Up to 40,000 people at Thaipusam procession ahead of total lunar eclipse

ST VIDEO: RAFFAELLA NATHAN CHARLES

SINGAPORE - As many as 40,000 people have attended this year's Thaipusam procession, ahead of a total lunar eclipse on Wednesday (Jan 31) night.

The procession, which started at 9.30pm on Tuesday, saw devotees walking from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road, about 3km away.

Bearers of kavadis - structures of steel and wood - with sharp body piercings started their walk along the same route at 2am on Wednesday.

Between 30,000 and 40,000 people including tourists were estimated to have attended the festivities this year, with around 250 kavadi bearers and some 10,000 devotees holding milk pots.

Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple chairman  K Vellayapan, 73, said: “It’s very heartwarming to see all types of people come together for this celebration.”

As the eclipse is taking place from 6.51pm to 11.11pm this year, the procession - which lasted about 24 hours in past years - has been cut short because Hindu temples close when it gets dark.

Hindus consider eclipses inauspicious because "light and energy from the sun or moon are blocked and cannot reach the earth", said the Hindu Endowments Board. "No religious services can be carried out and no milk offerings made during an eclipse," the board added.

 

At around 10am, Mr Joe Buminathan, 49, was seen with his family, preparing to walk with a  kavadi. He kept silent and focused as he  prepared for the procession.

His wife Shanti, 48, said: “He’s been doing this every year since he was 18. I’m very proud of him for having courage every year to do this.”

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin joined the festivities on Wednesday morning, accompanied by Central Singapore District mayor Denise Phua. 
 
He said traditions like Thaipusam are important because they act as "anchors as we walk through our life", helping people remain rooted both in a cultural context and religious context.
 

Multi-racial and religious interactions can help bridge gaps and deepen understanding of each other, he said, adding that it was very encouraging to see so many people from various communities participating in the festivities.

The annual festival, which falls on the full moon day of the Tamil month of Thai, 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.

The festivities were organised by the Hindu Endowments Board and the two temples. Hundreds of volunteers were roped in to help run the event.
 
Full-time photographer Hugo Lima, 38, was walking around Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, snapping pictures of devotees and visitors. Mr Lima, who is from Portugal,  has been living in Singapore for about a year and heard of the processions from his friend. 
 
“I think the atmosphere, the colours, and the people are all amazing. This is my first Thaipusam, and I’m learning more and more about it along the way,” he said.