Thaipusam procession to be cut short next year due to lunar eclipse

Devotees carrying milk pots are urged to start their journey at night on Jan 30 next year, while kavadi-bearers are advised to begin their journeys from 2am on Jan 31. The doors of the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple will shut by 6.30pm, before the eclips
Devotees carrying milk pots are urged to start their journey at night on Jan 30 next year, while kavadi-bearers are advised to begin their journeys from 2am on Jan 31. The doors of the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple will shut by 6.30pm, before the eclipse.ST FILE PHOTO

Solar and lunar eclipses usually draw many admirers eager to view the phenomenon, but there is a lesser-known impact when they fall on the same day as the annual Thaipusam procession.

As a result of a total lunar eclipse taking place on Jan 31 next year from 6.51pm to 11.11pm, the approximately 24-hour procession will be cut short by 5½ hours as Hindu temples have to close when it gets dark.

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth comes directly between the Sun and Moon, blocking sunlight from reaching the Moon and causing the Earth's shadow to cover it entirely.

Hindus consider eclipses inauspicious because "light and energy from the Sun or Moon are blocked and cannot reach the Earth". Temples close for the duration that the astronomical event can be witnessed in Singapore.

It is an "unprecedented event" where the Thaipusam procession will be cut short in Singapore, president of the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple A.R. Ramasamy said at a media briefing yesterday.

He urged the 10,000 or so devotees who will be carrying paal kudams, or milk pots, to start at night on Jan 30, and the 600 or so kavadi- bearers to begin their journey from 2am on Jan 31.

The procession will start at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road and end at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road. The cut-off time to begin the journey is 1pm, while the doors of the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple will shut by 6.30pm.

Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple's chief priest K.S. Vasudevan added that all prayers and food distribution will wrap up by then. Kavadi-bearers typically take four hours to complete their journey.

Mr Ramasamy said: "We humbly encourage them to cooperate and to come down early to fulfil their vows."

Thaipusam is celebrated in honour of Lord Subramaniam, also known as Lord Murugan, who represents virtue, youth and power, and is the destroyer of evil. Devotees seek blessings and fulfil their vows by carrying milk pots as offerings or kavadis - structures of steel and wood - with sharp body piercings.

The annual Thaipusam festival usually attracts about 50,000 to 60,000 people, including thousands of tourists, who observe the festival along a 4km route. Hundreds of volunteers are usually roped in to help run the event.

Singapore Armed Forces officer S. Kathirasan, 51, who has participated in Thaipusam for 33 years, said he expects a crowd from 6am on Jan 31.

He said: "I usually get my piercings started at 4am and set off at 6am, so I don't start too early in the morning and don't finish too late in the day when it is hot. I imagine there will be others like me.

"With the shortened procession, the organisers will definitely have some challenges to overcome. But closing the temples is the right thing to do and is practised by Hindus over the world."

The organisers will hold briefings for kavadi-bearers at 7pm on Oct 1 and Oct 4. Ticket sales for participants carrying the paal kudams and kavadis will go on sale from Dec 14 at both temples.

• More information can be found at www.thaipusam.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2017, with the headline 'Thaipusam procession to be cut short next year due to lunar eclipse'. Print Edition | Subscribe