Brewing in Singapore

One man's adventure of brewing beer in Asia.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Yesterday was Thaipusam. Thaipusam is only practiced in Singapore, western Malaysia, and only a very few places in Southern India. Thaipusam is a Hindu celebration to demonstrate ones devotion. The festival is held in honor of the Hindu deity, Lord Subrahmaniam on the full moon day in the month of Thai (usually Jan or early Feb.). There are several stories surrounding this Tamil holiday some are about Idumban and Lord Subramaniam, and others about the Goddess Shiva and Parvathi's son Murugan. Even after reading about Thaipusam I am not exactly clear on all that this festival involves - devotion, purification, paying for one's sins, the granting of favors by Subramanian, the vanquishing of evil (my personal favorite), carrying burdens, milk, vows, and hardship all seem to get some play. What I am sure of is that Thaipusam is an amazing spectacle to behold, and that Thaipusam is not for the squeamish.

To show their devotion (and some say to pay for their past transgressions) the devotees undergo first a cleansing fast and then physical mortification. In order to properly prepare a devotee has to be a strict vegetarian, offer prayers and observe austerities for a month before the festival. On the day of the festival devotees parade from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Little India to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Tank Road (about 4 km).
Many devotees carry their burdens or kavadi (often jugs or pots of milk) along the course, but some devotees have more elaborate burdens. Some carry objects hooked into the skin, others carry the giant vel kavadi - the portable shire of 108 piercing. Yes, that is 108 punctures into their skin to support this elaborate human float for the length of the parade. The devotees will often then pierce their cheeks and tongue as well and some even go so far as to wear shoes of nails.
The vel kavadi are so elaborate and large it is hard to believe (and hard to photograph). The vel kavadi toting devotees are supported by friends and family who give encouragement, sing clap and dance around them. The streets are filled with people of all kinds supporters, devotees, onlookers. The feel is very festive and participants are all upbeat.

Of course not all that attend go to such extremes, some people are contend to offer prayer and support to the other devotees. Thaipusam is not merely a tradition, a ritual or a religious holiday it was a genuine show of devotion and deep and intense belief. I have a friend who (in his early 50's) participated in the more physical portion of the parade for the first time last year and he said that the feeling so intense that he could not describe it in words. Even as an observer it is hard to describe.

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