Live music gives lift to Thaipusam celebration

Thaipusam throbbed with a new beat this year, as live music was allowed at the annual Hindu festival for the first time in over 40 years.

Thousands lined the 4km route from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road yesterday to watch devotees celebrate the fulfilment of their vows by carrying kavadis and pots of milk.

Mr R. Jayachandran, chairman of the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) which organises the procession, said some 330 people carried kavadis, compared with 250 last year. "We had a lot of publicity and allowing music which encourages the devotees' spiritual focus, I think these have helped to create a more meaningful experience," he said.

The HEB said more than 20,000 devotees took part in this year's festival, which falls on the full moon day of the Tamil month of Thai, and is in honour of Lord Murugan.

Live music was allowed at three stages in Hastings Road, Short Street and Dhoby Ghaut Green, and there were seven music transmission points. There were also wider lanes, and the HEB halved the cost of carrying a kavadi to $75.

Among the devotees at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple yesterday morning preparing for the procession was Asean Para Games bronze medallist Kalai Vanen, 57, a power lifter who lost his left leg to cancer 30 years ago.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam joined devotees there and told reporters the mood was positive, with devotees appreciative of the new arrangements.

"They said: 'Look, this is what we wanted'... It is quite energising, they feel good," he said.

The previous ban on live music was reviewed after the HEB conducted 10 feedback sessions with members of the Hindu community. All said music was integral to the festival, with many wanting traditional Indian instruments as part of it.

Organisers deployed more staff and volunteers to ensure things ran smoothly, and Mr Shanmugam said there were also more police officers on the ground, not just to help with security but also to assist people.

"The key is to ensure that a small group doesn't hijack the whole festival and create law-and-order issues," he said. On Saturday night, there were issues when some people did not observe queues and climbed over the walls to get into the crowded temple.

"There are safety issues, beyond law and order. Last year, the festival was hijacked by a small group who attacked the police," he added, referring to the case of three men charged with disorderly behaviour after a group was told to stop playing traditional drums by organisers.

But the large majority of devotees helped ensure things ran smoothly, Mr Shanmugam said. He was also struck by the number of non-Indians who marked Thaipusam, carrying the kavadi or supporting others.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2016, with the headline 'Live music gives lift to Thaipusam celebration'. Print Edition | Subscribe