The Hindu community in Singapore, which number some 150,000, celebrated the festival of Thaipusam on 21 January this year. It was a much awaited time not only for its religious significance, but also for the return of “live” music and musical instruments.
Music is an essential part of Thaipusam as it helps devotees, especially kavadi bearers, immerse themselves in the festival to honour Lord Murugan who represents power and virtue and good over evil. Upbeat music help them focus in completing their vows in what is a strenuous undertaking. A kavadi can weigh up to 30kg, it has been reported.
The procession started the night before and last well into the evening on Monday, starting from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple and ending at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple, also known as Chettiars’ Temple, which is one of the oldest temples in Singapore. It was built in 1859.
Thaipusam is a thanksgiving festival that involves asceticism and control over one’s senses. It is a day for devotees to celebrate the fulfilment of their vows.
Percussion instruments were banned in 1973 after competing groups fought during the event. Increasingly since, however, the authorities have relaxed the restrictions and this year was the first time percussion instruments are allowed since.
Also, more amplifiers along the 3km procession route were allowed as well, with 12 more than last year, making a total of 35.
The ban on musical instruments has been a sticking point between the organisers and devotees, and the authorities. Law Minister K Shanmugam, who attended the festival on Monday, said that it “is a balance between making sure people have a good spiritual experience; good kavadi-carrying experience, and at the same time also looking at some of the law and order aspects.”
He added that there is ongoing communication with the Hindu Endowment Board (HEB) which oversees the organisation of the annual event.
Mr Sivakumaran Sathappan, secretary of Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, told the Straits Times last week that it “can only ask for more music concession from the authorities if this year’s Thaipusam is a success, with no unexpected behaviour.”
“Hence, we need the cooperation of devotees to stick to the guidelines,” he said.
Going by how the event turned out, Mr Sivakumaran would be happy to note that it went very well, with about 20,000 devotees and 250 kavadi bearers taking part in the event, besides the non-Hindus and tourists who lined the route, even in busy Dhoby Ghaut.
If you missed the event, below is a video by peppercorn.sg capturing some of the festival. You can also search Youtube for other videos of the day’s proceedings.
“Even if he be an expert in the Revealed and the traditional scriptures, in literature and all sacred books, the man ignorant of music is but an animal on two feet.” – Yajnavalkya Smriti
“Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order.” – Plato