Thursday, February 9, 2012
Thaipusam Singapore - 2012 - Blood, Sweat and Tears
Perfect for the viewing public and photographers but alas, I fear, less so for those devotees demonstrating their faith in such an extraordinary way. Dehydration must be extreme (I drank in excess of 1.5 litres just trailing these guys around), especially for those with their tongues pierced making consuming water almost impossible without choking. Indeed, this year the devotees seemed to be suffering somewhat more than last year with a couple I saw passing out. They were up on their feet (with help), in no time but it just shows the extent they go to to demonstrate their faith. I feel I spent more time taking the spectacle in this year as opposed to last year when I took photos like it was going out of fashion. I also felt much more at home on the streets of Little India and Tank Road as the year in between has served to teach me more about the people here and become more in tune with the way they live. I felt much comfortable and less intrusive whilst taking photos and generally chatting to people about the experience that is Thaipusam.
It's amazing that such a large festival (around 36 hours and thousands of devotees walking the streets. Not to mention the friends and family, helpers, hangers-on, volunteers handing out water and cooking food and of course the massive numbers of those coming to view the spectacle), barely spills outside the confines of the temporary fencing put up to contain it. Indeed, a street or two back from Serangoon Road (the main road through Little India), you wouldn't know it was going on and the locals are sitting back having a kopi and cigarette just like any other day. The usual infusion of incense, flower garlands and spices emanating from the shopfronts gives the place it's usual, comfortable feel. Inside the temples the Hindu worshippers enter into a much more personal, yet no less meaningful, form of adulation. Prayers are said, some silent, some not so silent. Candles, made at dazzling speed on site, are lit and the Gods are idolised in among the men, women and families clammering to pay their respects. Each person clothed in their finest attire lest they be accused of falling short of the level of reverence expected of such occasion. The atmosphere in the temples felt truly a family affair, very relaxed with a lot of smiling faces. Yet, in the background, an underlying tempo being struck up by the drumming followers of the devotees leads you back into the throng. As you negotiate your way to the front of the crowds you start to see the real meaning of blood, sweat and tears. The immense amount of apparent physical effort being put suddenly in doubt as the kadavi-barers break into a dance and twist and twirl down the street, their kadavis suddenly coming to life and bending and bowing under their owner's efforts. The followers continuing to keep up the tempo to encourage the trance-like state that these men and women get in to to complete the challenge.
This year as well as treading the streets during the heat of the day I also ventured out in the evening after dark. It feels and looks different at that time. Many more people spilling out of their work places to line the streets, part in support and part in wonder and awe. Some watching family and friends come past, some in it (myself included) for the photo opportunities. Some of the kadavis are lit and some appear to tower over the offerings seen earlier in the day. Maybe it was the lighting or maybe they really were bigger, but to carry them looked almost unfeasible. The cool breeze of the night was definitely a help to those walking and the streets were packed, much more so than during the day. It was also evident that the general population of Little India (and Indians in general) were out to pay homage in the evening meaning the kadavi carriers were even more obstructed from walking than during the day. Indeed, I felt having to wait at each set of traffic lights (and trust me, there are a lot of them in Singapore), was a little harsh. But if that what it takes, then these guys are up for the challenge.
For a view on what I saw and felt last year about Thaipusam have a look here.