SINGAPORE - Thaipusam festival was a muted affair this year, with a slow trickle of devotees visiting Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road on Thursday (Jan 28).
While the prayer service and colourful festive attire gave a sense of normalcy to this year's event, signs of the pandemic were all around, with stringent restrictions in place to ensure the safety of devotees and staff.
Welcoming about 10,000 visitors who arrived on time for pre-booked slots, the festival marks one of the first large-scale events to take place in Singapore since measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 came into force early last year.
Not even a noon heavy downpour discouraged the steady stream of devotees who waited in line to complete temperature screening and registration before entering the temple.
Separate routes were arranged for general visitors and those carrying paal kudams or milk pots - the only ritual allowed to go ahead this year. About 5,000 had booked time slots ahead for the ritual.
Among the missing sights were kavadis - wooden or metal structures with milk offerings - ceremonial piercings and the traditional loud fanfare and music accompanying the foot procession from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road.
Devotees told The Straits Times the event was well-organised, with effective safe distancing measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Student Losheini Ravindran, 24, who visited the temple with her parents and sister, noted the event was much quieter compared with previous years.
"There are a lot of changes in place but our devotion remains the same. The organisers have been very careful with the safety measures and we were able to spend enough time at the sanctum to pray," she said.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong and Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam attended the event and spoke to organisers and volunteers at the temple during their visit.
The festival attracted large crowds in previous years. In 2018, the 3km-long foot procession alone drew nearly 10,000 participants, with a further 40,000 people including supporters and tourists joining in the celebrations.
Mr Ganesh Kumar, 41, who attends the festival every year and carried kavadis in the past, was struck by the drastic difference of this year's event compared with those of the pre-Covid-19 era.
"Although Thaipusam is very different this year, I think the event was well-organised, especially the routes to separate general devotees and those carrying milk pots. We are glad that we were able to come and pray on this day, even with all the measures in place," said the senior executive of Gardens by the Bay, who attended the event with his mother and had booked his slots in the first week of January.
"I hope next year things will be back to normal and we can have a lively Thaipusam again," he added.
Among those carrying milk pots this year were four Malaysian devotees from Johor Baru, Kedah and Kuala Lumpur, who are working here.
Mr Anbarasan Devaraj, 25, and his three friends usually celebrate Thaipusam at the Batu Caves temple in Gombak, Malaysia. But travel restrictions deterred their plan this year.
"As avid devotees, we feel extremely sad because completing the pilgrimage to the Batu Caves temple gave us a special sense of fulfilment. Despite this, we feel blessed to be here, as this is the first time we will be offering milk at a temple in Singapore. We have to look at the bright side and believe things will be better in the future," he said.