Thaipusam - A Unique festival in Singapore

Photography and text by Elena Boyce


In Singapore, Thaipusam has been a major festival for the Tamil community for over 100 years.

Falling between January 15th and February 15th every year, Thaipusam is a celebration of Lord Murugan’s victory over evil forces.


During the festival devotees give thanks to Hindu God Lord Murugan, who symbolizes the traits of bravery, power and virtue. People thank Lord Murugan for defeating the daily demons in their lives like illnesses and misfortunes. Believers also ask forgiveness for their sins and pray for blessings. They place food offerings, flowers and bring gifts of devotion for prayers answered.


The Tamil term kavadi has been translated as a burden of load that is carried by devotees as a sacrifice to Lord Murugan. There are at least 5 different types of kavadis, including those that do not pierce the body. Some of the kavadis are made completely by hand by local craftsmen in Singapore.


A devotee bearing a kavadi is the symbol of devotion, humility and faith.


The rituals of Thaipusam start more than a month before the festival. The devotees prepare themselves by physical, mental and spiritual disciplining.

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The physical preparation starts with fasting for 48 days before Thaipusam, by having only one vegan meal, sleeping on the floor and taking cold showers.

Mental preparation includes controlling actions, speech and thoughts.

Spiritual preparation consists of meditation and prayer.

This brings the mind and the body in a Yogic form of preparation and helps devotees to stay in the state of meditation so they may safely perform their rite of devotion. This state of contemplation, community chanting and prayers, the support of family and friends divert the mind and bring the devotees in a specific state of meditation that helps to accept the pain when they are getting pierced.


One of the most fascinating aspects of Thaipusam is that often no blood can be seen from the piercings that are made onto the kavadi-bearer’s skin.

This is also largely due to the skill and know-how of the piercers themselves. This expertise comes from the years of practice. Some of the piercers carried kavadi in the past. They undergo the same ascetic preparation as the devotees carrying the kavadi.

On Thaipusam barefoot kavadi-bearers and their supporters walk the traditional 4 km route that starts at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Serangoon Rd and ends at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Tank road. Kavadis can be seen attached to devotees via hooks, thin spears that pierce their backs, mouth and cheeks.

While kavadi bearers are the most recognizable figures of Thaipusam, it takes a full community to make the festival possible. Piercers, family members and all the community play a very important part. Every individual journey of devotion is important.

I felt honored to be a part of this festival.It was a very special opportunity for me as a photographer to participate in capturing the beautiful moments of celebration of faith, gratitude and devotion.

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