Sunday, January 31, 2010

Scary Thaipusam

BEWARE, this entry blog contain sensitive pictures.

The first time I saw Thaipusam was two years ago on my way back home without knowing anything about the procession. A year later I made sure I was available to document what I was able to see, but my camera was not working well under such extreme condition (poor lights and crowded streets).

This year I had everything ready to take the best pictures I could and share with the world this unique devotion procession that happen once a year in Singapore, and some other region where the Tamil communities reside across the planet … at least this is what I though.

Devotees Destination

The 3.2 km from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple is usually a 40 minutes long walk even on the sunny side of the street, but during the Thaipusam the distance seems way much longer for obvious reason and could sometimes takes up to six hours for participants to reach their final destination.

Spiky Shoes

The word Thai-pusam is derived from the month name Thai and Pusam, which refers to a star that is at its highest point during the ceremony which commemorates both the birthday of the youngest son of god Shiva, the Tamul's God of War, Murugan (also Subramaniam) and his wife Parvati. The legend said that the wife Parvati gave Murugan a spear so he could defeat the evil spirit Soorapadman.

Woman with Pot of Milk

Devotees usually take a vow to offer a kavadi in return for an asked favor or granted request to the God Murugan. The kavadi is usually an metallic instrument to inflict pain that has to be carried over a long period of time in recognition to Murugan.

Lime Display

Before the celebration devotees have to prepare by cleansing themselves through prayer and fasting, taking only pure food, once a day, while continuously thinking of God. Usually on the day of the festival, disciples shave their heads, covered it later on with an orange powder, before undertake the pilgrimage along the same set route between the two temples.

Tongue Piercing

Accordingly to the request granted or asked by the fan, various physical pains are undertaken during the pilgrimage. It could start with a simple iron pot of milk carried on the head, hooking lemon to the flesh, carrying a wooden temple on the shoulders, or pulling the same temple on wheel with hooks attached to your bared back skin. But the real deal is the metallic skeleton weighting 20kg minimum, surmounted by heavy iron circle to which is attached multiple spikes hooked back to the devotee flesh

Another Tongue Piercing

Mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with long spikes is also very common, reminding constantly of God Murugan and preventing from speaking and complaining while gives great power of endurance. Usually the greater the pain the more god-earned merit is granted.

Men with a Pot of Milk

Along the way, family and friends who have decided to help the devotee provide food and drinks, but also chants and encouragements to facilitate the contrition. It is not rare to see a group of dozen of fans dancing around drums to which the devotee respond in spinning onto himself in a frenzy painful dance.

Dancing with a Kavadi

More often than usual, spike flee out of the human flesh and land on the side walk, picked up by watcher as a souvenir for maybe another time if courage will join. What stoke me the most during this parade were on one side the quietness of the crowd fascinated by the exercise, and on the other the absence of visible blood and slow motion of the devotees.

Body Piercing

No scream, no blood, only visible pain on the face of the people who could after a while (usually many hours), under the hot and humid weather of tropical Singapore, bearably walk with their torture instrument attached to them. Watching someone suffering is never pleasant, but watching someone who self inflict pain is shamefully fascinating.

Pulling the Temple

The contrast that exists between the clean Singapore and the painful procession is striking. One of the Singapore's minorities is taking the lead during one full day over the other ones, but what they are demonstrating is residing essentially around pain, suffering and religion. Spectacular I conjure, but shocking brutal.

Back of the Flesh

Singapore is not the only place that celebrates Murugan. The temple at Batu Caves in Malaysia is a place that attracts usually over one million devotees and many more tourists for this very special public suffering procession. It is mentioned that the more impressive the more sure the wish will be granted, leading to sensational escalation of public suffer.

Corporate Sponsorship

I have to confess I was more intrigued by what I was watching but my reporter job. Maybe next year I will be able to capture better shot to render what the Thaipusam is really about. At the same time I am just wandering what the ceremony near Kuala Lumpur might look like.