Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple is a popular landmark in Little India, where much of Singapore’s sizable Tamil Hindu community works and worships. Originally a simple building on a plot of land, the temple became something entirely different in the mid-1960s with the addition of an elaborate five-layer gopura (or gatehouse tower). Each stepped level of the tower’s roof is crowded with vividly painted statues of royalty, dancers, and deities, as well as candy-colored architectural elements, all of which creates a remarkable celebratory effect. The temple has been granted protected status as a national monument by the government.
Thaipusam is a festival celebrated by the Tamil Hindu community in Singapore each year in January or February. In 2011 I was invited by a friend to observe the man’s preparations at a Hindu temple in Little India. After all of these little gold weights on sharp hooks were inserted into his skin, he joined other pilgrims in walking barefoot to another temple three miles away to show their devotion. The hardest part to watch was when they pierced his tongue and cheeks with the final gold plates. The man, who has been doing this for many years, didn’t flinch and appeared to be in a calm, meditative state the entire time. If you don’t want to go into a temple to witness the Thaipusam preparations (the practitioners won’t mind), you can watch the early-morning parades through the streets of Little India.