Thaipusam cheer as music ban is lifted
Thaipusam devotees welcome move as they dance along to beats from folk instruments
Scores of devotees celebrated Thaipusam yesterday to the beat of traditional instruments, the first time in 40 years that live music has been allowed as part of the procession.
Last year, the Government announced that the ban on live music was lifted and that the playing of instruments would be allowed in temples and at designated live music points.
One of the devotees who welcomed the move was Mr Yuvendran Kasavan.
The 29-year-old stopped at the music point on Bras Basah Green for about 10 minutes, where he danced along to beats from the Urumi group.
The Urumi is a double headed drum that originates from Tamil Nadu in South India and is widely regarded as a folk instrument.
Mr Yuvendran's elder brother, Jeyaseelan, 32, who was supporting him during the 4km procession, said relaxing the rules on music have definitely made a difference.
"Music is what keeps us going. When you're dancing along to the music, it makes you forget that you're tired," he said.
Musician Thirukumara V. Revichandran too, welcomed the change.
His group, Siva Sakthi Muniandy Urumi Melam (Singapore), played at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple yesterday.
The group of more than a dozen members had been taking bookings from devotees since 7am.
They played devotional music for worshippers as they prepared their kavadis until they left the temple.
Thousands lined the 4km route from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road to watch Hindu devotees celebrate the fulfilment of their vows by carrying kavadis - decorated steel and wood structures - and pots of milk.
More than 20,000 devotees took part in this year's festival, which falls on the full moon day of the Tamil month of Thai and is in honour of Lord Murugan.
Apart from three live music stages in Hastings Road, Short Street and Dhoby Ghaut Green, this year's procession also saw seven music transmission points and wider lanes for devotees. The Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) also halved the cost of carrying a kavadi to $75.
According to HEB chairman R. Jayachandran, there were about 330 kavadi carriers this year, compared with 250 last year.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam joined in the celebrations yesterday morning and spoke to devotees in and around the temple.
He told reporters that the mood was positive and that devotees appreciated the new arrangements for the festival.
"They said, 'Look, this is what we wanted'... It is quite energising, they feel good," he said.
Regulations on live music were recently reviewed after the HEB conducted 10 feedback sessions with members of the Hindu community.
All said music was integral to the festival and many wanted traditional Indian instruments to be part of it.
The rules were relaxed after the board held further discussions with the Government. The organisers deployed more staff and volunteers to ensure the event ran smoothly.
Mr Shanmugam noted that this year, there were more police officers as well as volunteers on the ground, not just to help with security but also to assist people.
"The key is to ensure that a small group doesn't hijack the whole festival and create law and order issues," he said.
DEVOTION: Mr Prethev Raj Singaravelloo, 42, at the start of the Thaipusam route, outside the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road. It is the commercial manager's 13th time carrying a kavadi.
They said, 'Look, this is what we wanted'... It is quite energising, they feel good.
- Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam on the Thaipusam participants' reaction
He's regarded as one of S'pore's best piercers
SKILLED: (Above) Kavadi carrier Prethev Raj Singaravelloo getting his mouth pierced by one of Mr Tamilchelvan Suppiah’s assistants. (Below) Mr Tamilchelvan shows one of the rods that was pierced into Mr Prethev’s body. The rod was one of four holding up the main frame. TNP PHOTOS: PHYLLICIA WANG, EDWIN FONG
For some 35 years, Mr Tamilchelvan Suppiah has played an important role in the Thaipusam Festival.
The 55-year-old specialises in piercing devotees to prepare them for the Thaipusam procession.
At least 108 skewers are pierced into a devotee's body and attached to the kavadi's frame, with nearly 30 more smaller ones on his arms, forehead, mouth and tongue.
A commercial diver by day, Mr Tamilchelvan first started by helping a more experienced piercer and doing tasks like handing him the skewers or holding the devotee's body.
"Then one day, the (piercer) wasn't available so they just passed me the equipment and said 'You do!'," Mr Tamilchelvan said with a laugh.
All he knows, Mr Tamilchelvan said, is from learning on the job.
After each session, he asks the devotee for feedback so he can adjust how he does the piercing.
"Sometimes when it's not properly done, the devotee can be in a lot of pain and the skin can tear," he said.
Mr Tamilchelvan is widely regarded as one of the best piercers in Singapore, said Mr Prethev Raj Singaravelloo, who engaged the piercer's services when he performed the ceremony yesterday.
He even waited an hour just for Mr Tamilchelvan to be available, even though there were other piercers who could do the same job.
"He's really among the best because he's been doing this for so many years, so he knows my body.
"And when you know this is properly done, you can focus on the worshipping process," he added.
By the time Mr Tamilchelvan started on Mr Prethev at 4.20pm yesterday, he had been at work since 10am and looked visibly tired.
But he worked quickly and, within an hour, an elaborate network of skewers surrounded Mr Prethev, holding up the kavadi's frame.
And then with a final blessing, he sent Mr Prethev on his way, his handiwork a personal form of worship to the gods.