Barbs fly as chariots prepare for processions

The Penang Hindu Endowment Board’s golden chariot for Thaipusam is pulled by devotees.

The Penang Hindu Endowment Board’s golden chariot for Thaipusam is pulled by devotees.

PENANG Hindu Endowment Board (PHEB) chairman Dr P. Ramasamy has accused the Chettiars of deliberately delaying the departure of the silver chariot from Kovil Veedu in Penang Street.

He said the delay was not because of the golden chariot but due to the actions of the Chettiars.

Dr Ramasamy was commenting on the statement by Nattukotai Chettiar Temple’s managing trustee Dr A. Narayanan urging handlers of the golden chariot to maintain its pace to avoid delays as experienced in past years.

“Dr Narayanan should confine his comments to the silver chariot and need not comment on the golden chariot,” said Dr Ramasamy.

He also urged the Chettiars not to use bulls to pull the silver chariot.

“We have warned them before on this matter and we might use whatever resources available to stop this cruelty,” he said.

When contacted, Dr Narayanan said the golden chariot, which was pulled by devotees, took longer breaks which resulted in the gridlock on the streets during the procession.

On using the bulls to pull the chariot, Dr Narayanan said there were 16 bulls on standby during the silver chariot’s journey to Waterfall Road.

“We do not ill treat the bulls as we change them as soon as we realise they become tired and slow down,” he added.

At a press conference at the Waterfall Hilltop Temple office in Penang on Thursday, Dr Ramasamy, who is also Deputy Chief Minister II, said the new golden chariot that would take to the streets for this year’s Thaipusam would be pulled by devotees as PHEB prohibits the usage of cows or bulls.

He however said cows or bulls could follow in the procession.

“They can be used for symbolic purposes, but not to pull the chariot.

“We’ve never used bulls in the past few years and we want to make it very clear that we will not use bulls or cows because to me, it’s cruelty,” he said.

Dr Ramasamy also said the new chariot was a contribution by a devotee.

“We never spent a single sen. It’s a contribution from a devotee,” he added.

This year, PHEB is using the new RM3mil two-tonne golden chariot which stands at 6.4m tall and 5m wide.

The chariot will carry the ‘Vel’ (spear) during its maiden journey, while the old one will now be stationed at the temple.

Dr Ramasamy had reportedly said devotees would be aided with a pushback tug during the procession from the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in Queen Street to the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Hilltop Temple in Waterfall Road on Sunday, adding that the procession would begin at 6am.

Penang Thaipusam has seen two chariots since 2017 when PHEB decided to roll out the golden chariot, breaking a 164-year tradition of the silver chariot as the only chariot during the festival.

Both the golden and silver chariots are set to start their journey about 60 minutes apart.

Owned by the Nattukotai Chettiar Temple in Jalan Kebun Bunga, the silver chariot, which is 7.3m tall and carries the statue of Lord Muruga, will begin its journey from the Kovil Veedu in Penang Street at 7am on Sunday.

Dr Ramasamy said preparations for the celebration started more than a month ago.

“The most important is security and strict action will be taken against the use of alcohol.

“This is a religious festival, not a fun fair,” he added.

Hilltop Temple chairman Datuk R. Subramaniam, who was also present at the press conference, said they were expecting more crowd than last year.

“We want devotees and tourists not to waste food because a lot of food will be served at the refreshment stalls and we ask that they keep the environment clean.

“And be careful of your belongings,” he said, adding that this year was the religious festival’s 233rd year.

Subramaniam also said they were upgrading the old Hilltop Temple into a museum, adding that the project had already started and is expected to be completed in July.