SINGAPORE: Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam met around 200 members of the Hindu community, including temple leaders, bloggers and kavadi bearers, for a post-Thaipusam dialogue on Sunday (Mar 25).
During his presentation, Mr Shanmugam explained the historical context behind the current regulations on musical instruments during Thaipusam processions.
Religious foot processions have been banned since 1964, after riots broke out during a procession to celebrate Prophet Muhammad's birthday.
Exceptions were made for three Hindu religious processions - Thimithi, Thaipusam and Panguni Uthiram - because they were deemed necessary for devotees to complete their specific vows.
Additionally, the use of musical instruments has been banned since 1973. The Hindu Endowments Board and religious associations made a request for the ban, following rowdy behaviour incited by rivalry between competing musicians during Thaipusam.
Over the years, more religious music has been allowed during the procession. Singing of religious hymns without amplification has been permitted since 2011. Small hand-held cymbals known as jalra and khartal are also acceptable.
There are also static points roughly every 150m at which recorded music can be piped in, and three live music points.
As for the use of musical instruments in other religious assemblies, exceptions are made when the assemblies are contained in confined spaces.
Mr Shanmugam made a distinction between religious celebrations and cultural events held in Singapore, citing the examples of the Chingay Parade and St Patrick's Day. He said these take place in contained areas, and no religious elements such as symbols, music, attire or rituals are allowed.
During the question and answer session, audience members focused on the issue of live music.
Mr Sreedhaaran Vijayamohan, a 29-year-old devotee, made a suggestion that might pave the way for musicians to be able to play instruments along the route. He proposed that a registration procedure for official procession singers and musicians could be put in place.
Mr Shanmugam said that he would support the implementation of such a system if it could be operationalised. “There was a suggestion that maybe we can have groups that come forward to volunteer to sing and maybe carry some musical instruments and whether that's workable, and I asked the Hindu Endowments Board to go look at it. Let's see whether there is some solution along those lines," he said.
He added that there is a possibility that live and static music points along the route can be increased.
The Hindu Endowments Board said that it will work with the authorities to build on the provisions currently allowed.