Drumming up Thaipusam fervour with live music

Mr Jathishweran Naidu dressed in traditional Indian garments and carrying his thavil. The 24-year-old will play the instrument for eight to 10 hours during the Thaipusam procession from 3am today with his group, Hanusakthi Hanuman Dass.
Mr Jathishweran Naidu dressed in traditional Indian garments and carrying his thavil. The 24-year-old will play the instrument for eight to 10 hours during the Thaipusam procession from 3am today with his group, Hanusakthi Hanuman Dass.ST PHOTO: BENSON ANG

With a barrel-shaped thavil drum strapped around his shoulder, Mr Jathishweran Naidu is all geared up for Thaipusam.

The 24-year-old Singaporean will play the traditional Indian instrument for eight to 10 hours during the annual procession from 3am today with his group, Hanusakthi Hanuman Dass, which plays religious songs called bhajans.

They will play indoors first, before moving outdoors at 7am as per the rules.

Each group, consisting of singers, a main percussion instrument player, and players of hand instruments such as tambourines, will accompany kavadi-carrying devotees.

This is the first year that percussion instruments - including traditional Indian drums such as the thavil, dhol and khol - are allowed to be played at the procession since 1973, when the playing of all music was banned after fights between competing groups.

The Hindu festival of Thaipusam is held in honour of Lord Subramaniam, also known as Lord Murugan, said to be the destroyer of evil.

Mr Jathishweran, a financial consultant, said he looks forward to accompanying the kavadi bearers, who have to carry the steel and wood structures of at least 20kg for hours. "So I want to play music to help them forget the weight and pain of carrying this structure. The beat and rhythm are a form of motivation and distraction to them."

 
 

Hearing music live is different from listening to it from speakers, he added. "When we play live, we can react to the singers and other musicians. We can slow down, speed up - it is more organic and authentic. I might also play for other groups who don't have a percussion player. As participants, we try to help one another, and create a sense of community."

Some 20,000 people are expected at this year's Thaipusam procession, held from yesterday to today.

Following feedback from the Hindu community, the authorities have been relaxing rules surrounding the event since a move in 2012 to allow music to be transmitted over broadcast systems at designated points along the procession's route.

Mr T. Raja Segar, chief executive of the Hindu Endowments Board, said there are 35 static music points this year, up from 21 last year.

Since 2015, devotees have been singing religious hymns with small hand-held instruments, he said.

"The request to carry musical instruments has been heard and this year, bhajan groups and singers following kavadis have been allowed to play a percussion instrument. Thaipusam is now a festival with more music."

But he added: "We appeal to devotees to be responsible with the new provision of musical instruments.

"Abuse of the rules for playing musical instruments will jeopardise future negotiations and the status of the music provisions in the Thaipusams to come. We sincerely urge all to cooperate and ensure that this year's Thaipusam is the best that we have had."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2019, with the headline 'Drumming up Thaipusam fervour with live music'. Print Edition | Subscribe