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.
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.
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 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.
Photographs taken during the 2011 Panguni Uthiram procession in Sembawang
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.