Wed, Dec 29, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Singapore's Hindus gear up for spectacular festival

SPIRITUAL CLEANSING When the star Pusam can be seen in the sky, the city state's devotees know it is time to stop fasting and get out the metal hooks

DPA , SINGAPORE

One of the biggest and most spectacular Hindu festivals outside the Indian subcontinent is celebrated in the city state of Singapore with its substantial Hindu community.

Thaipusam is celebrated again on Jan. 25 in the tenth month of the Hindu calendar when the star Pusam can be seen in the skies and it is full moon.

Thaipusam is the feast for the son of Shiva and Parvathi, Lord Muruga, the universal granter of wishes. Devotees who observe this great day of penance spiritually cleanse themselves by undergoing a month-long fast. They observe frequent prayers, consume a single vegetarian meal daily and abstain from sex.

The 24-year-old Prakash has prepared himself for the past six weeks for the festival. When the small metal hooks enter his body he catches his breath but somehow overcomes the pain.

"It is the highest sacrifice one can give to God, the pain. We learned it from our parents. It is tradition," Prakash explains.

The devotees stand with naked chest and dressed in wide-cut yellow trousers, present of their surroundings and at the same time far away. They are surrounded by a colorfully dressed crowd.

Friends dig the hooks into the skin of the men. Some wear oranges and lemons. Others have milk cartons dangling from the hooks. The men take the offerings to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple which houses a shrine to Muruga.

Prakash also takes part in the one-and-a-half-hour walk through the city. Friends place a Kavadi on his shoulders. It is an up to 60kg semi-circular canopy supported by a wooden rod and decorated with peacock feathers, flowers and deity images. Eventually sharp rods are stuck through his cheeks, lips and tongue. Hardly any blood flows. Then, with slow, unsteady steps Prakash starts walking.

The walk ends in front of the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple. The devotees' wounds are immediately dabbed with ash as soon as the hooks are removed. Shortly after the rods are removed from an elderly man he sums it up: "It was pleasure and not torment."

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