I’d guess that they’ve had to give it up temporarily.

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    • I didn’t know that about Catholic subsets! But it doesn’t surprise me to know there are examples of this type of practice in other faiths. Maybe our collective unease has pushed them out of view. They did still hold Thaipusam in Singapore this year but from what I could tell it was limited in scope and participation. At least it wasn’t cancelled! Thanks for your comment! Hope you enjoyed the weekend.

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  • The colors of Hinduism are like no other that we’ve ever experienced. And your pictures capture the religious fervor of the body piercing festival so well. In Sri Lanka this past year we also saw the celebration. We were awestruck watching pierced/hooked men suspended from scaffolding being driven down the street – images imprinted on my mind forever.

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    • Wow, Steve, that sounds like quite a sight to see! I can imagine that would be hard to forget. Great to hear from someone who has also seen this event and felt its impact. It’s unlike anything else. Thanks so much for sharing your experience! Hope you enjoyed the weekend.

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  • Incredible, Kelly. And I can’t help but think that it was an act of courage for you to show up in your pink dress.Thanks for introducing this ceremony to me with all of your photographs. –Curt

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  • Absolutely stunning. Your beautiful photos and words took me there. People are so amazing. And diverse. And extraordinary. I would love to experience this.
    Alison

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