FOR the first time in almost 150 years, Jalan Utama in George Town, Penang, was all quiet during Thaipusam.
There were no kavadi, breaking of coconuts, thaneer panthal (refreshment stalls), carrying of paal kudam (milk pots) or traffic jams along the road, which is usually crowded with devotees and tourists.
The celebration was cancelled in view of the Covid-19 pandemic and devotees had earlier been advised to offer their prayers at home.
They were barred from visiting two main temples in Waterfall Road over the last two days following the surge in Covid-19 cases.
Housewife Krishnaveny Durai Raj, 55, said she missed the annual Thaipusam celebration, a festive occasion often thronged by thousands of devotees and onlookers.
“I enjoy the chariot procession and have been participating in it every year.
“Although my family and I were in Johor for the past 20 years, we would always make it a point to come home for Thaipusam.
“Since moving back to Penang last December, we have looked forward to the celebration.
“It’s a shame that we could not take part in the procession due to the movement control order (MCO).
“I used to carry milk pots in previous years, but this year, we had to improvise and passed them to a temple committee member who helped us bring them to the temple, ” she said.
A sales executive, who wished to be known as Neoh, 30, said this was the first time the road leading to the temples was so quiet.
“I have been staying in Lorong Air Terjun since I was young. It is usually very crowded here a day before Thaipusam and on Thaipusam day.
“In previous years, my family and I often tried not to go out during the two days to avoid being stuck in a jam.
“However, there are no devotees here this year, ” he said.
A heavy presence of police was seen outside the Arulmigu Sree Balathandayuthapani Waterfall Hilltop Temple during Thaipusam yesterday but apart from the personnel on duty, it was quiet all around.
Several devotees who arrived at the gate only to find it locked, left shortly after.
Traffic was smooth along Jalan Kebun Bunga and Jalan Utama, which in the past would be closed to traffic for thousands of devotees to converge during the festival.
Temple chairman Datuk R. Subramaniam said Health Ministry officials visited the temple to check on standard operating procedure (SOP) compliance and were satisfied.
“We allowed only committee members to enter.
“The prayer sessions were streamed live online, ” he said yesterday.
It was reported that the Penang government decided not to allow mass prayers in related temples, chariot processions, different forms of kavadi carrying, mass haircutting and coconut breaking rituals.
It also disallowed the installation of panthal refreshment stalls.
Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, in his Thaipusam message, wished all Hindu devotees a Happy Thaipusam and urged everyone to practise self-care, abide by the SOP and break the infection chain together.
“Every year, the Thaipusam celebration showcases colours of unity, mutual respect and toleration among people of various religions in the country.
“Unlike years in the past, the Covid-19 pandemic has transformed the landscape and norms of Thaipusam celebration, but families can still perform prayers at home, ” he said.
Chow added that the state had allocated RM1.5mil to the Penang Hindu Endowment Board to implement various projects encompassing religious, education, medical, development and refurbishing of Hindu burial grounds.
“Through the board’s scholarship programme since 2008, a total of 2,733 students qualified to receive the contribution from RM3.9mil allocated.
“The state has also increased the allocation for education fund from RM1.75mil yearly to RM2mil to SJKT schools, from RM100,000 to RM150,000 to Tamil kindergartens, from RM100,000 to RM150,000 for Tamil School Special Funds, and from RM60,000 to RM90,000 for Sikh schools, ” he said.