Muted festival sans chariot parade


Devotees clasping their palms together in prayer on the first day of the Navarathiri Festival at the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple in Jelutong, Penang. – CHAN BOON KAI/The Star

WITH no processions or mass prayer sessions in Penang this year, K. Pubathy is observing a quiet Navarathiri Festival with daily visits to the temple and a 12-day vegetarian diet at home.

The 58-year-old housewife, who is observing the vegetarian diet until Oct 17, said her family will observe a simple celebration this year.

“I am going to the temple every evening for prayers. My whole family will observe a purely vegetarian diet for a full nine days and an additional three days.

“As we are unable to observe a full, lively celebration with processions and gatherings this year, I am visiting the temple every evening until Oct 16.”

Pubathy said she would observe vegetarian diet each year and pray for the good health and safety of her family.

“To me, having lived until 58 years is already a gift and seeing my family well is fortune enough.

“I have nothing more to ask for. I just hope that our lives will continue to be this stable, healthy and well,” she said when met on the first day of prayers for the festival at the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple in Jelutong, Penang, on Thursday.

A banner reminding devotees to comply with the standard operating procedures within the temple premises.A banner reminding devotees to comply with the standard operating procedures within the temple premises.

The temple committee vice chairman, S. Devaraj, said the temple will hold evening prayers every day until Oct 16.

“We hold morning and evening prayers on the first day of the festival but after that, it will only be evening prayers.

“As we are in the midst of a pandemic, we only allow a maximum of 50 people at any one time in the temple and all devotees must be fully vaccinated to enter.

A flower offering during the prayer ritual attended by committee members and devotees.A flower offering during the prayer ritual attended by committee members and devotees.

“This year, there are no processions or chariots,” he said.

Navarathiri, in Sanskrit, means the Nine Nights.

It is celebrated for different reasons in Hindu culture and in the autumn celebrations that began on Thursday.

A prayer ceremony in progress in front of the temple altar.A prayer ceremony in progress in front of the temple altar.

Devotees rejoice in the victory of good over evil in the legend of how the Hindu goddess Durga overcomes the buffalo demon Mahishashur and restores peace.

In the nine nights of prayers, devotees worship the nine manifestations of Durga and reflect on their various virtues.

Although India and China are oceans apart, Navarathiri has parallels with the Nine Emperor Gods Festival that grew out of China, which is celebrated at around the same time. It also centres around nine divinities, the observance of a purely vegetarian diet and practice of ethics.

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