Thaipusam attracts volunteers of all races

FOR the first time in 11 years, devotee Gopal Ram carried a kavadi yesterday. The 35-year-old communications executive made the vow last year, when his mo-ther was diagnosed with cancer, believing that the act would strengthen him spiritually.

Early yesterday morning, he fulfilled the vow when he walked 4.5km carrying a 45kg woodand-metal structure, with spikes pierced into his body. It was his seventh time carrying one.

"Once the weight sinks in, it's a battle between mind and belief. It's mind over matter," said Mr Gopal, who had returned from Australia, where he worked as a creative director, in 2009. She is "a lot better" now, he added.

He was one of 500 Hindus who carried kavadis for the Thaipusam festival, which honours the victory of deity Lord Murugan over demon hordes.

The procession, which started at about 11.30pm on Thursday and ended at midnight yesterday, involved 9,000 devotees walking in groups from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Serangoon Road to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Tank Road. Many carried pots of milk, which is traditionally poured over Lord Murugan's sta-tue as an offering.

Mr S. Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry, visited both temples yesterday morning.

"Thaipusam is not just a Hindu or Indian event. If you look at the involvement of volunteers, we have volunteers from all walks of life," he said.

Around 1,000 volunteers, including students, families and a group of retired police officers of various races who helped with security, took part.

Added the minister: "In Singapore, we come together as a community across different ethnic and religious groups in order to celebrate specific customs or cultural aspects. I think we should continue to be committed to that and celebrate that."

mellinjm@sph.com.sg