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Guide to Thaipusam 2021 in Singapore

guide to thaipusam 2020 in singapore
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The Thaipusam Festival will be different in 2021 with no procession nor kavadis this year due to safe distancing measures

Thursday, 28 January 2021 marks the start of Thaipusam in 2021 for Hindu devotees however if you normally get excited to observe Thaipusam, there are many changes this year.

What is Thaipusam?

Thaipusam is a sacred Tamil thanksgiving festival involving asceticism and control over one’s senses. According to Tamil folklore, Thaipusam and the foot procession is celebrated in honour of Lord Murugan (also known as Lord Subrahmanya), who represents virtue, youth and power, and is the destroyer of evil.

Thaipusam in Singapore

During non-COVID years, Thaipusam in Singapore attracted thousands of Hindu devotees who fulfil their vows over a 3km walk from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple (SSPT) at Serangoon Road to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple (STT) at Tank Road carrying either a Paal Kudam (milk pot) or Kavadi (wooden or metal structure with milk offerings). In keeping with an old tradition that was revived in 2016, musicians used to line the procession route, a wonderful addition to the already festive atmosphere. This year however there will be no procession, kavadis nor music to stop crowds forming.

thaipusam procession in singapore

Thaipusam in 2021: No Procession

Organisers of Sri Thendayuthapani Temple, Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple and Hindu Endowments Board, in consultation with regulatory authorities, have decided to carry on the 15o-year-old tradition of Thaipusam with safety restrictions in 2021. Hindu devotees who wish to participate in the Thaipusam festival will need to pre-book time slots to enter the temple, and use only pre-prepared offerings.

Unlike previous years, this Thaipusam will not include a foot procession from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple. Activities will only be conducted in and around Sri Thendayuthapani Temple.

To prevent any potential outbreaks of Covid-19, this year there will be no kavadis at Thaipusam. Kavadis that pierce the body -such as the tongue, cheeks, arms or legs – involve too close a contact between individuals, and go against safe distancing recommendations, said the organisers.

Sri Thendayuthapani Temple will deny entry to devotees who have not pre-booked timeslots. Those carrying musical instruments or any form of amplification device will also not be allowed in the temples. Devotees will not be allowed to gather outside the temple, and must follow a pathway assigned by the temple after they finish giving their offerings and prayers.

So it looks like this year is not the year to go out and observe Thaipusam folks!

How was Thaipusam USUALLY celebrated (pre-COVID-19)?

Thaipusam 2020 Singapore Eve Chariot
The famous chariot procession on Thaipusam Eve goes from Sri Thendayuthapani Temple at Tank Road to Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple at Keong Siak Road, with a stop at Sri Mariamman Temple

During non-covid years, Thaipusam festivities were split into two days with chariot procession on Thaipusam Eve in which the statue of Lord Murugan is adorned with jewellery, and leaves STT for a visit to seek blessings from his brother (Lord Vinayagar) at Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple (Keong Saik Road). The arrival of devotees habitually starts very early with prayers, and around midnight, the first group of devotees carrying pots of milk and kavadis (semi-circular metal structures decorated with peacock feathers, flowers and palm leaves), leave for the journey from SSPT back to STT. Kavadi translates to “sacrifice at every step.”

The milk offering symbolises cleansing of the mind and soul, whilst devotees who pierce their tongues or carry a spiked kavadi are believed to only be able to undertake this sacred task without feeling any pain when they have freed their body and mind from material and physical wants.

guide to thaipusam 2020 in singapore kavadi

In fact, in order to carry a kavadi, a devotee has to prepare himself spiritually and live a life of abstinence (including a strict vegetarian diet) for at least a month. While it is quite an amazing sight to watch devotees carrying these kavadis, this is a sacred religious act, so visitors are requested to be respectful and not distract the focus of the devotees.

guide to thaipusam 2020 in singapore a father son and woman in the procession

Another highlight during non-COVID-19 times was the beautiful live Indian music at the festival set up along the 3km route (covering Hastings Road, Short Street and Dhoby Ghaut Green). Devotees believe the music is useful in reducing the pain and enhancing their spiritual focus throughout their journey. Bhajan singers may accompany kavadis throughout the route, and musicians are allowed one traditional percussion instrument and one handheld instrument.

For more information visit www.thaipusam.sg

Lead image #1, and #2 by William Cho, Wikimedia Commons,3# Flickr; image #4 (right) by William Cho, Wikimedia Commons; Image #5 (left) and image #6 by Kristin Bemowski.

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