A lesser known Hindu festival with a Kavadi procession: Panguni Uthiram

20 03 2011

Photographs of Panguni Uthiram 2012: The sun rises on a Sembawang tradition


My first encounters with the Panguni Uthiram festival which is celebrated annually during the full moon of the Tamil month of Panguni would have been at the time when I was doing a stint in Sembawang Shipyard in the 1980s. One of the few temples in Singapore that celebrates the festival, the Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniar Temple had then been located in a clearing off Canberra Road on which I would pass through on a daily basis on the way to and from the shipyard from where I was residing in Ang Mo Kio, and was the end point of a much shorter Kavadi procession that would take place with the festival. That then took a route starting from where the laundry shop was at the junction of Canberra and Ottawa Roads, down Canberra Road, left into Dehli Road and into Kowloon Road before continuing back up Canberra Road and ending at the temple.

The Panguni Uthiram Kavadi procession takes place annually on the full moon of the Tamil month of Panguni. The procession used to take place along a route that included Canberra Road, Dehli Road and Kowloon Road within the old Royal Navy Naval Base up until the 1990s when the Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniar Temple moved from Canberra Road to Yishun Industrial Park A.

Young participants at this year's procession.

I guess it was a little too early for one of the boys ...

Up to that point in time, I had only been aware of the maybe more publicised and highly visible Kavadi procession that took place down Serangoon Road, Selegie Road, Clemenceau Avenue and Tank Road every Thaipusam, and it came as a surprise to me that there was another one that took place after Thaipusam in what was then a world far removed from the one that I had known as a schoolboy in the heart of the city.

A Vel Kavadi carried during the procession. Up to the 1980s, it was something that I was familiar seeing only during the Thaipusam festival.

Panguni Uthiram is celebrated in March or April in which the month of Panguni coincides with. Based on information from various sites, I understand that the full moon of the month is chosen as the star Uthiram and Pournami which is the full moon are seen together, and the festival commemorates the marriage of several deities which include Parvati and Parameshwaran, as well as Murugan and Deivanai. The Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniar Temple’s website also provides an indication of when the festival was first celebrated there, which was in 1967 during which six carried the Kavadi in honor of Lord Murugan who is also known as Sri Balasubramaniar. The temple has since moved (in 1996), to its current location in Yishun Industrial Park A, and the procession, which is preceeded on the eve of the full moon by a chariot procession during which a chariot, a representation of the chariot in which Sri Balasubramaniar is believed to use on his annual visit to his devotees on Earth, now takes place along Sembawang Road, close to the area where Sembawang Village was, down Canberra Link and on to the new temple site at Yishun, a distance of about one and a half kilometres.

The starting point for this year's procession on Sembawang Road, across from Durban Road - the route now moves down Sembawang Road, turning left along Canberra Link on to the site of the new temple.

The festival took place on 19 March this year, and it being a Saturday, I had the opportunity to catch it along Sembawang Road at the break of dawn and again in the evening when I was able to also observe some of the preparations made by the participants at the marquee at the holding area which was across Sembawang Road from Durban Road. It was certainly a humbling experience seeing an extreme act of faith in action and so caught up was I in it that I somehow forgot about the time staying an longer than I had originally planned to and only realising it after an hour beyond the time I had planned to leave had passed. On the evidence of what I saw and the thousands that had participated in one way or another, the festival is still very much alive, as it had been when I had first come across it a quarter of a century ago.

I was able to observe some of the preparations this year ...


Photographs taken during the 2011 Panguni Uthiram procession in Sembawang

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Arriving to the light of the rising sun.

The crowd at the preparation area at the break of the day.

Setting off with Kavadis of Milk Pots.

An early Vel Kavadi bearer.

Two ladies carrying Milk Pots.

More Milk Pot bearers making their way down Sembawang Road.

Moving a Vel Kavadi into the preparation area.

Potrait of a Vel kavadi bearer.

A participant offering a gift.

Another participant bearing a Vel Kavadi.

The face of a participant.

Another participant preparing to have his chariot "allagu" Kavadi attached to hooks on his back.

Attaching the chariot ...

A Vel Kavadi.

Vels ...

A participant having Vels attached to his body.

Ready to go ...

A drummer at the preparation area ... use of drums and other musical instruments are now banned along the procession route.

Another Vel Kavadi bearer ready to go.

Attaching a Vel.

Piercing the end of Vels into the skin.

Blessing with fire.

A Kavadi bearer in a trance like state.

Milk Pot Kavadi bearers receiving blessings before setting off.

The face of a participant having hooks attached to his back.

A Milk Pot bearer with her tongue pierced with a Mounam Kavadi (Silent Kavadi).

A blessing along the procession route.

A young participant bearing a Kavadi.

Portrait of Vel Kavadi bearer.


More information on the Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniar Temple, its history and the history of the temple’s celebration of Panguni Uthiram as well as photographs of the original temple off Canberra Road can be found at the temple’s website at this link.


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4 responses

22 03 2011
Daily SG: 22 Mar 2011 « The Singapore Daily

[...] Life, the universe and everything – The Long and Winding Road: A lesser known Hindu festival with a Kavadi procession: Panguni Uthiram [...]

29 03 2011
Vejaiyan (VJ)

Hi there , very nice pictures especially of sembawang. I managed to find your website thru the Panguni Uthiram festival. I was lucky enough to be featured in your website. My image is “ready to go” . Anyway i am very appreciative of the fact that you have featured the festival and spent lots of time compiling it.
I will look at the other categories as well. Thanks and keep up the good stuff.

Cheers
VJ

29 03 2011
The wondering wanderer

Hi VJ! Thanks for dropping by and for your kind feedback – appreciate it very much! I have always been fascinated by the many Hindu festivals we are fortunate to be able to immerse ourselves in, living in Singapore, ever since I was in school when I was able to observe the Thaipusam procession that took place along a route near the school I attended. Somehow, I had never really taken a closer look as I was able to do last weekend at the Punguni Uthiram celebrations, even though I had been aware of it since the 1980s when I did an attachment at Sembawang Shipyard. This year, with the festival being on a Saturday, I finally managed to do that! I hope that by posting this, it will raise awareness of the rich diversity of cultures which we have in Singapore. I have a few more photographs taken and if you’d like to have them, I can send them to you. Regards, Jerome. :)

29 02 2012
francis siew

Hmm, this event seem to be worth going to ….

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