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Photographer's Note

During a Hindu festival this devotees carry a burden of pain for the Hindu Lord Muruga.

Thaipusam is a Hindu festival that commemorates both the birthday of Murugan (also Subramaniam), the youngest son of god Shiva and his wife Parvati, and also the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel (spear) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. One of the largest celebrations of Thaipusam occurs in Singapore. This photo gallery showcases devotees making offerings to Lord Muruga for eradicating the ills that afflict us.

THE KAVATI: The most potent propitiatory rite that a devotee of Shanmukha undertakes to perform is what is known as the Kavadi (a burden). The Kavadi-bearer observes strict celibacy and only pure, Sattwic food is eaten. He abstains from all intoxicating drinks and drugs. He thinks of God all the time.

At its simplest form, the Kavati may entail just carrying a pot of milk, usually upon one’s head. However, the benefits that the devotee gains from offering a Kavadi to the Lord are a million-fold greater than the little pain that he inflicts upon himself. Thus mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers is also common. The simplest kavadi is a semi circular decorated canopy supported by a wooden rod that is carried on the shoulders. In addition, many have a small spear through their tongue, or a spear through the cheeks. The spear pierced through his tongue or cheeks reminds him constantly of Lord Murugan. It also prevents him from speaking and gives great power of endurance.

Other types of kavadi involve hooks stuck into the back and either pulled by another walking behind or being hung from a highly decorated cart, with the incisions of the hooks varying the level of pain. The greater the pain the more god-earned merit!

In all cases, the Kavadi has a good many brass bells adorning it which announces it as the Kavadi-bearer draws it along. As the Kavadi-bearer very often observes silence, the bells are the only eloquent signs of a Kavadi procession.

Devotees and Kavadi bearers walk barefoot, on hot pavement along the journey - which can take several hours! The walk from one Hindu temple to another, and here in Singapore that's several kilometers in 90F heat and 90% humidity - with an equatorial sun bearing down on them. Along the journey, family and friends offer drinks, via a cup and straw. To keep the bearer hydrated.

By the time they reach the end temple, many are in a high state of religious fervor. They dance in ecstasy at the temple door, while a large crowd gathers and chants. Music is blared loudly through speakers, and the whole event is awe-inspiring; there is divine radiance on their faces. It is claimed that devotees often experience the state of feeling united with the Lord.

THE PHOTO: While serving in Singapore I had the opportunity to watch this ceremony from start in the early morning to completion in the late afternoon. I captured this man, walking along the street in the hot Singapore mid-day sun. You can see the obvious pain in this shot, and you can see some facial and back piercings. However, what this photos does not reveal are the dozens of hooks in hick pack, nor that he is walking on wooden shoes that have over a hundred upright nails in them. He is literally walking several kilometers on a bed of nails. Every step was agony.

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Additional Photos by Peter Kennett (peterkennett) Silver Note Writer [C: 0 W: 0 N: 15] (118)
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