Thaipusam 2024 drums up cheer and hope for 18,000 devotees , Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Thaipusam 2024 drums up cheer and hope for 18,000 devotees

Traditional music sounded on the streets of Little India and Dhoby Ghaut as more than 18,000 devotees marked the annual rite of Thaipusam on Jan 25.

The devotees performed penitential acts on their walk of faith for Hindu god Lord Murugan. 

Among the 274 kavadi bearers and 12,800 paal kudam (milk pot) bearers was 19-year-old first-timer Mithesh, who goes by one name. The former at-risk youth and full-time national serviceman, who carried a 35kg alagu kavadi, is optimistic about turning over a new leaf.

His alagu kavadi – a structure made of wood and metal – was held in place by close to 70 hooks pierced into his body. His nine-day fasting and rigorous preparation culminated in the procession, which he took about three hours to complete.

Mithesh’s mother, Ms Jewel Kala, 47, expressed her joy in seeing his positive transformation through religion. The single mother of three said: “He is small compared with his kavadi, so there were numerous challenges. I am proud he saved up and bought his own second-hand kavadi, costing $1,000, and is the first in this generation of my family to do so.”

Mithesh, who plans to pursue veterinary science and hopes to support his mother financially, said: “Events like Thaipusam are gateways for youth-at-risk who want to mend their ways. I am glad religion and devotion have changed me.”

Bearing a variety of kavadis and milk pots atop their heads, the devotees in yellow and orange garb completed the 4km foot procession from Sri Perumal Temple to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple. All participants had pre-registered as early as a month ago. 

The devotees were undeterred by the festival falling on a weekday in 2024, with some working adults and students taking leave to join the festivities. Despite the mild showers in the afternoon, the devotees persevered with the mostly smooth foot procession. 

Mr Manikandan, a senior pandaram, honouring Ms Josephine Teo at the sanctum of the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple.PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

Minister for Communications and Information and Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo joined the festival and highlighted the meaningful participation of non-Hindus, non-Indians and particularly young devotees in the festivities.

Describing the crowd as multiracial and multicultural, she said: “It is most encouraging to me that local non-Hindus supporting their family members or friends are here to observe this as a practice, a fabric of our society.”

Mrs Teo, an MP in Jalan Besar GRC, noted the importance of unique cultural and religious practices in modern Singapore.

“It is important for us as a fairly young nation to think about what binds us together as a nation. In many societies, especially fast-paced, modernised ones, these activities are pushed into the fringes and are forgotten over time, which is a great loss.”

Five live music stations featured local traditional groups and musicians. New stations in Clemenceau Avenue and opposite Selegie Avenue joined the previous three in Hastings Road, Short Street and Cathay Green. Each music group could carry up to four percussion instruments, up from one in 2023. 

For many of the worshippers, Thaipusam feels complete with the consecration of Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in June 2023, in time for the 2024 festival. They can now access the main sanctum and offer their prayers or offerings. The tradition of serving lunch to the devotees during Thaipusam also returned to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple after three years of bento box distributions. 

One participant, Mr Lionel Tan, has been a bedrock in his childhood friend Paul Singh’s 14-year kavadi journey. He returned to Thaipusam in 2024, taking leave from work to help assemble Mr Singh’s kavadi and support him throughout the procession.

Other non-Hindus who have been returning to Thaipusam include Mr Ken Ho, Mr Lim Eng Kin, Mr Ken Ng and Mr Edwin Fo, who carried milk pots and pierced alagus. The group, from various walks of life and of different ages, has been attending Thaipusam celebrations for several years. Mr Lim, 65, said: “When I was young, I was always fascinated by Thaipusam processions. A few years ago, I was introduced to this formally by an Indian friend. It has cleared my conscience and I feel much better.”  

Hoping for a successful marriage in 2025 were Mohanrach and Hema Devi, both 29. After her father survived a critical motorbike accident, Ms Hema Devi turned to bearing milk pots with alagu piercings. This is the second year she joined her fiance to demonstrate her gratitude. 

The festivities started at 11.30pm on Jan 24 and ended on the night of Jan 25. Devotees received support from local companies that set up 23 water or drinks booths along the procession route. About 1,500 volunteers and temple staff helped ensure a seamless event.

The festival was the result of five months of preparations, said Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple’s secretary, Mr Sivakumaran Sathappan. Despite the management’s doubts about the size of the turnout as Thaipusam 2024 fell on a weekday, the support was remarkable, he said.