SINGAPORE - Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, visitors to Tibetan Buddhist temple Thekchen Choling near Kallang would use a shared water bucket and ladle to bathe a Buddha statue, as part of Vesak Day rituals.
But this year, they were each given a bottle of water to do so.
This change in how the ritual is conducted was among several differences between Vesak Day celebrations in Singapore on Sunday (May 15) and previous festivities prior to the pandemic.
Sunday's celebration was the first time in three years that Buddhists here were able to gather at temples and other venues to commemorate Buddha's birth, enlightenment and attainment of nirvana.
Buddhist temples and organisations were mostly limited to online festivities last year and in 2020, due to the pandemic.
But they could resume physical rituals for devotees - such as chanting, the bathing of the Buddha statue and the offering of lit candles - this year, after the authorities significantly eased Covid-19 restrictions last month.
Visitors still had to abide by measures imposed at temple grounds and celebration venues, such as the mandatory wearing of masks.
Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery in the Sin Ming area allowed only vaccinated devotees to enter.
Among other things, the temple required visitors to book a time slot online in order to participate in its "three-step-one-bow" ritual, with each of the 13 time slots having a limit of 500 devotees.
The measures did not deter visitors, with crowds seen in the temple when The Straits Times visited at around 11am on Sunday.
Some devotees lined up to participate in the Buddha-bathing ritual, while others bought food and other items such as clothes at the temple's Vesak Day carnival.
There was also a crowd at Thekchen Choling on Sunday morning, and it witnessed the unveiling of its 4½-storey-high Shakyamuni Buddha applique thangka - made from pieces of brocade silk hand-sewn together.
Minister of Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, who was present during the ceremony, said: "This is the time when we are beginning to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic - where we start to move away from being socially-distant individuals to coming back in the community again, like celebrating Vesak Day today."
Other Vesak Day celebrations across the island included one by the Singapore Buddhist Mission at Safra Toa Payoh, with a line-up of physical events such as collective meditation and a seven-course vegetarian lunch.
The organisation still had its temple in Ruby Lane, near Geylang Bahru, open for devotees looking to pay their respects there.
Another Buddhist organisation, Tzu Chi Singapore, conducted Buddha-bathing rituals at its Jing Si Hall in Pasir Ris which were open to the public.
Devotees said they were glad that physical celebrations had returned.
Mr Ryan Koh, 41, who works in sales for manufacturing company Tapis Teknik, said he could now share the festive joy with fellow congregants at Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery.
Ms Yeo Li Hui, 43, who has been volunteering at Thekchen Choling since 2009, said the online celebrations in the previous two years lacked the atmosphere and human interaction that the current physical festivities had.
When asked about attending physical celebrations again, the creative designer in gaming firm Gravity Game Hub added: "I feel like we are at home."
Wishing all devotees a blessed Vesak Day, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted in a Facebook post that light is of symbolic importance in Buddhism.
"Buddhists believe that the light of wisdom can dispel the darkness of ignorance on the path to enlightenment," he said.
"I'm glad we have also seen light in dealing with the pandemic, and devotees can congregate in temples once again, as we resume more normalcy."
- Additional reporting by Cheong Chee Foong