Festival of Thaipusam
This festival is celebrated by Singapore's Hindu community, which makes up about 6% of the countries population, in honor of Lord Subrahmanya (also known as Lord Murugan) who represents virtue, youth, and power and is the destroyer of evil. Subramanya or Muruga is the son of Lord Shiva. Brahmanya denotes one who has realized Brahman and attained the highest knowledge. The prefixed Su to the name adds adulation to it. Or, the one who has scaled the highest peak in jnana. Hence, it is that Lord Subrahmanya is exemplified as the God of knowledge.
Considered the universal granter of wishes. All those who wish to ask for a future favor, fulfill a vow in return for a granted favor, or to repent for past sins will participate in this festival. A spectacular four-kilometer procession begins at Serangoon Road and goes on to the Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple at Keong Siak Road.
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The first devotees set off in the early hours of the morning carrying milk pots as offerings to Lord Subrahmanya. Following them are some devotees for whom the festival is a display of faith and mind over matter as they pierce their tongues with metal skewers. Others attach large metal frames called kavadis to their bodies using an array of hooks and spikes. During the procession, these highly dedicated participants - who undergo a strict regime before they proceed to carry the kavadi - are joined by supporters who drum and chant to keep up their morale.
Called a major celebration, from appearances more on the part of the supporters than the ones suffering the piercing of religious fervor. I was told that this practice is banned in India and wonder if the approval of the Singaporean government is based on religious tolerance or the belief that the Hindu community is best left to their own devices and not offered the same "protections" as given the Chinese population in this big brother of a state. Regardless it made good theater and does serve as a rebuttal to those that say that Singapore is too homogenized.
In fact, Singapore seems to thrive on staging events as part of their self-marketing and the other Southeast Asians can all but try to keep up. If there's not a festival, a holiday or some observance being held somewhere on the island it's a rare day indeed. There needs to be little excuse to promote the activity of exchanging presents or food.