Striding steadily, civil servant Murali Raj Unbalagan stepped into the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple, carrying a 40kg kavadi, feeling a sense of joy as he headed to the centre of the Hindu house of worship in Tank Road.
He had completed his annual foot journey, fulfilling a thanksgiving vow he made 14 years ago. His 3½-hour journey, which began at 7am at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road, was made easier this year by the official relaxing of the rules on music along the procession route, Mr Murali, 32, told The Straits Times yesterday.
Besides the playing of devotional songs and music through broadcast systems at 35 spots along the route - 12 more than last year - the music was allowed to start an hour earlier, at 7am, and stopped at 10.30pm, an hour before celebrations ended.
Also, this was the first Thaipusam since 1973 in which percussion instruments were allowed to be played by friends, relatives and professional religious singers accompanying the devotees.
Mr Murali said: "Music is essential in a Thaipusam procession. It is not easy carrying a kavadi for 3km, but the upbeat devotional songs boosted my energy and spirit, helped to take my mind off the fatigue and stay focused on completing my vows."
He was carrying a decorated steel and wood kavadi pinned to his torso with hooks and piercings, while a dozen hooks pierced into each thigh had tiny containers filled with red sugar offerings.
Mr Murali was among more than 250 kavadi-bearers and 8,600 devotees carrying pots of milk as offerings in the celebration to honour Lord Murugan, who represents virtue, youth and power, and is the destroyer of evil. The kavadi-bearers were accompanied by musicians playing traditional Indian percussion instruments, including the ganjira drum and one of either a thavil, dhol or khol.
More than 20,000 people, including devotees, took part in the procession which attracted crowds of Singaporeans and tourists, clicking away as they snapped photos.
Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, who joined in the celebrations, told reporters that feedback from people about the new music rules has been "very positive".
Following feedback from the Hindu community, the authorities have been relaxing the rules since 2012, when music was allowed to be played over broadcast systems at designated spots along the procession's route. In 1973, the playing of all music was banned after fights among competing groups.
But over the years, steps have been taken to allow music, noted Mr Shanmugam, who is also the Law Minister.
When asked whether there will be a dialogue later on this year's procession, Mr Shanmugam said his ministry is in constant discussion with the Hindu Endowments Board, which will be collecting feedback from the people. "We will take it a step at a time... (and) decide further how many sessions are necessary."
Mr Sivakumaran Sathappan, secretary of the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, told The Straits Times: "We can ask for more music concession from the authorities only if this year's Thaipusam is a success, with no unexpected behaviour. Hence, we need the cooperation of devotees to stick to the guidelines."
Thaipusam, which typically takes place in a 24-hour period, came to an end at 11.30pm yesterday.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu was the guest of honour at the celebrations yesterday morning. She visited both the Sri Srinivasa Perumal and Sri Thendayuthapani temples.
"What is impressive and memorable for me is that there are many people of different races and religions here. It is a way to understand the religious significance of Thaipusam to Hindus."
She added: "It goes a long way towards promoting a multiracial, multi-religious society."
Music livens up Thaipusam procession
Trumpets and drums accompanied devotees carrying the kavadi and milk pots as offerings to mark Thaipusam yesterday, as they walked 3.2km from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple. More than 20,000 people took part in the colourful procession this year, with more music allowed by the authorities. The move got the thumbs up from devotees and others at the event.