KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 18 — Hindus in the country celebrated Thaipusam today on a moderate scale in adherence to the strict standard operating procedures (SOPs) set to curb the spread of COVID-19.
At the Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple in Batu Caves near here, which is the focus of Hindus from all over the country for the Thaipusam celebration every year, the excitement can still be felt this year despite being conducted with strict SOPs.
In addition to ‘kavadi’ ceremony not being allowed by the temple management, the number of devotees entering the temple grounds is limited to 9,000 people, while for the 18 sessions of prayer ceremonies, only 500 people are allowed to participate per session.
Also present at the temple today were Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan and National Unity Minister Datuk Halimah Mohamed Sadique to review the situation of the year’s celebration.
In SELANGOR, the Subramaniar Swamy Temple in Batu Tiga, Shah Alam, has become one of the focus of Hindus from the surrounding areas to conduct prayer ceremonies.
Volunteer at the temple, R. Ravindran, 25, said people started visiting the house of worship as early as 7 am and all were in adherence to the SOPs set to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“However, we (volunteers) will still remind them to always abide by the SOPs while present in the temple, including only gathering with family members during prayers and shortening the period of their stay in the temple. This is to give way for others to enter for prayers and maintain physical distancing,” he said when met by Bernama.
In PENANG, Hindus started to throng the courtyard of the Thanneermalai Shree Balathandayuthapani Devasthanam Temple (Hilltop Temple) as early as 3 am even though the door was only opened at 5 am to comply with the SOPs set.
Temple chairman, Datuk R. Subramaniam said the early attendance was controlled by the police who had set up checkpoints at the temple to ensure peace and SOPs compliance during the Thaipusam celebrations and limit the number of devotees in the temple.
“After going through the checkpoint, every devotee who enters the temple door is required to scan the MySejahtera application and check his body temperature. They then have to queue up to 150 individuals (in the group) before they can start to climb 513 steps to reach the top of the temple,” he said.
In NEGERI SEMBILAN, the Sri Balathandayuthapani Temple in Jalan Yamtuan, Seremban which is usually crowded with people every Thaipusam celebration before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, looks different this time as devotees celebrate the festival in moderation.
A check by Bernama found that Hindus in the state were present since 8 am to perform religious ceremonies by complying with SOPs set, including wearing face masks and ensuring physical distancing.
Temple president, R. Parameswaran said a total of 200 visitors were limited to the temple at any one time from 7 am to 12 noon, with only prayers and ‘paal koodam’ ceremonies or bringing a pot of milk are allowed.
In JOHOR, a check at the Arulmigu Sri Balasubramaniar Temple in Skudai, Johor Bahru, found that Hindus arrived as early as 7.30 am with temple management members ensuring they underwent a body temperature check and scanned the MySejahtera application.
Temple chairman, Datuk KS Balakrishnan said that in total, an estimated 800 people performed the prayers and ‘paal koodam’ ceremonies today with only 50 individuals allowed to enter the temple grounds for an hour.
“Until noon today, a total of 300 people are present according to their turn that has been set with only 50 people allowed to enter the temple every hour. We (the temple) have set up counters prior to this and all of them have registered with the temple management to attend prayers today,” he said, adding that a total of 50 members of the temple management are on duty to monitor the SOPs compliance with the help of police and People’s Volunteer Corps (RELA) personnel.
In PERAK, about 2,000 Hindus came to celebrate Thaipusam at the Sri Subramaniar Temple, Gunung Cheroh, Ipoh, in stages, from 6.30 am.
State temples president, M. Vivekananda, when met, said that the celebration at the popular temple has been the focus of about 400,000 people every Thaipusam celebration with various religious rituals, chariot processions and ‘kavadi’ carriers but everything is different since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country almost two years ago.
“This time we are welcoming Thaipusam in moderation and in accordance with the government’s directive that does not allow ‘kavadi’ and only 100 people can follow the chariot procession due to the pandemic, plus the presence of the Omicron variant,” he said.
In MELAKA, the number of Hindus praying at the Sri Subramaniar Devasthanam Temple, Batu Berendam is only about 500 people compared with 4,000 people who attended the religious celebration annually, before the COVID-19 outbreak hit the country.
The temple’s secretary, S. Ravi Santharan, said strict inspections were carried out by RELA personnel, including ensuring that devotees who wished to pray at the temple had completed the vaccination before being allowed to enter, while the period for prayers was shortened to 1 pm only compared with late in the afternoon as practised before.
In KEDAH, state Agriculture and Food Industries, Plantation Industries and Commodities, Transport and Indian Community Affairs Committee chairman, Azman Nasrudin, said the temple authorities involved in the celebration placed volunteers to ensure SOPs were complied with, apart from police presence to monitor the situation at the temple.