Percussion instruments to be allowed at Thaipusam procession

Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road, which will be the starting point of the Thaipusam procession this year.
Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road, which will be the starting point of the Thaipusam procession this year.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Thaipusam will once again move to the beat this year.

Percussion instruments - including traditional Indian drums such as the thavil, dhol and khol - are allowed to be played by devotees at the annual event for the first time since 1973, when the playing of all music was banned after fights between competing groups.

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

This year, there will be 35 such points, 12 more than last year, with music allowed to be played from 7am - an hour earlier than last year - until 10.30pm.

The changes were revealed to The Straits Times by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB).

Some 20,000 people are expected at this year's Thaipusam procession, which will be held on Sunday and Monday.

Musicians accompanying kavadi-bearers, usually made up of friends and family or religious singers, will be allowed to play additional percussion instruments: the ganjira and one of either a thavil, dhol or khol.

The festival, which usually takes place over a period of around 24 hours, is celebrated in honour of Lord Murugan, who represents virtue, youth and power.

Musicians must register themselves and their instruments with the HEB before the procession.

The festival, which usually takes place over a period of around 24 hours, is celebrated in honour of Lord Murugan, who represents virtue, youth and power.

Devotees seek blessings and fulfil their vows by carrying milk pots as offerings. Many also carry kavadis - structures of steel and wood - and pierce their bodies with steel rods, among other things, as they journey along a 3.2km route from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road.

The SPF said the new provisions were in response to feedback received by the HEB. It added: "The police have been working closely with the HEB to further facilitate Thaipusam over the years, taking into consideration the past conduct of participants and whether they adhere to the rules, or cause law and order or safety problems, or disturb residents and the general public."

HEB chief executive T. Raja Segar said he is thankful to the authorities for taking the community's feedback into consideration.

"The Hindu Endowments Board is happy to have negotiated greater flexibility for music provision based on the feedback from Thaipusam devotees last year," he said. "Religious hymns, known as Bhajans, can be sung with more musical instruments, including one percussion instrument."

The 1973 ban on the playing of musical instruments during Thaipusam was introduced following fights between rival groups. But the rule has been relaxed since 2016, when live music was allowed in three locations along the procession route.

 

The HEB added that it has taken measures to ensure the procession runs smoothly, such as by installing barricades along the route and setting up water points and medical facilities.

University student Sathashivam Logaraj, 27, who plans to attend this year's procession, said: "It is wonderful that there was active discussion and interaction between the devotees and the authorities, and that it eventually concluded with more concession for music along the route."

He added: "It can be an arduous journey, and music motivates not just the devotees, but our family and friends as well. What my friends of other ethnicities and nationalities have always taken away from the festival are the drum beats and the music. And I am glad that we have been given the opportunity to showcase our tradition. I just hope that all of us will use this privilege respectfully."

For Mr U. Murali Raj, a kavadi-bearer, the music is an opportunity for devotees to focus on spirituality.

The 31-year-old civil servant, who will be participating in the procession for the 14th year, said: "It takes about two hours for my family to help me put on the 40kg kavadi. The music and drum will help us get our mind off the tiredness, the pain and the weight."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2019, with the headline 'Percussion instruments to be allowed at Thaipusam procession'. Print Edition | Subscribe