KUALA LUMPUR: More than a million people swarmed Batu Caves and numerous other Hindu temples nationwide to do penance and seek blessings from Lord Muruga during Thaipusam yesterday.
This year's celebration has taken on an added flavour from the Chinese almanac, which celebrates 2004 as the Year of the Monkey, with the appearance of Lord Hanuman, the monkey deity.
The Batu Caves temple came alive in a carnival-like atmosphere as worshippers climbed the temple's 272 steps to offer prayers amidst shouts of “Vel! Vel!.”
Among them were local and foreign tourists who came to witness the event renowned for its colourful kavadis carried by devotees.
Joining in the festivities were Works Minister Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo and Culture, Arts and Tourism Minister Datuk Paduka Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir.
Samy Vellu, who is also MIC president, said even though Thaipusam was a public holiday in only five states, namely Penang, Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Johor, worshippers in other states also took time off for the celebrations.
Dr Khir said in his speech that Malaysians were tolerant of each other's beliefs.
“Many countries look at this diversity as a weakness, but it is what gives us strength to bring the country to greater heights,” he said.
Later, Dr Khir told reporters at a press conference that the Selangor government would gazette a 10ha piece of land in Batu Caves to build an Indian Cultural Centre.
He said RM5mil would be allocated by the state government for the proposed centre, which might begin by the end of the year.
“The design for the centre was tabled at the exco meeting but I did not approve it because it was too modern. I want something more traditional and Indian in nature,” he said.
Samy Vellu said the centre would house a cultural auditorium which could accommodate between 1,500 and 2,000 people.
Abdul Kadir suggested that the centre, once completed, be privatised to ensure it was maintained efficiently.
In Penang, the Waterfall Road area once again turned into a hive of activity, as thousands of Hindu devotees lined along the route leading to the hilltop temple to witness the colourful kavadis passing by yesterday.
All along the route leading to the temple near the Botanic Gardens numerous refreshment stalls added colour to the three-day festival which started on Wednesday.
Some kavadi bearers had their bodies pierced with hooks, spears and some of these hooks were holding tiny milk pots. They danced through the crowd as they trekked their way to the temple to fulfil vows to Lord Muruga.
Other devotees carried milk pots on their heads, and many of them had yellow sandalwood paste on their heads shaven for the occasion.
Many of the devotees and kavadis bearers who were barefooted were seen paying their respects to Lord Muruga, Lord Ganesha and other deities placed at many of the stalls before proceeding to the temple.
There were several kavadis bearing the images of Hanuman and Lord Muruga.
Traders also took the opportunity to sell Indian delicacies, balloons, ice cream and T-shirts.
Also seen at the festival, were foreign tourists who were busy capturing the event on their cameras.
Later at 4.30pm, Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon visited the Kuil Sri Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani and Kuil Nattukottai Chettiar in Waterfall Road.
In Ipoh, contractor K. Velu, 26, and wife R. Sumathi, 20, sought Lord Muruga's blessings for their five-month-old twin boys on the banks of the Kinta River near the Gunung Cheroh Sri Subramaniar Temple here.
Taking clumps of the boys’ hair, whose heads had been shaved and anointed with sandalwood paste, Velu placed the hair on a betel leaf and sent it drifting down the river.
“We believe that by releasing the first hair of our children into the river or ocean, it will be received by Lord Muruga who will bless them,” he said.
The couple, from Bercham, then brought their sons Deva Kumaran and Thevendran into the temple which was thronged by thousands of Hindu devotees and visitors.
Hundreds of kavadi bearers started off early from the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in Jalan Sungai Pari, Buntong, for the 5km journey to the temple in Gunung Cheroh.
Drummers and thousands of devotees, many bearing milk pots and shouting chants, accompanied the kavadi bearers through the main streets to the temple.
Police had cordoned off the road in Jalan Raja Musa Aziz, allowing people to walk all the way to the nearby temple and for stalls selling prayer items and Indian sweets to operate in the area.