Tens of thousands mark Thaipsuam ahead of lunar eclipse

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Devotees carrying milk pots or kavadis walk 3km route before inauspicious lunar event

By the time the sky darkened ahead of last night's lunar eclipse, an estimated 10,000 Hindus had finished walking in this year's Thaipusam procession.

As is tradition, many devotees walked barefoot carrying milk pots. Around 250 of them bore extravagant kavadis - structures of steel and wood - and sported hooks through their skin and tongues.

Nearly 40,000 people more, including tourists, joined in the festivities along the 3km route from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road.

Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple chairman K. Vellayappan, 73, said: "It is heart-warming to see all types of people come together for this celebration."

Devotees had set off from 9.30pm on Tuesday. Although the event is meant to last 24 hours, the temples closed their doors at 6.30pm yesterday due to the lunar eclipse, which took place from 6.51pm to 11.11pm.

Hindus believe that eclipses are inauspicious as "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 annual festival, which falls on the full moon day of the Tamil month of Thai, is celebrated in honour of Lord Murugan, who represents virtue, youth and power.

Devotees seek blessings and fulfil their vows by carrying milk pots as offerings, or kavadis.

Mr Joe Buminathan, 49, was focused as he prepared to carry his kavadi yesterday. His wife, Shanti, 48, said: "He has been doing this every year since he was 18. I am proud of him for having courage... to do this."

Some kavadis were up to four decks high and decorated with peacock feathers and paintings of Lord Murugan. Many bearers, with body piercings, wore bright yellow and red trousers. Musicians followed, playing thavil (drums) or nadaswaram (piped instruments).

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, who was there yesterday with Central Singapore District Mayor Denise Phua, said traditions such as Thaipusam are important as they act as "anchors as we walk through our life", helping people stay rooted in cultural and religious contexts.

Multiracial and religious interactions can help bridge gaps and deepen understanding, he said, adding it was encouraging to see so many people of various communities participating.

The festivities were organised by the Hindu Endowments Board and the two temples.

Mr Hugo Lima, a photographer from Portugal who has lived in Singapore for around a year, took pictures around Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple.

"This is my first Thaipusam, and I am learning more and more about it along the way," said the 38-year-old. "I think the atmosphere, the colours and the people are all amazing."