HUNDREDS of kavadi bear- ers. Devotees breaking thousands of coconuts. The fruit and flower offerings pre- sented in trays.
This was the scene when the silver chariot on Thaipusam eve made its way from the Nattukottai Chettiar Temple (or better known as 'Kovil Veedu' where the statue of Lord Muruga is kept) in Penang Street to its sister temple at Waterfall Road.
Thousands of people of various races and background crowded George Town to witness the chariot procession, making it an integrated religious festival.
When the chariot bearing Lord Muruga's image, pulled by two bulls, inched its way from the temple doors at Penang Street around 7am, a large crowd had already gathered to pay homage.
Devotees eagerly stretched forward their silver trays filled with bananas, chrysanthemums and other offerings to temple assistants seated on the chariot to have them blessed.
Going before the chariot was a group of kavadi bearers fulfilling their 48 days vow of abstinence from meat, alcohol and cigarettes while going about their daily duties.
One kavadi bearer was Dr Muthu Veerappan, 52, from Penang, who was praying for Lord Muruga’s blessings for his son’s education.
“There are 56 of us from all over Malaysia, Singapore, United States and Australia who registered with the temple to carry the kavadi for this procession,” he said.
When he got tired, he took a break by passing his kavadi to another person.
Coconuts were piled ready for smashing along the chariot route, the bulk seen on the road divider at Jalan Datuk Keramat that soon turned into a sea of husks.
Penang Municipal Council workers were seen clearing the husks immediately after the chariot passed on.
Coconut breaking has become an event which attracts even strangers to participate in the smashing.
Ponniah Pooranam, 65, bought 601 coconuts to be smashed at Victoria Street by friends and family members.
Devotees preferred buying co-conuts in amounts ending with the number one as an auspicious gesture thanking Lord Muruga for prayers answered, explained another devotee Satya Devi, 60.
Many Chinese locals also turned up to participate in the celebrations with trays filled auspicious items as offerings to the deity while tourists marvelled at the racially mixed event.
Canadian tourist Winter Yama-shita, 23, said his parents had been to Penang in 1975 and their stories made him want to see how kavadi bearers pierced themselves.
“It is really marvellous to witness a colourful festival with various races joining in the celebrations,” he said.
The silver chariot passed through Penang Street, Chulia Street, Chulia Street Ghaut, Victoria Street, Prangin Road Ghaut, Jalan C.Y. Choy, Magazine Road, Jalan Datuk Keramat, Jalan Utama and Waterfall Road.
It will make its way back to Penang Street tomorrow.
Over in Ipoh, some 2,000 Hindu devotees followed the chariot carrying the statue of Lord Muruga from the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in Jalan Sungai Pari to the Gunung Cheroh Sri Subra-maniar Temple in conjunction with Thaipusam.
The chariot, which was pulled by a mini-tractor, left the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple about 6pm yesterday.
It passed through Jalan Sungai Pari, Jalan Tun Perak, Jalan Tun Razak, Jalan Sultan Yussuf, Jalan Sultan Idris Shah, and Jalan Raja Musa Aziz.
The chariot was expected to arrive at Sri Subramaniar Temple at about 10pm.
Most of the devotees carrying kavadi and milk pots followed the chariot bare- footed for the entire 5km journey.
It will leave the Sri Subramaniar Temple at 5pm tomorrow back to the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple.