Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Thaipusam Festival

Last week I took the kids down to the Thaipusam Festival. It is a Hindu festival that was created during a battle between the Asuras and the Devas. The Devas were repeatedly defeated by the Asuras and eventually surrendered themselves and prayed to Shiva. Shiva created Skanda, a might warrior who was able to defeat the Asuras. To recognize that day the festival Thaipusam was created. Murugan is the embodiment of Shiva's light and wisdom and devotees pray to him to overcome obstacles. During the festival of Thaipusam they pray to get rid of bad traits or to avoid calamity. They begin by fasting, prayer and cleansing. Then they load themselves with a Kavadi and walk a predetermined route. Here in Singapore it was from one Hindu temple to another one, a distance of about 5 km. Kavadi can be anything from a jug of milk they carry on their head or something large and elaborate like the picture below, with lots of skin piercing. My explanation of this festival is quite incomplete I am sure. It is what I gathered from some online reading, what I observed, and what I have heard from others. I have also heard from several people that this festival is pretty much banned everywhere but Singapore at this point. That is an unconfirmed fact, however. :) I figured this was a once in a lifetime sort of thing, but couldn't quite decide if it was something I should go to when I knew I would have to take my kids. In the end I decided to go for it, obviously, and luckily I don't think they were too scarred. I met my friend Catherine and her little girl Annabelle on the MRT and we headed down together. I'm glad I didn't go alone!

We got to the starting temple and several people were in the process of getting pierced and getting their Kavadi ready. There was a little "band" in their and with the music and all the people and the smells it was quite overwhelming and intense. I saw lots of pictures that other friends got at this festival and felt a bit embarrassed by what I was able to capture. But then I remembered there is a time and season for everything, and this is probably not my time for taking fabulous photos and getting right in there. I did have two small children with me, afterall. So here's to not feeling embarrassed about what I was able to experience and document. :)

I went a little closer to get a picture and turned around and saw these two. They were clearly unsure about what they were seeing. I really was worried about Tatum especially. But thankfully we didn't really see any blood and she didn't seem to even get the fact that they had pierced these things through their skin since she never asked about it.

This was sort of an intense moment. The guy with the red headband had just gotten his tongue and cheeks pierced. As they were piercing him four or five guys got right in his face yelling things at him.
This was the only pulling Kavardi I saw. All these hooks through his back and then he was pulling a big altar looking thing with them. The part I couldn't understand was the guy between him and the altar that seemed to almost be pulling him back as he pulled forward. I didn't understand if he was somehow helping or if his job was to add to his burden.

Leaving the temple to begin the 5 km walk.

The thing with all the feathers is another devotee and Kavardi coming along the side of the road. They were all surrounded by supporters usually one of which was reading/chanting from a book. And the devotee would often stop and do a little bit of a "dance".

All those little tins hooked through his leg are little jugs of milk I'm pretty sure.

A closer look at the piercings in his sides.

The craziest thing we saw was one guy in the tents outside the temple had just had his mouth and tongue pierced and was not doing well. His piercing looked weird, almost like it had gone wrong and he was basically half unconscious. It was kind of scary.

I am glad I decided to go, although I'm not sure I would ever feel the need to go again. But it was certainly unlike anything else I've ever seen and even though my understanding is still very limited, at least it is is more than it used to be. :)

Oh dear, I almost ended this post without sharing the most horrific bathroom experience of my life. We took the kids to play at a nearby playground after we felt like they had enough. Tatum, of course, had to go potty shortly thereafter. The bladder of a 3-year-old has impeccable timing let me tell you. A nice young man noticed her doing the potty dance and told me where I could find the bathroom near the back entrance of the festival. I wasn't exactly expecting a port- a-potty but that's what I got. not only that but they were in the middle of pools of mud. On one side there was some cardboard to try to walk on so I went for that one. I carried Tatum and reached across to the other Jon since it was easier to open from that angle. And what I saw next will probably stay with me for the rest of my life. Poop everywhere. I kid you not. The only thing I can think is that someone tried to squat on the seat and missed so there was poop all up the back and all over the seat and everywhere. I exclaimed "oh my gosh" and hurried and shut the door. Completely oblivious, Tatum spent the next five minutes repeatedly asking me why I said "oh my gosh". She used the other toilet which was more or less overflowing with human waste. We did our best to touch as little as possible and get out of there as quickly as possible. I'm sure you are grateful I shared that with you. You're welcome. :)

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