Street lighting for Thaipusam at Serangoon Road (Photo: Terry Xu)

Percussion instruments will be allowed to be played in Thaipusam for first time since 1973

The Singapore Police Force said in a statement to media on Wednesday evening that devotees who are participating in the Thaipusam procession this year, will be allowed to play percussion instruments.

This is the first time since 1973 that percussion instruments are allowed. This year’s procession will start from this Sunday till Monday.

Under the new provisions, registered singers and musicians will be allowed to accompany kavadi carriers with a new range of percussion instruments: The ganjira and one of either a thavil, dhol or khol, which will also have to be registered with the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB).

There will be 35 points where recorded music can be piped in and three live music points. Playing of music can start at 7am and will have to end at 10.30pm.

The police said, The police have been working closely with the HEB to further facilitate Thaipusam over the years, taking into consideration the past conduct of participants and whether they adhere to the rules, and cause law and order or safety problems, or disturb residents and the general public.”

It added, “The new provisions were introduced in response to specific feedback received by the HEB,”

The restriction on the playing of musical instruments along the procession route was introduced in 1973, due to concerns by authorities over how traffic flow was completely disrupted due to the procession which created huge traffic congestions in the city.

Back in 1981, Mr Chua Sian Chin, former Home Affairs Minister said in Parliament:

The ban on music along the route was introduced since 1973. The ban is not confined to the Thaipusam kavadi procession. It applies equally to all other religious processions. I wish to add that since 1973 religious foot processions, with the exception of Thaipusam, have not been allowed on our public roads and only religious processions on vehicles have been permitted. The exception has been made for Thaipusam because the devotees have to carry the kavadi and walk in fulfilment of their individual vows. The walk is allowed because it is a religious rite.

In the years prior to 1973, music en route was permitted for the kavadi procession. However, the Police observed that with the accompaniment of music, the pace of the procession was slowed down. Further, the supporters, relatives and friends accompanying the devotees tended to dance to the beat of the music and occupied too large a portion of the road. The music also attracted large crowds of spectators. The result of this was that traffic flow was completely disrupted, creating huge traffic congestions in the city. Hence, the ban was imposed in 1973.

For many years, the Hindus have been complaining about the restrictions on musical instruments and there had been various occasions where the devotees confronted with HEB and law enforcement officers over the use of musical instruments. In 2015, three men were arrested after a tussle with the police and subsequently convicted in 2018. In 2018, there was also a high profile case where a family of devotees got into a heated argument with the police and a HEB member, who stopped the Kavadi and accused them of singing too loudly.