Amid fears of terror attacks, a royal presence at a Hindu festival was a significant symbol of understanding and tolerance.
IN spite of fears of a possible terror threat, Thaipusam attracted one of its biggest crowds in recent times at Batu Caves on Sunday.
More than a million people thronged the Sri Subramaniar Swamy Devasthanam Temple, the location of one of the largest and most colourful Thaipusam celebrations in the world.
The pilgrimage site, dedicated to Hindu deity Muruga, houses several shrines around the main temple located in a cave reachable by a steep, 272-step stairway.
Muruga, who is also called Guha, Skanda, Arumugam, Kumaresan, Kartikeyan, Shanmugan, Subramaniam, Velayuthan, Velan, Swaminathan, Mayilvagana and Saravana, is the most idolised deity among Tamil Hindus, as can be seen by the names parents give to children.
Thaipusam is both a celebration of Muruga’s birth as well as his victory over demon brothers, Soorapadman, Tarakasura and Simhamugan.
A 42.7m high gold-hued statue of the deity, erected in 2006, has since become the iconic image of the temple. It is the second tallest sculpture of a Hindu deity in the world, next to the Kailashnath Mahadev (Shiva) statue in Nepal which stands at 43.8m.
For more than a week before Thaipusam, policemen and soldiers had been patrolling the site in the wake of rumours that it could be a target of terrorism, especially after eight people were killed in bomb blasts and gun attacks in Jakarta, Indonesia on Jan 14.
But thanks to the vigilance of our security forces, the festival dedicated to the Hindu deity of love, beauty, compassion and courage went on without any untoward incidents.
Except of course for the usual racist rants, mostly over the social media.
It seems that the festival was a nuisance to some people who took to Twitter to denounce it along with the wonted derogatory term keling.
Most of the tirades were about the congestion it caused while some ridiculed the rituals of penance, the dances and the drums.
But it was heartening to note that such people do not represent the majority and that there are still sane and reasonable Malaysians who are against such bigots.
One of the most shared postings over Facebook on Sunday, for example, was one penned by user Mohd Firdaus.
It read: “Due to the ongoing Thaipusam celebration, many status are being uploaded in FB complaining about the traffic jams and inconvenience caused to people living around Batu Caves area and surroundings.
“Many are also racist and insulting the festival. Sad to say that it is mainly by Muslim users.
“I have only one thing to say. We Muslims do it every Friday, week in week out. We park our cars indiscriminately in the name of Friday prayers. We reduce three lanes to only half a lane.
“We double and triple park as if the roads belong to us only. We do not give a damn if in the event of an emergency, how the hell is an ambulance going to pass?
“We expect and demand the others to understand that it is an obligation for us to perform Friday prayers and they should tolerate the inconvenience once a week.
“We accuse anyone of being racist and ‘kurang ajar’ if they were to dispute the inconvenience.’
“So, why can’t we Muslims, tolerate the traffic jam and inconvenience for just a day in a year during the Thaipusam celebration for the Hindus. Moreover, it is on a public holiday. We Muslims should be tolerant and considerate before accusing others of being inconsiderate.
“That’s what Prophet Muhammad taught us. To be kind, considerate and tolerant. And he said it many times.”
Others posted pictures of the mostly Muslim policemen and soldiers patrolling the temple grounds and also of the many young Muslim women serving as Red Crescent volunteers attending to pilgrims facing difficulties.
One post showed a tudung-clad girl encouraging an elderly woman pilgrim by walking behind her and saying: “Sikit lagi je aunty, aunty memang boleh”.
But the most significant symbol of such understanding and tolerance was displayed by the revered Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar.
The Johor Ruler, who is also head of Islam in the state, added a touch of royal splendour to Thaipusam by attending the celebrations in an old temple at Renggam near Kluang.
After driving his own vehicle to the Samajam Sri Murugan Hindu Temple, he walked around in the scorching heat of the afternoon for about an hour, meeting the delighted devotees and locals.
Sultan Ibrahim had a vegetarian meal with other guests and watched Indian cultural performances before leaving the temple.
A day after Thaipusam, another Ruler made a very pertinent note about religion.
The Sultan of Perak, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah, said religion could become a highly explosive time bomb which could cause chaos and disaster if it is sensationalised for political reasons.
He said that if it was fully understood, religion could be an instrument for unity and justice, which could help create good followers with inner strength and faith in God.
“Religion has a sacred role. Unfortunately, its sanctity is marred by people without wisdom and also those who try to put in their own values, prejudices and agendas by championing and sensationalising issues in the name of religion,” he said when opening an Islamic conference.
Sultan Nazrin also urged Islamic clerics and other officials managing religious affairs to be respectful to others while conducting their duties.
“The realities of the present time and the realities of localities must be understood. Justice must be carried out and the dignity of other people must be respected,” he was quoted as saying.
Kudos to the two rulers for their wisdom and exemplary actions.
Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this view of Victor Hugo: “Toleration is the best religion.”