Light jasmine fragrance mingled with the sweet breath of wee hours. Dawn was a couple of hours away and the sky outside remained dark. The bell chimed steadily, as harmonious prayer music floated in the air. Two musicians played on professionally, and I have to stop myself from swaying with the melodious notes.
It was 4am in the morning and I was standing alongside devotees to participate in the morning prayers at Sri Thendayuthapani Temple. Morning prayers are part of a daily routine for Hindu devotees but this day was particularly special, as the main deity of the temple would be taken on a city procession.
Lord Murugan, also known as the son of Lord Shiva, is a god known for his bravery, youth, and generosity. He is the main idol of the temple and he is the reason for Thaipusam (whereby the moon is the brightest in the 10th month of Tamil calendar) – an annual festival that commemorates his feats and acknowledges his triumph over evil forces. As he is also very generous in dispensing favors, some of his worshipers will prove their gratitude and devotion for him by undergoing self-mortification on Thaipusam. (I will share more on this cultural festival in my next post).
A day before Thaipusam, Lord Murugan will be taken on a city procession in the Silver Chariot that starts its journey from Sri Thendayuthapani Temple to Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple (close to 2km) in the pre-dawn hours. It will return in the evening followed by Chettiar Kavadies. This day is known as Punar Pusam or Chetty Pusam.
Walking alongside the Silver Chariot, I felt a sense of wonder. Again, I smelt the light flower fragrance that drifted in the air while the flame burned steadily. The music was soft but spirits were high. Devotees walked on, while chatting casually with one another. This was a walk of century (in Singapore at least) and I cannot help thinking back how it used to be like when the Silver Chariot was pulled by bulls instead of the motor vehicle of today’s time.
“Arogara! Arogara!” Murugan’s devotees called out and I found myself chanting the same words, as the Silver Chariot made its way through small obstacles during its expedition. “Arogara” is a shortened form of the phrase ‘ara haro hara’ that means “oh god almighty, please remove our sufferings and grant us salvation.” It is often chanted when faced with challenges.
In case you are wondering what was so challenging about transporting a Silver Chariot from one venue to the other, well… there is the issue about securing Lord Murugan on the chariot, which is of a certain height. Along the way, there are slopes and road gentries with overhead borders that made it necessary for the Silver Chariot to go an alternative path. As the Chinese Lunar New Year festive season has began, the gold coin lanterns hanging along South Bridge Road also made this city procession a little more taxing.
Yet, these obstacles did not dull the vibrant ambience and celebratory spirits of those who participated in the ceremony. Along the way, there was a stop at the Sri Mariamman temple (Singapore oldest Hindu temple) because the main god of worship is a manifestation of Parvathi, who is the consort of Lord Shiva. She is also the mother of Lord Murugan. Hence, it is essential to visit and show respect.
The Indian culture has always been one that engages one’s five senses. The sweet scent of fruit offerings and incense lingered in my mind. Religious sounds coupled with the first signs of lives, as people went about their daily routines along the path that we crossed. I recalled the heat of the flame and cool morning breeze.
Did I mentioned the ladies who were garbed in traditional saris (beautiful Indian clothing) with make-up so expertly drawn that I felt dowdy standing beside them? Nevertheless, I was happy to be part of the crowd – all thanks to my dearest friend, Rosini – whom I am sure will be a wonderful tourist guide in time to come.
If you have missed this wonderful and culturally-rich event, fret’ not! There’s always next year. 😉
The above information has been compiled based on various sources, including my own experience and should only be used as a reference. For more information, please check out: http://www.sttemple.com/sri-thendayuthapani-temple/thaipusam.html