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Thaipusam is a Hindu festival in honour of Lord Subramaniam, son of Shiva, and is a day of purification and penance during which devotees make offerings of thanks for blessings received through fulfilment of vows. The festival centres on the two-mile (4km) procession of penitents who carry 'kavadis' (large wood or metal frames) hung with offerings such as milk, honey or flowers and decorated with bells and peacock feathers. These loaded shrines are gruesomely supported by heavy spikes, hooks and barbs driven into their bodies, and some participants pierce their tongues and cheeks with skewers and spikes. Supporters will gather around the devotees chanting prayers and encouraging them along the way. Devotees undergo a period of spiritual preparation before the procession and enter a trance-like state in order to tolerate the pain involved. Travellers who want to witness the procession should start at Sri Srinivasi Perumal Temple at about 9am in the morning to watch the preparations of the devotees. Then it is best to shadow a group of devotees as they make their pilgrimage along Serganoon Road and Tank Road.
Chinese New Year
Lunar New Year is the most important festival in the Chinese calendar and is a time to exchange well wishes and gifts of good fortune. The streets of Chinatown are lit with red lanterns, twinkling lights and elaborate decorations, fireworks colour the sky and busy street bazaar stalls are laden with Chinese delicacies and symbols of prosperity and good luck. Part of the festivities in Singapore is the Chingay Parade, the largest and grandest street procession in the country, which is a multi-cultural and cosmopolitan parade featuring some of the finest performing groups from around the world. This colourful event presents lavishly decorated floats, stilt-walkers, lion dancers, fire jugglers, and music performances. Another annual New Year extravaganza is the River Hong Bao, which is a cultural event including a range of performances from top national artists, as well as art and craft stalls and floats; spectacular fireworks displays take place on the opening and closing nights. The spirit of Chinese New Year permeates Singapore, especially Chinatown, for most of January and February, making this a great time to visit the city even if you can't manage to be there for the festival itself.
The major event at this Hindu festival is the breathtaking fire-walking ceremony in which devotees honour the goddess Draupathi. Draupathi is a tragic heroine in Tamil mythology now honoured as a deity for her purity and steadfastness through misfortune. Legend has it that she proved her fidelity and innocence to her husband by walking barefoot over burning coals, and Hindu priests and devotees demonstrate their faith, courage and endurance by walking across a 21-foot (7m) pit of glowing coals without showing any signs of pain. In this test of purity devotees believe that they will only be burnt if they are impure. Afterwards they wade through a pit of goat's milk and then stain their feet with yellow turmeric. On the eve of Thimithi a procession honouring Draupathi, led by a magnificent silver chariot, makes its way to the Sri Mariamman Temple (South Bridge Road) from the Sri Srinivasi Temple in Little India. The fire-walking ceremony takes place at the Sri Mariamman Temple. Only men are allowed to take part in the ritual despite the fact that it honours and commemorates a woman. Devotees believe that the act of fire-walking will purify them of past sins and bless them for the future.
Taking place on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, this festival is sometimes referred to as 'Lantern Festival' (not to be confused with the Lantern Festival which ends Chinese New Year) or 'Mooncake Festival' in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, due to the integral part moon cakes play in the festival. It commemorates the 14th-century revolution led by Yuan Zhang, who smuggled notes inside moon cakes and used lighted lanterns as a signal to launch the revolt. One of the highlights of the festival is the Moon Cake Fair, where hundreds of festive stalls line the streets of Chinatown selling an astonishing variety of moon cakes, traditional paper lanterns, decorations and other delicacies. Children parade down the streets with their brightly lit lanterns in the Children's Lantern Procession. The Chinese Garden becomes a fairyland of lights and colours for the Lantern Festival, and there is also a range of cultural shows and performances including lion and dragon dancing, Chinese instrumentalists and craftsmen. In fact, with far too much festivity for one day, the Mid-Autumn Festival is a month-long celebration in Singapore and a great period in which to visit the city.
Festival of the Hungry Ghosts
Taoist Chinese believe that during this period the Gates of Hell are opened and the souls of the dead are free to roam the world of the living. The Hungry Ghost Festival, the culmination of a month-long opening of the underworld, is a time for people to honour and commemorate their dead. Often called the Chinese Halloween, this festival is not as scary as it sounds and is actually a festive celebration of deceased loved ones more than anything else. To appease the ghosts outdoor entertainment and lavish feasts are offered to satisfy the restless spirits and to ward off bad fortune in their lives. Celebratory dinners are held, and shows and concerts such as traditional puppetry and Chinese opera take place on every street corner. In addition, candles and joss sticks are lit in front of homes and small altars are set up where money, incense and paper goods in the shape of furniture and other everyday objects are burnt as an offering for the ghosts to use in the afterlife. Many Chinese people believe that one should not start a new business or move into a new home during ghost month as it is bad luck. For more information contact the Singapore Tourism Board on +65 736 6622.
Singapore F1 Grand Prix
Come and experience the electrifying atmosphere of the Grand Prix as never before - at night! The world's first Formula One night race is hosted alongside Singapore's Marina Bay, offering walkabouts, musical entertainment and, of course, all the thrills of the world's most notorious racing event. The Grand Prix is a huge event on Singapore's calendar, described as 'Asia's biggest sporting and entertainment extravaganza'. Visitors can expect huge international stars to perform: the 2013 lineup includes Justin Bieber, Rihanna, The Killers, Tom Jones and Bob Geldof. And there are always massive parades to enjoy as well. The Marina Bay Street Circuit is unique in that in between turns 18 and 19 the cars race beneath a section of the grandstand giving spectators a wonderful thrill. It is considered a difficult circuit due to being bumpy and the 10th turn has been described by F1 legend Lewis Hamilton as 'the worst corner in F1'. The heat and humidity in Singapore is also hard on the drivers. The street circuit is fantastic for spectators though, situated in one of Singapore's most attractive areas and on the coast.