“Hinduism is about joy, but it never forgets the struggle.”
Karen Armstrong, writer, academic
Thaipusam is a Hindu thanksgiving celebration, in honour of Lord Subrahmanya (also known as Lord Murugan) the favored deity among Tamil Hindus. There are many stories about Lord Murugan, but the most popular account is that he was created by Shiva to save the Devas from their enemy the Asuras. Thaipusam commemorates the day he was given a Vel or lance by his mother in order to vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman who was leading the Asuras.
The most visible aspect of the celebration is of course the carrying of the kavadi (burden), which is often accompanied by the piercing of hooks and spears into the bodies of the kavadi-bearers. (You can find out more about Thaipusam in Singapore here)
This is the second time I attended the celebration at Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple along Serangoon Road, and like the first time, was deeply moved. I’ve always found the Thaipusam celebration to be a display of contrasts. It is a very joyous festival – the music, the whirling of the kavadi bearers, the bright colors… but there is also the suffering of the willing mortification of the flesh. There is the somberness of the prayer rituals but there is also the exuberance of the celebrants. This festival may be marking the triumph of order over chaos, but the celebration is anything but.
But perhaps that is the reason why this festival has survived almost unchanged for so many hundreds of years. Life itself is a lot like that – full of contrasts and contradictions. And the best kinds of religious celebrations expresses all these. They affirm Life at its fullest.