SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): After two years of muted observances due to pandemic measures, Thaipusam returned on Sunday with live music and the foot procession.
Thirunavukkarasu Sundaram Pillai, 51, was back for the 35th time in his custom-made wheelchair. He carried a 30kg “alagu kavadi” – a structure made of wood and metal – as his devotion to Lord Murugan.
With 80 hooks pierced into his torso and face, the 51-year-old wheeled himself along the 3.2km foot procession from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road.
“It is immensely fulfilling to participate in the foot procession after two years. We have prayed for our family’s well-being,” said Thirunavukkarasu.
Joining him were his younger brother Saravanan Pillai and Saravanan’s 13-year-old son, who bore their very first kavadis.
They were among over 35,000 devotees who took part in the annual festival, which over the last two years saw muted celebrations as the authorities took steps to minimise the risk of Covid-19.
The festival on Sunday saw 13,002 devotees carrying milk pot offerings called paal kudam and around 450 kavadi-bearers.
Festivities kicked off at 11.30pm on Saturday and continued till late Sunday night. The procession was also live-streamed by the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB).
Rain on Sunday evening delayed the procession by about an hour.
Minister for Manpower Dr Tan See Leng, who was at Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Sunday morning, said the festival and its return tells the story of the past two and a half years.
“Life is now coming back to normal and it is indeed a victory of sorts for us as a country and as a people,” Dr Tan said.
Noting that it was also the last day of Chinese New Year or ‘chap goh mei’, he added that it was “a double celebration” on Sunday.
“So this is really a fantastic indication of who we are, as a culture - multicultural, multi-religious and full of respect for one another’s religions,” he said.
The minister interacted with devotees and volunteers at both temples, and watched kavadi-bearers preparing themselves for the procession at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple. He also carried a milk pot around the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple.
Lanes closed on Serangoon Road and Race Course Road were bursting with devotees clad in customary yellow and orange.
Thirunuvukkarasu has returned for Thaipusam every year despite the spinal cord issue he has had since was 16 years old.
Fifteen years ago, he spent about S$2,000 to modify a wheelchair he procured specially for Thaipusam.
Bearing two idols on the front and rear, the wheelchair, which has been adapted to carry a heavier weight, makes an appearance only once a year for the festival.
Devotees on Sunday could not visit the main sanctum at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple, which is undergoing renovation works. It will be consecrated later this year.
A Balalayam - a temporary temple structure - was erected in place of the main sanctum where devotees offered milk after the foot procession.
T. Raja Segar, the chief executive of HEB, thanked the devotees for cooperating with a total of 1,300 temple staff and volunteers who were on hand to help them at the temple.
Devotees had to pre-book their slots - a system from the pandemic that HEB decided to retain.
For wheelchair-bound Pissamorn Richmond and her husband Raymond Richmond, this year’s milk offerings were made in hopes of a full recovery.
Richmond, 73, had a stroke in 2020 which left her partially paralysed on her left side. The Buddhist-Hindu couple walked the procession together on Sunday.
Meanwhile, new parents Janah Venga and Tharmaraj carried a thottil kavadi this year with their six-month-old son.
The thottil kavadi resembles a cot, and consists of a cloth hammock supported by sugarcanes. It is commonly carried by first-time parents.
The couple said they carried the kavadi to fulfil a thanksgiving vow and to pray for their son’s health.
Live music was played at Hastings Road, Short Street, Cathay Green and at both temples, with devotees dancing to trumpets and Indian percussion instruments such as the urumi melam, dhol, ghanjira.
S. Suriya, a 23-year-old urumi melam musician from Maaya Sudar Oli Urumi Melam, a religious musical group, said: “Hindu festivities are meant to engage all senses. Therefore, live music is a key element.
“It evokes a trance-like state and allows devotees to forget all pain.”