SINGAPORE - Hindu devotees will not be able to carry out their traditional foot procession for the second year in a row and will have to be fully vaccinated to take part in next year's Thaipusam festival on Jan 18.
There will also be no kavadis (wooden or metal structures with milk offerings) and only pre-prepared milk pot offerings from the temple can be used.
These are among the rules put in place to ensure that the annual Hindu religious festival continues to take place amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Like this year, there will be no foot procession from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road, and activities will be conducted only in and around the temple.
The announcement was made on Saturday (Dec 4) in a joint statement by the two temples and the Hindu Endowments Board.
Other key changes to the festival include the requirement to pre-book time slots to enter the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple and the banning of gatherings outside the temple. These measures will prevent overcrowding in and around the temple, said the festival organisers in their statement.
Devotees must follow an assigned pathway and leave the temple premises after they finish giving their offerings and prayers. They also need to maintain a safe distance from one another and have their masks on at all times.
Kavadis that pierce the body, such as the tongue, cheeks, arms or legs, can result in body fluids spreading from person to person, which increases the risk of Covid-19 infection, said a Sri Thendayuthapani Temple spokesman.
The spokesman added that not having the foot procession will prevent devotees from gathering.
The festival organisers said that these restrictions are needed as the world is experiencing new waves of infections. They said they decided to still hold the festival because of its historical significance.
"Everyone has come to understand that Covid-19 is a real and present danger that we have in the community right now," said the temple spokesman, adding that devotees appreciated the efforts made by the organisers to continue with the festival.
During the festival, devotees typically fulfil their vows and carry paal kudams, or milk pots, or kavadis into the Tank Road temple.
To prevent any potential outbreaks of Covid-19, the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple will deny entry to devotees who have not pre-booked time slots. Groups carrying musical instruments or any form of amplification device will also not be allowed to enter.
"All of the measures are implemented for the safety and well-being of the devotees and their families," said the statement.
It added that the organisers intend to accommodate as many devotees as possible without breaching safe management measures.
The elderly, the young and those who are physically challenged are encouraged to pray from home instead, using a live stream of the Thaipusam prayer session.
Only fully vaccinated devotees can participate in the festival on-site and enter the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple, but those who are medically ineligible for Covid-19 vaccines under the national vaccination programme will be allowed to participate too.
All devotees entering the temple will have to use the TraceTogether app or token to check in. No NRIC or other ID scanning will be available at the entry point.
More details about the festival will be provided closer to the event.