Wanted: Views on Thaipusam procession

Wanted: Views on Thaipusam procession

Views on the Thaipusam procession are being sought by Singapore's two top Hindu bodies.

The Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) and the Hindu Advisory Board will hold feedback sessions, details of which are being worked out, the HEB said yesterday.

The issue of whether music instruments can be played during the procession came into the spotlight after three men were arrested following a scuffle with the police during Thaipusam two weeks ago.

The incident was sparked when organisers asked a group to stop playing traditional Indian drums.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) yesterday again stressed that the ban on the playing of musical instruments during the Thaipusam procession had been in place since 1973, because of a history of rivalry and fights between competing groups that disrupted the procession.

It revealed that another man was arrested in this year's event after he was found carrying weapons.

In 2013, nine were arrested after they were seen to be shouting secret society slogans and playing drums despite being advised not to do so.

In its statement, the ministry added: "The playing of musical instruments also slows down the pace of the procession, sometimes causing friction between participants, which in turn could lead to public order issues and disruption to other members of public."

The HEB, a statutory body that jointly organises the annual Thaipusam procession with the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple, said that over the years, it too has received complaints of disorderly behaviour impeding the progress of devotees.

But it insisted that "contrary to public misperception", it has never urged the authorities to tighten the rules further, believing this is not necessary.

Instead, it has been been requesting "the authorities to adjust the rules to take into consideration the importance of music to our religious rites".

"In 2012, in response to our appeal, the authorities allowed static music points along the procession route for the broadcast of religious hymns," the board said.

Two such static points were allowed that year, and a third was added for the most recent procession, the MHA said yesterday.

The HEB, which has asked those interested in participating in the feedback sessions to contact it at admin@heb.gov.sg, also pointed out that music has always been allowed at Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road, where the procession starts, and at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road.

The board explained that it has been issuing a set of guidelines to Thaipusam participants since 2011 "to provide greater clarity and guidance on the dos and don'ts for the procession".

These guidelines are also put online, and kavadi bearers are told of the police permit conditions two weeks before the procession.

"But some participants still engage music groups to accompany them on the procession route," the HEB said.

Police were asked to assist at times when temple marshals or volunteers had difficulty dealing with the groups.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam last week stressed that the Hindus here are the only group allowed to hold religious processions, including the Panguni Uthiram and Thimithi (the fire-walking festival), on major roads since 1964, when a general ban was imposed following racial riots that year.

It was a point reiterated by the MHA yesterday. It said: "Applications for other religious foot processions have generally not been allowed, with seven such applications from various religious groups rejected in the past five years."

As for comparing the Thaipusam procession to the Chingay and St Patrick's Day parades, the ministry said the nature of these events are very different, because they are cultural and community events, and are of a smaller scale and locality.

In contrast, Thaipusam "presents unique challenges for maintaining law and order" because it involves about 9,000 to 10,000 devotees carrying kavadis or paalkudams (milk pots), attracts thousands of supporters and onlookers, and goes through major roads in the heart of the city, stretching over 26 hours and around 3km.

The MHA also warned that there have been misrepresentations made regarding the Thaipusam issue, both online and offline.

It said: "If such activities are deemed to incite enmity between different communities and races, the police will investigate and take firm action against anyone responsible for such offences."

amirh@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Feb 14, 2015.
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