DEVOTEES at this year's Thaipusam on Jan 24 will finally feel that their long-awaited wishes have been granted. For the first time in over 40 years, live music will be allowed at the festival.
Thaipusam - an annual Hindu religious procession by mainly Tamils - is celebrated on the full moon day in the Tamil month of Thai.
It is a day for devotees to celebrate the fulfilment of their vows.
For many years devotees had requested for music to be played along the 4km foot procession from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple (SSPT) at Serangoon Road to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple (STT) at Tank Road. It was banned due to fights and unruly behaviour in the past.
The rule was relaxed late last year after the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) conducted 10 feedback sessions with 116 members of the Hindu community.
All said music was integral to the festival, with 65 per cent wanting traditional Indian instruments to be part of it. Some people also suggested that live music be allowed at strategic locations along the route.
So for the first time this year, live music will be played from three stages in Hastings Road, Short Street and Dhoby Ghaut Green.
At these points, temple musicians will play the thavil and nathaswaram while urumi melam musicians will also perform.
They have to pre-register with the temple.
There will also be an additional seven points along the route where kavadi sindhu (songs dedicated to Lord Murugan and the significance of kavadis) can be heard over the sound system.
These points will be outside SSPT, Baboo Lane, Cuff Road, Prinsep Street, Dhoby Ghaut Green, outside STT at Tank Road, and the head-shaving area just before STT.
Both temples have also come up with new initiatives to regulate flow and to enhance safety.
For the first time, there will be a separate lane for women, children and families along Clemenceau Avenue leading to STT.
This will enable them to enter the temple faster and not get stuck in a bottleneck behind kavadi-carrying devotees (above).
More resting/overtaking bays along the procession route for devotees, a reduction in prices for kavadi participation and the removal of deposits are also new moves by HEB.
The last kavadi will be allowed to leave SSPT at 7pm instead of 6pm previously.
The SSPT has expanded the kavadi dismantling point just outside the temple.
It has also opened the top floor along with the first floor of its wedding hall to cater for the annadanam (free temple meal). Usually only the first floor is open for lunch.
Women, children and the elderly will be given special privileges.
HEB chairman R. Jayachandran said all efforts are on to ensure all goes well at this year's procession.
"We have relaxed the rules after gaining feedback from the public and consultation with the police. For the first time there will be more music throughout the procession and live music has been allowed.
We have ramped up efforts to make sure this year's festival runs smoothly and that devotees are able to fulfil their vows without any hiccups," he added.
The $250,000 event, which has taken nine months to put together, is expecting a total of 10,000 devotees carrying milk pots, and another 30,000 devotees and tourists to visit the temples to soak in the atmosphere (not including the migrant worker crowds usually seen in Little India on Sundays).
HEB is deploying 800 staff - double that of last year - to ensure the event runs smoothly.
More experienced volunteers will also be dispatched to regulate high traffic areas.
The board has also set up a website (www.thaipusam.sg) for participants to familiarise themselves with the process.
Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam, who had taken part in some interactive sessions with the public regarding Thaipusam, hopes this year's event will be a meaningful one.
"At last year's event, some individuals' unruly behaviour had led to law-and-order issues. I hope this does not happen again this year. I look forward to Thaipusam participants, organisers and the police working together to ensure a meaningful Thaipusam 2016," he said.
Devotees, participants and visitors to Thaipusam are encouraged to approach the temple offices at SSPT and STT should they have any queries or need help.
Tamilavel is deputy news editor at Tamil Murasu.
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