Crowds throng Istana open house to celebrate Deepavali

SINGAPORE – A queue had formed even before the gates to the Istana opened at 9am for an open house to celebrate Deepavali on Thursday (Nov 4).

Among the early birds was Ms Lim Mui Eng, 50, a mechanical engineer, who came with her cousin. “We really like to travel but there’s no travelling during the pandemic. So when we saw that the Istana would be open to the public, we decided to jump at the chance to do something different,” said Ms Lim.

The Deepavali open house, which is typically held every year, was cancelled last year in favour of a virtual presentation due to the pandemic.

On Thursday, the open house – visitors had to apply for tickets that gave them a slot for a two-hour entry – did away with highlights of previous years such as performances, food trucks or souvenirs on sale.

Safe distancing officers were seen patrolling the grounds to ensure people remained in groups of two, in keeping with prevailing Covid-19 restrictions.

Still, the chance to visit the iconic Istana proved irresistible to many, given that its grounds had been closed to the public since February last year before it reopened on Aug 28 to celebrate National Day.

Visitors were seen lounging and strolling in the outdoor spaces and gardens, with some stopping to watch the swans dip their heads in cool water at a lake.

Mr Andrew Chew, 38, who works in finance, lapped up the chance to log an Istana experience with his wife and three children.

“It was a good opportunity to let my children run in a big open space, especially after a year of them being cooped up at home for home-based learning and enrichment classes.”

President Halimah Yacob similarly encouraged all Singaporeans to enjoy the public holiday.

In a Facebook post on Monday, she said: “Although this year’s festivities may be limited by Covid-19 restrictions, I hope that you will find creative and meaningful ways to celebrate the festival safely.”