Moderate preparation for Thaipusam in Penang amid COVID-19, Omicron variant


GEORGE TOWN, Jan 8 — The preparation to celebrate Thaipusam on Jan 18 in Penang is being carried out on a moderate scale following the COVID-19 and spread of the Omicron variant.

Nattukottai Chettiar Temple trustee Dr A. Narayanan said the 135-year-old silver chariot is undergoing a cleaning and polishing process as well as installing lights and other decorations in the past two weeks by six volunteers before the Thaipusam festival begins.

“This year’s Thaipusam will be celebrated in a moderate manner where we have applied for permission from the authorities to allow only 100 people involved in the chariot procession, compared to over 10,000 before the pandemic.

“This is to curb any risk of spreading the COVID-19,” he told Bernama when met here today.

He added the chariot procession will be held but limited to 100 devotees who have been fully vaccinated and are required to register with the temple committee so that they would be given a special card for the ceremony.

“So far, 89 devotees have registered with us and we hope each of them will comply with the stipulated standard operating procedure (SOP),” he stressed.

He said the silver chariot procession ferrying the statue of Lord Murugan, will begin its nine-kilometre journey at 6 am on Jan 17 from the Nagarathar Kovil Veedu temple (temple house) and is expected to reach the vicinity of Nattukottai Chettiar temple in Jalan Kebun Bunga at 11 am, involving seven location stops.

In the meantime, Thanneermalai Shree Balathandayuthapani Devasthanam (Hilltop Temple) chairman, Datuk R. Subramaniam said the temple committee had already started preparations for the 24-feet gold chariot procession the past two weeks.

“Currently, 70 per cent of the work is completed. We are polishing the chariot besides putting up decorations such as flower garlands, decorative lights involving 20 individuals from the temple and volunteers,” he told Bernama when met at the temple here today.

Elaborating, Subramaniam said in terms of the SOP, the temple committee has applied to the authorities such as the police and the People’s Volunteer Corps (RELA) as a measure to ensure the chariot procession goes smoothly on that day.

“For the gold chariot, we are limiting to 500 devotees and all of them must comply with the SOP, including being fully vaccinated and must register with the temple first,” he added.

He said according to the initial planning, the gold chariot procession will start on Jan 17 from Lebuh Queen to Thanneermalai Shree Balathandayuthapani Devasthanam temple at 8 am, subject to the decision of the National Security Council (MKN) which will be announced later.

The over 100-year-old silver chariot and gold chariot processions that began five years ago are the culmination of the state’s three-day annual Thaipusam festival.

The silver chariot ferries the statue of Lord Murugan, while the gold chariot will carry the golden ‘vel’ or spear used by Lord Murugan to fight evil.

Yesterday, state Deputy Chief Minister II Dr P. Ramasay said only the ‘paal kudam’ (milk pot kavadi) ceremony will be allowed at this year’s Thaipusam celebration in Penang, without other kavadi events, as well as head-shaving vows in temple grounds and coconut-breaking ceremonies.

Ramasamy, who is also the Penang Hindu Endowment Board chairman, said the decision was reached after a meeting was held with National Unity Minister Datuk Halimah Mohamed Sadique on Thursday.

Refreshment stalls (thaneer panthal) will not be permitted too, he added.