Dismayed by rigid SOP

The golden chariot at the Waterfall Hilltop Temple in Jalan Kebun Bunga.

BOTH temple committees have picked up valuable lessons from organising the Thaipusam festival in Penang this year, saying they could do without some of the standard operating procedures (SOP) instead for a smoother celebration.

Waterfall Nattukotai Chettiar Temple managing trustee Dr A. Narayanan said while the devotees and police should be commended for an incident-free festival, it was tough following the strict SOP, some of which created more harm than good.

Describing Thaipusam this year as “turbulent”, Dr Narayanan said the temple could not maintain the 3,000-crowd inside as those carrying paal kudam (milk pots) at the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Waterfall Hilltop Temple also made their rounds inside the Chettiar Temple.

“The crowd inside the temple swelled to almost 8,000 as devotees who carried the milk pots to the Hilltop Temple entered to pray before continuing their journey, a tradition that has been going on for years.

“We could not maintain the crowd of 3,000 as we had only 40 registered devotees carrying milk pots,” added Dr Narayanan.

Furthermore, he said, the sanitisation of the premises every 30 minutes was not practical.

“The move to sanitise the premises every 30 minutes created chaos as devotees became very impatient.

“Closing the temple at 5pm on Thaipusam eve was also impractical.

“Devotees became angry at the closure because many came from other states for the festival.”

Penang Hindu Endowment Board (PHEB) executive director Datuk M. Ramachandran said devotees should have been allowed to pray or give offerings at the four to five stops of the chariot procession.

“It is of great significance to receive blessings during the journey of the chariots and devotees would be happy for being able to fulfil the tradition.”

The three-day Thaipusam festival under the new norm to curb Covid-19 transmission ended with both the silver and golden chariots reaching their destination on their return journey at around 1.30am yesterday.

The golden chariot reached the Sree Maha Mariamman Temple in Queen Street at 1.30am, while the silver chariot reached the Kovil Veedu in Penang Street at around 1.40am.

Both the chariots began their return journey from their respective temples in Jalan Kebun Bunga at 8pm on Wednesday.

The scaled-down Thaipusam this year had no kavadis, thaneer panthals (refreshment stalls), coconut-breaking ritual during the chariot procession and shaving of heads.

Strong enforcement teams from the police, Federal Reserve Unit, Rela, Penang Island City Council and Civil Defence were deployed to ensure SOP compliance and prevent any untoward incidents.

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