THOUSANDS of devotees and tourists braved the crowd to join in the Thaipusam celebration with a handful of them donning masks amid the novel coronavirus scare.
With offerings in their hands and prayers in their hearts, devotees lined the streets to pay homage to Lord Muruga as the chariot procession passed by.
Curious tourists of all backgrounds, too, did not want to miss out on the celebration, braving the scorching heat to be part of the colourful atmosphere.
Among them were Japanese pianist Meg Hori, 34, and her friends, who were spotted with their face masks on.
“We have been residing in Penang for five years.
“Thaipusam is an interesting and spiritual celebration. Although we are afraid of the virus, we decided to drop by to experience the celebration.
“We will definitely try smashing some coconuts later, ” she said.
Jewellery designer Karyne Lamouille, 49, and her friend Nadine Morvan, 51, said they decided not to put on masks as they were on vacation.
“We decided to let our guard down since we are on a holiday but back in my hometown in France, people are worried about the virus.
“Life is dangerous, so we live one day at a time. As long as we do not go to China for the time being, I think it should be fine, ” said Lamouille.
Lamouille said this was her first time visiting Penang.
“I have been dreaming of coming here. I usually stay in Bali, Indonesia for three to four months a year to skip winter in my country, France.
“I’ve always loved and appreciated Indian festivals, which was why I searched on the Internet for the festival date before planning for my trip, ” she added.
Morvan, 51, who was also visiting Penang for the first time, said she appreciates the loud music and celebration.
“It is an amazing festival. People here are so generous. They were giving out free food, ” said the computer science lecturer.
Meanwhile, Sunway Hotel Georgetown and Sunway Hotel Seberang Jaya’s Thaipusam committee chairman A. Chandra, said 25 of their staff members of different ethnicity were tasked with giving out free food to the devotees.
“This has been an annual event for more than 20 years and is part of the company’s corporate social responsibility programme.
“We normally hand out food to the devotees and it will usually finish within three hours, ” he said.
Chandra said this year, Sunway Hotel would break only 21 coconuts instead of the usual 100 coconuts as they wanted to concentrate on distributing free food.
Sunway Hotel Georgetown human resource assistant C. Vahini, 22, was also spotted giving out free face masks to her colleagues.
“As we are giving out food to the public, we have to put on gloves and masks for hygiene purposes and also to protect ourselves from the virus.
“My colleagues and I volunteered ourselves at a food booth here and started helping out at 8am, ” she said.
Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, in his Thaipusam message, said the festival served as a platform and attraction for both local and international tourists to experience the unique and traditional celebration.
He said in Penang, Thaipusam is one of the most important celebrations and is often celebrated on a large scale by devotees, especially at the Hilltop Murugan Temple in Jalan Kebun Bunga.
“Thaipusam is a manifestation of the freedom of religion, multicultural and a symbol of unity, tolerance and understanding. It is also a symbol of openness which exists in our state that is made out of people from different races.
“I urge Penangites who are made up of different ethnicities to be united and be against racial politics by certain parties recently.
“I hope that people can be more mature and not be easily influenced by the racial political game that will destroy the peace we enjoy and the understanding we already have.
“As a government, we have to be brave in facing views and reactions from the people besides taking actions to improve our weaknesses in the decisions made before.
“We have to work harder to garner people’s trust in policies made by the federal and state government, ” he said.
Chow also pointed out that the state has continuously allocated funds to strengthen the Indian community here.
“This year, we allocated RM1.5mil to the Penang Hindu Endowment Board (PHEB) to implement various special religious, educational, medical and development projects, ” he said.
He added that disadvantaged students were among those who benefited from PHEB funding.
“In 2019, we had allocated RM345,626.13 to 109 students to further their education in public and private institutions of higher learning.
“The state has also increased funding of RM1.75mil annually to RM2mil to Tamil schools, ” he said.
He added that allocations for kindergartens in Tamil schools were increased from RM100,000 to RM150,000.
“For the Tamil Schools Special Fund, allocations were increased from RM100,000 to RM150,000, and for Punjabi schools, allocations were increased from RM60,000 to RM90,000.
“We also allocated RM200,000 to the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Devasthanam Temple, otherwise known as the ‘Waterfall Hilltop Temple’, in conjunction with Thaipusam every year, ” he said.
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