Green light for live music at Thaipusam

The Thaipusam procession in 2011. For the first time in more than four decades, live music will be allowed for next year's festival procession.
The Thaipusam procession in 2011. For the first time in more than four decades, live music will be allowed for next year's festival procession.ST FILE PHOTO

Musicians given approval can play specified instruments at 3 points along procession route

Live music will be allowed for next year's Thaipusam street procession for the first time in more than four decades.

The Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) and the police said yesterday that musicians, who have been given approval, can play specified traditional instruments at three points along the route.

The instruments are the nadhaswaram clarinet, a barrel-shaped drum called the tavil, and the urumi melam or Indian drum.

The decision to relax the rules comes after 10 feedback sessions conducted by the board with 116 members of the Hindu community over a period of two months, ending in April.

All participants shared that music is important to the festival with 65 per cent wanting traditional auspicious Indian instruments to be part of the religious event. Some also suggested that live music be played at strategic locations along the 3km route which starts at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road and ends at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road.

  • The changes for next year

  • These are the adjustments to next year's Thaipusam to ensure a "safe and orderly" festival.

    • There will be a total of seven static music transmission points and three live music stations.

    • Resting bays will be set up throughout the procession route while a dedicated lane for children, women and elderly devotees will be introduced along Clemenceau Avenue.

    • The number of volunteers will be doubled from 350 to 700 to help manage the crowds.

    • The last kavadi carrier will get to leave from the starting point at Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road at a later timing of 7pm instead of 5pm as in recent years.

    • The cost of participating as a kavadi carrier has been halved from $150 to $75.

    *  Enforcement against alcohol sale and consumption will be stepped up along the route.

A ban has been in place since 1973 that restricts the playing of musical instruments due to a history of rivalry and fights between competing groups which disrupted the procession. The authorities have allowed music to be transmitted over broadcast systems at several designated points along the procession since 2012. Despite the ban, devotees have been playing instruments on the streets over the years.

HEB chairman R. Jayachandran described the Government's acceptance of the board's recommendations as a "historical first step".

"It shows that the authorities are taking the concerns and needs of the community seriously," he said.

The police have also added another four points, on top of the existing three, for the transmission of music over broadcast systems for next year's procession.

Thaipusam is celebrated in honour of Lord Subramaniam, also known as Lord Murugan, who represents virtue, youth and power, and is the destroyer of evil. Devotees seek blessings and fulfil their vows by carrying milk pots as offerings, or kavadis - structures of steel and wood - with sharp body piercings.

The procession here is organised by the HEB, a statutory body, the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple and the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple.

Mr Mu Mu Muthiah, 79, president of the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple, added: "If everyone cooperates, the rules might be relaxed even further."

During Thaipusam in February, three men were arrested for their disorderly behaviour after another group was told to stop the use of traditional drums at the behest of organisers.

The police said yesterday that its priority is "to ensure public safety and maintain law and order" and that the festival, which usually stretches beyond 26 hours, presents unique challenges as it draws 10,000 devotees and thousands of onlookers to the streets.

All religious foot processions were banned in Singapore in 1964 in the wake of race riots that year. But Hindus were given an exemption and have been allowed three processions on major roads - during Thaipusam, Panguni Uthiram and Thimithi festivals.

On the authorities' implementation of their suggestions, Mr Jayachandran said: "It's about balancing religious sanctity with security concerns. It's a happy ending."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2015, with the headline 'Green light for live music at Thaipusam'. Print Edition | Subscribe