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Penang may cancel Thaipusam chariot procession amid Covid-19

Georgetown – The famous dual chariot procession, bearing the statue of Lord Murugan, during Thaipusam in Penang is most likely to be cancelled next year due to Covid-19 to prevent mass gathering.

The procession of the over 100-year-old silver chariot and the recent golden chariot is the highlight of the annual three-day Thaipusam celebration in the state.

Penang Hindu Endowment Board (PHEB) chairman Prof Dr P. Ramasamy said the state will have a series of meetings to discuss on how to manage Thaipusam this year amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our priority is on the safety of all devotees as chariots are the ones that pull in the crowd, once you have chariot procession, the crowd will be very difficult to control. We do not want Thaipusam gathering to spark off any new cluster,” he told Bernama during an interview here.

Ramasamy, who is also the Penang Deputy Chief Minister II said the PHEB will take a very responsible consideration and careful decision in the interest of the larger public.

“We have yet to decide on whether to have chariot procession or not on Thaipusam. I don’t want to preempt anything…we will conduct a series of meetings and let the health experts decide,” he said.

He said more detailed standard operating procedures (SOP) on Thaipusam celebration will be out on the first week of January after discussion with the Health Department, National Security Council and the Royal Malaysia Police.

Ramasamy said if the authority decided that there should be no chariot procession, no panthals and no kavadis, he hoped all the devotees will abide by it.

“The people, when it comes to religious matters, might get very emotional but I just want to remind them to adhere to all the SOP set by the authority as it is for the interest of the larger public,” he said.

Hindu devotees celebrate Thaipusam on the full moon day of the Tamil month of ‘Thai’. Next year, that date falls on January 28.

Every year, thousands of devotees will follow the chariots by foot along its route of about 8km before it reached the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple and Nattukkottai Chettiar Temple in Jalan Kebun Bunga here during the Thaipusam festival.

Meanwhile, Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple chairman Datuk R. Subramaniam said he believed this year the crowd will be lesser compared to previous years where more than 1.2 million Hindu devotees including international tourists joined the celebration.

He said the people are aware that the Covid-19 pandemic is still around and that they would put their health at risk if they failed to comply with the SOP.

“I think all devotees will understand that we could not celebrate much and that they will most likely to be allowed only to do their prayers at the temple,” he said.

Nevertheless, Subramaniam said the temple enforcement team had made simple preparation and ready to control and manage the crowd during Thaipusam.

It is commonly believed that Thaipusam is the birthday of Lord Murugan who received the divine vel (spear) from his mother Parvati and vanquished the evil demon Soorapadman. ― Bernama

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