Pinch, Poke, Hook…Ouch!!! – Thaipusam 2010

May 6, 2010 at 11:32 am | Posted in itchy fingers | 4 Comments
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Words of Cautions: The following post contains graphical imageries that may be unsuitable for the faint-hearted and should be viewed with an open mind and respect for other’s religion. Itchyfingers apologises for any discomfort caused.

P.S.: This post is grossly late as Thaipusam took place in late January. Itchyfingers was simply too swamped with work to find time organising the many pictures we took…

I think no one can argue that Thaipusam is one of the most colourful and spectacular festivals celebrated in Singapore. It usually falls on January or February according to the Hindu calendar. There were a few legends behind the origin of Thaipusam. The most common being a festival to commemorate the occasion when Lord Murugan was given a vel (spear) so he could vanquish the evil demon. So on this special day, Hindus from all walks of life come together to worship Lord Murugan. It is a time to show their sincerity of their faith; a time to make and fulfil vows for those whose prayers were answered.

The devotees sure take their vows very seriously…and you better take it very seriously especially since it involves having numerous sharp objects penetrating your body…certainly not child’s play! To prepare for the big day, devotees have to cleanse themselves through prayer and fasting. Some start a month before, while others only fast for a week.

This was the second time for me and third time for Tisu Boy to join in their process of fulfilling vows at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Serangoon Road. This was where all the preparation for the procession began. It was here that you would witness for yourself the very unbelievable moments…With all the piercing, one would expect to see a lot of blood shed…but amazingly, there were none!

Oo…what are these?

These were to be pierced and hooked onto the back of this devotee! Ouch!
Some took it lying down…

Some took it standing up….ouch! How puzzling! No blood! See the tatooed
chinese character on the piercer’s hand? It said, “信”, meaning ‘trust’ and
‘faith’. You certainly must have a lot of trust and faith to let the person
do the piercing…

So…what were these hooks there for?

If they were hooked on the back, nylon ropes would  be attached at one
end of the hook with the other end attached to a chariot carrying the
deity…see…no blood!

Sometimes, coconuts would also be hung on the hooks. Not too sure of the
significance of these coconuts here…but in Malaysia, they have this
throwing and smashing of old coconuts
in the middle of the road as a
form of thanksgiving to Lord Murugan

This devotee must be the one with the most hooks on the back –  two rows
of more than 20 of these sharp hooks pierced through bare flesh! And he
gotta pull the chariot with these! Ooucch!! It is said that the more pain
it is, the more merit you would get….

What’s the ‘pull’ factor here?

Smaller hooks were used on the chest…mind you, this part of the body
is very sensitive! In Hindu worship, lime symbolises protection
by the deities

Wow…I think this devotee definitely deserved the blessing and protection
from the deities! And yes, this is how a pierced tongue and cheek look

Besides hanging limes, little pots of milk were also commonly used…

! Anyone wants milk? :p

The temple was crowded with devotees and their families, as well as tourists and locals taking photographs. We moved around taking photos of different groups in preparation, staying at a spot longer if our views were not blocked by others.

We were wondering what were these for? Reminded me of those colourful
clay figurines made and sold by chinese artisans by the roadside….

But soon we found out what were the use of these…

Pinch…and poke! Ouch!!!!

And they became part of the body ‘accessories’….

Finally all nicely and neatly poked onto the right and left upper and
lower arms….where is the blood? Ouch….

One couldn’t help but start to believe in the power of the deities…how would you explain the absence of blood then?

One way is to apply ‘holy ash’ onto the area to be pierced…this devotee
was all ready….

Here comes the skewer!

And there it goes! Poked right through the cheek! OUCH!!!! No tears, no
screaming of pain too!

Ready to poke through again…

There you go! Ouch! Do not try to attempt this at home!

Adjusting the skewer for a better fit….you really felt the pain for them
and in awe for what had just happened right in your face…Just how did
they do that without bleeding? Is it really possible for one’s faith to be
so strong that he wouldn’t feel much physical pain? Astonishing…

Well, besides the holy ash which probably stopped or prevented any
possible bleeding, skewers were also pierced through fresh banana as the
fruit is supposed to be a natural antiseptic…amazing…!

Another devotee with pierced cheek….

One interesting thing was that when a devotee was about to be pierced for the first time, there would be a few people, probably friends or relatives, chanting very loudly into his ears. Maybe it was to give moral support, or to distract the devotee so he would feel less pain, or maybe it was supposed to drive away any evil spirits…Itchyfingers had tried to ask people around whenever we saw something we didn’t understand, but, Thaipusam is rarely a quiet event. There were singers, drumers, blowing whistles…making it hard to converse clearly!

Some went into a trance while the piercing took place…

One of the most sought-after photo opportunities must be the piercing of one of the most vulnerable parts of the body – the tongue..So whenever you see a big crowd around the devotee, and hear the loudest chanting, chances are they were piercing the tongue…

An elderly devotee carrying a kavadi had his tongue pierced while the
many cameras snapped away indiscreetly…Some of these people went so
near to point their small cameras right in the devotees’ faces so they could
have a bigger closeup. But Itchyfingers think it is rather inappropriate and
disrespectful of others’ religion and beliefs as Thaipusam is a day for devotees
to show their faith and fulfill their vows to their god, a rather personal
and private affair, and not a live show…A better choice is to shoot with a
long lens at a distance so as not to disturb the solemn occasion.Being short,
most of the time while the tongue-piercing was going on, Itchyfingers couldn’t
see anything except photographers’ heads and cameras. This was a rare moment
where I happened to get an unblocked view while standing on some steps….

But good thing was, we had our long lens….so we were able to photograph these…



Poke! Ouccchhhhh!!!!


If, as outsiders and spectators to the event, we could feel the pain for the devotees, imagine how their loved ones felt?

I am sure their loved ones would feel proud for the devotee’s expression of
faith to their god, and believe no harm would befall the devotee while
fulfilling their vows, but to see so many sharp objects piercing through the
body, who wouldn’t feel heart ache?

Finally all done and ready to go with one last round of prayers

As mentioned earlier, those with big hooks on the back attached ropes onto
a chariot carrying deity. They would go into the temple for prayer before
proceeding to a 4km pilgrimage to Sri Thandayuthapani Temple on Tank Road.
There, more prayers were made before all the skewers were removed from
the devotee’s body. Itchyfingers didn’t follow them through this time round
due to some other commitment in the later part of the day, but you shouldn’t
be surprised if we were to tell you, again, that there were no blood when
the various sharp objects were removed!

Others like this elderly man carry the Kavadi, a cage-like structure
consisting of spikes and skewers, some weighing as much as 15 kg! The
Kavadi signifies a physical burden through which the devotees implore
for help from Lord Murugan

If you think that Thaipusam is a festival for the older and more traditional Hindu devotees, then you are so wrong.

This was one of the younger devotees, praying at a ceremony…

…before having his body pierced by a trusted elderly man

Most ladies carry milk pot on their head to join in the procession while
some, like this lady here, had their tongue also pierced…

The greatest surprise was probably to find a young boy also joining in…
not only he had his cheeks pierced…

He was also a kavadi bearer! See how serious he looked!

He also pulled a chariot! His kavadi was only slightly less elaborate then
the man’s! Wonder what kind of vow did he make to Lord Murugan?
To top the class?

Some offerings..and what’s that sandals-looking thing with nails?

Yes, they were indeed sandals…imagine walking 4km under the hot sun
pulling a heavy chariot, wearing these….ouch….

It was really amazing to witness the power of faith in these devotees. Totally mind boggling!

After inhaling all the incense, with the scent of milk lingering in the air, loud and deafening drumming, singing, colourful flashes of costumes, it was tough to be still in a clear mind…

to look for your shoes or sandals from amongst the many hundreds or
thousands other pairs!

Do try to experience Thaipusam for yourself and join in the procession the next time! 🙂

Also see related post:
> The Eye – CaoDaism and The Holy See, Vietnam Trip #6



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  1. Beautifull words and fotos,
    do you mind if i reblog this with all the credits offcourse!

    • Hi,

      Yes, you may use our photos and would be nice to give Itchyfingers some photo credits! 😀

  2. Beautifully taken & the way it was explained is awesome. Yes whatever you have written is true. It’s only the mind that matters. It’s the faith that brings us to this level of devotion. Thank you & have a nice day…Rajan.

    • Hi Raja,

      Yes, it is really amazing to have witnessed the important moments of devotees!

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