Vesak Day celebrations see crowds, devotees happy to join activities in person

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SINGAPORE - Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, visitors to Tibetan Buddhist temple Thekchen Choling near Kallang would use a shared water bucket and ladle to bathe a Buddha statue, as part of Vesak Day rituals.

But this year, they were each given a bottle of water to do so.

This change in how the ritual is conducted was among several differences between Vesak Day celebrations in Singapore on Sunday (May 15) and previous festivities prior to the pandemic.

Sunday's celebration was the first time in three years that Buddhists here were able to gather at temples and other venues to commemorate Buddha's birth, enlightenment and attainment of nirvana.

Buddhist temples and organisations were mostly limited to online festivities last year and in 2020, due to the pandemic.

But they could resume physical rituals for devotees - such as chanting, the bathing of the Buddha statue and the offering of lit candles - this year, after the authorities significantly eased Covid-19 restrictions last month.

Visitors still had to abide by measures imposed at temple grounds and celebration venues, such as the mandatory wearing of masks.

Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery in the Sin Ming area allowed only vaccinated devotees to enter.

Among other things, the temple required visitors to book a time slot online in order to participate in its "three-step-one-bow" ritual, with each of the 13 time slots having a limit of 500 devotees.

The measures did not deter visitors, with crowds seen in the temple when The Straits Times visited at around 11am on Sunday.

Some devotees lined up to participate in the Buddha-bathing ritual, while others bought food and other items such as clothes at the temple's Vesak Day carnival.

There was also a crowd at Thekchen Choling on Sunday morning, and it witnessed the unveiling of its 4½-storey-high Shakyamuni Buddha applique thangka - made from pieces of brocade silk hand-sewn together.

Minister of Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, who was present during the ceremony, said: "This is the time when we are beginning to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic - where ...

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