Temples dedicated to Murugan–the Hindu God of War–are scattered all over the island country of Singapore. Murugan is known by many names–from Subramanya to Karthikeya to Skanda.
I consider myself a Buddhist; but since I grew up in Singapore, I was exposed firsthand to several cultures and faiths that are different to my own. I have always believed in enriching the essence of my being by embracing the cultures of my friends, fellow countrymen and visitors from all around the world.
Live and let live, I say. Live and let live.
In Hinduism, Goddess Parvati presented the Vel–a spear–to her son Murugan as an embodiment of her shakti power in order to vanquish evil. The annual Thaipusam festival commemorates and celebrates the occasion when Murugan received the divine vel from his mother. During this festival, some devotees pierce their skin, tongue or cheeks with the vel as they undertake a procession towards the temple.
In Singapore, Thaipusam is a festival celebrated by Hindus of Tamil descent. The word Thaipusam is derived from two words: thai and pusam. Thai means 10th and pusam refers to the period when the moon is at its brightest.
One cannot help but marvel at the faith of the devotees who perform Thaipusam. Preparations for the festival start months in advance; but the conditioning of the body and the mind begins approximately a week prior to the festival itself. Devotees prepare themselves spiritually with extensive prayers and fasting.
On the day of Thaipusan, devotees perform acts of penance or thanksgiving by carrying a kavadi. The basic kavadi consists of a short wooden pole surmounted by a wooden arch, decorated with peacock feathers. The peacock feathers symbolise the vahana or mount of Murugan.
Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Singapore’s Tank Road pays homage to a form of Lord Murugan: the deity venerated by Chettiars and other South Indians across the region. The temple serves as the end point for the annual procession of up to 50,000 devotees during the festival of Thaipusam.
In the era before Covid, the temple and the Hindu Endowments Board jointly supported the logistics and religious functions of the 4km procession from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road. During Thaipusam, the temple’s kitchens opened as early as 2am, feeding up to 14,000 people in the course of the day.
Worship in the Covid Era
Covid has completed changed, revamped and reimagined our daily lives.
Unlike previous years, this year there will be no foot procession in Singapore from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Tank Road.
The same way we have had to rethink how we work and socialise; we will have to rethink how we worship.
Group gatherings, congregations and mass prayers are not unique to Hinduism. Power and energy is born out of many people coming together for a common purpose.
I believe we can still come together for a common purpose–just not physically. The whole idea of being in close physical contact with one another is slowly diminishing. We increasingly live our lives on the internet; ceasing to be our physical selves as we live out an existence where only our minds and spirits exist.
But the soul’s need for connection and our ability to have faith in the darkest of hours will continue to flourish… especially in times like this; when we all desperately need faith to light our path and guide our way.