This is a recording during a ritual in Sri Mariamman Temple located on Southbridge Road, Chinatown. This temple was the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. Built by Naraina Pillai in 1827, only 8 years after the agreement between Raffles with Sultan Hussein Shah was signed (6 February 1819). Pillai himself was a clerk from Penang island who came to Singapore with Raffles on Raffles second visit on Mei 1819.
During my soundscape research in Singapore for two weeks, I stayed at Lavender (4 days) and then moved to Chinatown (10 days). In morning on 27th March 2019, around nine-thirty, I walked through Pagoda Street Chinatown which was located behind my lodge. I wanted to have breakfast at Nanyang Old Coffee like the previous mornings, because the Tarik tea and the kaya butter toast was so delicious! However this plan was suddenly postponed. Sounds of Indian musical instrument that I heard when strolling through Pagoda Street suddenly re-opened my enthusiasm which had just woken up from sleep. It turned out the sounds were coming from the Sri Mariamman Temple. I then took a turn to that direction.
I then realised that morning there was a ritual in Sri Mariamman Temple. Luckily I always brought my recorder with whenever I went out. So no breakfast for me that morning, instead I recorded the ritual. There were tens of Hindu worshippers, most were Indians, participated in the ritual. What was interesting, the music that accompanied the ritual was very loud and energetic. The ensemble consisted of two musicians who played a blowing instrument nadhaswaram and another musician who played a percussion instrument thavil which was its’ pair. Either thavil or nadhaswaram, organologically both were instruments with loud typical sounds. Especially nadhaswaram, a double reed type blowing instrument from South India will only sound if blown with significant force (usually the musician would blow until their cheeks are bloated and their neck muscles looked tense).
Probably, for Indian Hindu worshippers, hearing loud music ensemble like this was normal. But for me who wasn’t born into this tradition, this experience felt new. To me, seeing worshippers pray and perform rituals accompanied by very loud and attractive music was something truly fascinating because both felt very contras to one another. It reminded me of my experience watching Pakarena dance in Makassar. The music from instruments like ganrang, kancing, gong, and pui-pui was so loud and energetic, while the dancers were moving slowly and gracefully. I then thought was it possible such loud and boisterous sounds with continuous intensity could also make people feel solemn and take them to a transcendental spiritual gate? Human dimensions are so rich and intriguing.