THERE was a sea of people making their way to the Balathandayuthapani Hilltop Temple to fulfil their vows and pay homage to Lord Murugan at the Thaipusam celebration in Penang.
The sweltering heat did not stop the devotees from participating in the holy celebration as well as the many tourists and locals who joined the crowd to witness the event yesterday.
The roads leading to the temple were filled with the colourful sights of kavadi bearers.
Chants of “Vel! Vel!” could be heard as the devotees walked barefoot while carrying kavadis as well as paal kudam (milk pots).
Driver S. Francis, 51, had been carrying kavadi for the last 40 years to fulfil a vow.
More than 20 other family members joined him, including his nephew M. Suria Dass, 14, who was carrying a kavadi for the third consecutive year. Six family members carried milk pots.
Francis’ sister-in-law, K. Priya, 39, said three generations of the family were present to join in the procession.
“We believe that by fulfilling our vows, it will bring good health, wealth and blessings,” she added.
Deputy Chief Minister II Dr P. Ramasamy estimated that 1.3 million people came for the celebration in Penang.
“This year, there are 40,000 milk pot bearers compared to last year’s 36,000. The number of kavadi bearers had also increased from 400 last year to 600,” he said at a high tea held at the temple’s management office yesterday.
Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said the state government was giving the temple RM200,000 this year for the Thaipusam celebration.
Digi Telecomunications Sdn Bhd handed over a mock cheque of RM160,000 to the temple as well.
About 150 thaneer panthal (refreshment stalls) lined the streets to provide vegetarian food and drinks to the public along the route.
At the Malaysia Airlines stall in Jalan Utama, 15 staff members from Kuala Lumpur and Penang and their families served up free vegetarian food to 3,000 devotees.
MAS officer G. Arjunam said this was the fifth year the airline was carrying out the initiative.
“This is a collective effort by the staff. We are doing this so that the airline will prosper. We hope this year will be a prosperous year,” he added.
Among the foreigners who came to watch the colourful festival were Brazilian couple Cheryn Lejne, 32, and Gregorio Russo, 31, who were both awed by the devotion showed by those taking part in the event.
“Back home we have a carnival where people come out and celebrate life and party on the streets but it does not have any religious significance,” Lejne said, adding that she loved the traditional Indian attire and was looking forward to getting one for herself.
“We just relocated from Brazil and have had the privilege of experiencing many new cultures. This is the first major festival we are witnessing and it has been incredible,” said Lejne who just started work as the senior business manager of a company in Penang.
Russo said they loved to travel and experience new cultures.
“Living in Penang will be great as there are so many different cultures and its nice to see the harmony. You grow as a person when you experience things like these,” he said.
A family of four from Germany were among the visitors at Jalan Utama, taking the opportunity to expose their children to culture.
Sales director Daniel Dehner,36, said it was good for his kids to learn about different traditions and beliefs.
The three-day celebration will end today when the silver chariot bearing Lord Murugan makes its return journey from the Nattukottai Chettiar Temple in Jalan Kebun Bunga to the Kovil Veedu (Temple House) in Penang Street.
The 7.6km return journey, starting at 6pm, will pass Jalan Air Terjun, Jalan Gottlieb, Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, Jalan Cantonment, Jalan Macalister, Jalan Anson, Jalan Burma, Jalan Transfer, Jalan Sri Bahari, Jalan Penang, Lebuh Campbell, Lebuh Buckingham, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, Lebuh Chulia, Lebuh Queen, Lebuh Pasar, Lebuh Penang, Lebuh China, Lebuh Pantai, Lebuh Pasar and Lebuh Penang.