Thaipusam, Chinese New Year, what’s the difference?

What’s the next big and upcoming event happening in our local calendar?

You’re right – Chinese New Year.

Red packets and goodies aside, a very strong cultural aspect of Chinese New Year which, if missing, will diminish the spirit of the occasion, is music.

Lion dances and music add to the festivity and facilitate the unity of different individuals whose shared cultural traditions bring them together. Without such music and cultural customs, the festive mood would be severely dampened.

Lion Dance

Being a Chinese who was born and bred in Singapore, I am thankful for the liberality that we have, being able to express our culture and embrace our Chinese roots. But, sadly to say, not all can be said of festivals belonging to other ethnic or religious groups.

The latest uproar occured with regards to Thaipusam (Find out more about Thaipusam here) , an annual event held in honour of the Hindu Deity Lord Murugan. This is the next biggest event in the Hindu calendar after Deepavali.

The following clip shows part of the Thaipusam festival which took place in Singapore on 20 January this year. (With the new guidelines)

Loud music is traditionally played during this festival using drums and gongs. Such music, “often played at a deafening volume- is seen as encouragement for those who pierce their bodies as an act of faith,” according to an article in The Straits Times on 6 January 2011. However, new guidelines and regulations laid down by the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) stated that playing recorded music or sounding drums and gongs are not permitted, so as to curb the noise level, among other reasons.

What I am attempting to illustrate here is how we (or more specifically, the HEB and other relevant organizations responsible for the new regulations) select information regarding issues that are not the cultural norm. In addition, how misunderstandings may occur without the same shared perspectives.

Perhaps the Hindus are misunderstood and misrepresented in their own culture, for what we perceive so literally as “noise” during Thaipusam is simply an outward expression of commemoration to their deity. We select salient information pertaining to a particular situation (In this case, perhaps the “noise” created and the perception of Thaipusam being a grotesque process) rather than the more significant underlying meaning of Thaipusam. We therefore are at risk of commiting a perceptual error by oversimplifying the meaning of an authentic Hindu culture right here in Singapore.

Based on the social constructionist perspective, which maintains that we construct our world through communication and that communication creates individuals, misunderstandings could be avoided if we interact with people, in this case, the Hindus. Through interaction, we derive a clearer perspective of what their culture entails because we now share collective representations of their tradition.

To sum it all up, indeed Thaipusam and Chinese New Year are different in terms of cultural traditions and practices. But it is pertinent to bridge this gap and share the common perspective that all races are equal. Hence we should not dismiss any part of another’s culture just because of its differences.  All ethnic and religous groups should be awarded liberal rights in cultural expression.

Food for thought:

-What are your views on cultural expression in Singapore? Liberal? Strict?

-Are there misunderstandings about particular cultures that ought to be cleared?

January 29, 2011. Uncategorized. 14 comments.

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January 24, 2011. Uncategorized. 1 comment.