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Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra

Intense Spirituality – the Thaipusam Festival

They say spirituality awakens at a particular moment – and that moment is necessarily different for each person.

I do not think I have reached my moment yet. But I have been fortunate to have witnessed the deep spirituality of others, some as young as 20!

Watching men who are so devoted to a being that they put themselves through intense pain for hours – left me moved and completely impressed at the Thaipusam festival in Singapore.

Men and women pierce their bodies with spikes and hooks and use these to carry or pull weights as a mark of devotion to Lord Murugan. These men then walk from one temple to another about 2 km away on slippers that have nails poking through them.

To the onlooker the pain they put themselves through is as intense as their spirituality. But I am told they feel very little pain…….

Images from a deeply moving experience:

1. At the Temple :

The Gods

The starting point of the procession – Sri Srinivas Perumal Temple

A lady praying for her son before she gives him blessings

Pre-spiking preparation and puja

2. The act of piercing

4 rods act as the main pillars for the structure. Measurements are taken and markings are put on the front as well as the back before piercing the body with the rods.

Making body markings with ash for the piercings

This is where the 4 prinicpal pillars that hold up the structure will be attached to the body

The actual piercing ….

In addition to the 4 principal rods shown above there are numerous thin metal sticks that support the structure. These are attached to the sides, the chest and the upper back.

The young man about as old as my son

Piercing

Hooks are used where needed and a plug is used to hold it in place.

The act of piercing

Pain

The momentary pain

The Peacock crown to be placed atop the metal structure

Once the piercings are in place the devotee and his entourage offer prayers before leaving to join the procession

Worshipping the holy flame the “aarti” before beginning

3. The Procession

The  journey is going to be a long one ….

with sandals that have nail spikes!

Leaving the temple and joinign the procession

As if bearing the pain were not enough……the devotees dance to offer worship! Their limitless spirit deserves a salute

Other devotees serve the procession walkers by pouring water containing turmeric – as it has healing properties – on the feet of devotees.

Children may offer worship without spikes

4. Closeups and details of Piercings

Rudraksh seeds

The forehead marks of Shiva

The ash seen here offers spiritual resistance to pain

Kavadis decorated with Puja string and hooked onto the devotee’s back

Carrying the Kavadi

 5. The Chariot Puller

Pulling a chariot with the hooks on his back

6. The Women

Women are the weaker sex?

Another lady devotee

7. The Chinese Devotee

Chinese devotees – a delightful surprise and a testimony to the inter racial harmony in Singapore

8. The Tonsured Devotees

Tonsure is another way of offering worship

Concluding thoughts

It is a Hindu custom to offer reverence by touching the feet of another – usually an elder. Although the practice is followed very commonly with younger people touching the feet of older people simply as a matter of greeting, I have rarely done this unless I truly respect the person. Today I did that to a total stranger. An old man in a procession with spikes and hooks all over his body.

The man whose feet I touched

I truly respected the strength of his spirit – and so I touch his feet as he walked in the procession on Serangoon Road, Singapore. He, and all the others like him, some of them  as young as my son, are way superior to me. In endurance, in spirituality  and in mental strength. Someday I hope that the blessings I received from the old gentleman will make me stronger than I am and at least a fraction as strong as he is!

Someday I hope to find devotion within myself that would be intense enough to shatter the limitations of being human!

jm

Feb 2012

Over 100 Hi res images will be available on jainamishra.com.

2 comments on “Intense Spirituality – the Thaipusam Festival

  1. Vivian Huntley
    February 15, 2013

    Superb post however I was wanting to know if you could write
    a litte more on this subject? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Bless you!

  2. Anonymous
    February 25, 2013

    Faith seems to go a lot deeper than just believing.

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