Thaipusam is a religious festival of thanksgiving celebrated by Hindu devotees. The name Thaipusam is used with reference to the star, pusam, which is believed to be at its brightest during the Tamil month of Thai, which usually falls in the months of January to February.
During the festival, devotees give thanks to Lord Murugan who symbolises the traits of bravery, power and virtue. The festival commemorates the occasion where Lord Murugan overcame evil forces with a vel (spear) and this explains why the vel is included in festival celebrations and procession.
Some of the practices associated with Thaipusam include a procession where devotees carry milk pots as offerings, while others carry kavadis. Kavadis are made of wooden arched frames that can be adorned with pictures of deities, peacock feathers and small pots of milk. They are usually fixed onto the bearers’ bodies through piercings, rods and chains.
Thaipusam is celebrated in various countries with South Indian communities, including Singapore and its Southeast Asian neighbours. Though its significance as a thanksgiving festival is a common underlying element, the styles of celebrations differ according to local traditions.
In Singapore, devotees give thanks and make vows by participating in a procession from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple at Serangoon Road to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple at Tank Road. On the day of Thaipusam itself, devotees start the day early by carrying offerings including pots of milk and kavadis, and embark on a prescribed route towards Sri Thendayuthapani Temple. Upon arrival at the temple, the devotees will present their offerings at the main sanctum and pour milk over the vel (symbolic spear used by Lord Murugan). Kavadi-carriers will remove the kavadis at designated areas following the end of the procession.
There is also the special practice that takes place on the eve of Thaipusam in Singapore, where a chariot carrying Lord Murugan will leave Sri Thendayuthapani Temple (at Tank Road) for Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple (at Keong Saik Road), to visit his brother Sri Vinayagar. The chariot first travels to Sri Mariamman Temple at South Bridge Road, which houses the goddess who is believed to be the manifestation of Parvathi, his mother. It then proceeds to Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple, where Lord Murugan is carried and installed inside the temple in a ceremonial ritual, before returning back to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in the evening.