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Hindu devotees fulfil vows in celebration of Thaipusam

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 27 (Bernama) -- More than a million people, Hindus and tourists alike, thronged Lord Murugan temples in the country today in conjunction with the Thaipusam celebration.

While Hindu devotees fulfilled their vows by carrying the "kavadi" or pots of milk, the tourists were mesmerised by the unique celebration where the 'kavadi' bearers had spikes pierced onto their bodies as they fulfilled their penance for answered prayers.

The crowds were the biggest at the three major Lord Murugan temples -- the Sri Subramaniyar Swamy Temple in Batu Caves just outside Kuala Lumpur, the Sri Arulmigu Balathandayuthabani Temple or Waterfall Temple in George Town, Penang, and the Sri Subramaniyar Swamy Temple in Gunong Cheroh, Ipoh.

Thaipusam, included in the tourism calendar of Malaysia, falls on the full moon day in the Tamil month of "Thai" and is celebrated over three days.

On the first day (yesterday), a chariot bearing the idol of Lord Murugan goes on a procession through the streets, usually starting at the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, to the Lord Murugan temple. The fulfilling of vows by devotees takes place on the second day. On the third day, the chariot bearing the idol of Lord Murugan returns to the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple.

Sri Maha Mariamman is regarded by Hindus as the mother of Lord Murugan. Thaipusam is a celebration to remember the day Lord Murugan received the "vel" (sacred spear) from his mother to kill the demon Soorapadman.

Hindus and tourists were seen in large numbers at the Sri Subramaniyar Swamy Temple in Batu Caves, the devotees fulfilling their vows for answered prayers and the tourists mesmerised by the spectacle of the celebration.

Many of the devotees had gathered at the cave, located high up in the limestone hill and which can be reached by climbing 272 steps, three to four days earlier.

Some of the devotees fulfilled their vows by shaving bald, some carried 'pal kudam' or pots of milk and some, in a trance, carried colourfully decorated 'kavadi' with their bodies pierced with metal spikes.

Devotee D. Rathalakshmi fulfilled a vow by going bald as her husband had recovered from a road accident.

"After a knee surgery, my husband regained his health," said the nurse of a government hospital.

Among the tourists in Batu Caves was photographer Rhonda Walker of Abu Dhabi, who described the celebration as "so unique but yet amazing".

"This is my first time seeing this. I flew here yesterday from Abu Dhabi just to see the celebration," she said.

Another tourist, Dani Rohdes of South Africa, said Thaipusam was a unique and colourful celebration.

About 1,300 policemen and members of the People's Volunteer Corps (Rela) had their hands full ensuring order as crowds surged forward to watch the 'kavadi' processions while traffic policemen ensured smooth flow of traffic along the roads near the temple, particularly the Middle Ring Road 2 (MRR2).

Many stalls had been set up in the compound of the temple, selling all kinds of goods. Even some government agencies had set up booths to promote their services.

In IPOH, more than 20,000 Hindus thronged the Sri Subramaniyar Swamy Temple in Gunong Cheroh near Medan Istana, most of them coming as early as yesterday.

Many of the 'kavadi' bearers walked from the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in Jalan Sungai Pari through the streets of Ipoh to the temple in Gunong Cheroh.

Several of the streets had to be closed in stages to allow the 'kavadi' processions to pass.

Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir visited the temple in Gunong Cheroh to greet and chat with the devotees.

In GEORGE TOWN, more than 100,000 Hindu devotees and tourists gathered at the temples along Jalan Kebun Bunga, with the devotees fulfilling vows, some by carrying the 'kavadi', and the tourists watching the colourful celebration.

As of 1 pm, the area was packed with devotees, 'kavadi' bearers and tourists, and they proceeded to the hilltop Sri Arulmigu Balathandayuthabani Temple.

Several members of the Penang Barisan Nasional (BN) Committee called at the "Thaneer Panthal" (refreshment stalls) along Jalan Kebun Bunga and Jalan Air Terjun to chat with the operators and visitors.

Chairman Teng Chang Yeow said the committee was considering a proposal by the Hindu devotees to build an escalator to make it easier for visitors to get to the hilltop Sri Arulmigu Balathandayuthabani Temple which can be reached now by climbing 513 steps.

"We will implement the project if the people give the BN the mandate to administer the state (in the next general election). An escalator will make it easy for the elderly, children and physically challenged people to visit the temple," he told reporters.

Teng had criticism for a large billboard bearing the portrait of Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng along with Lord Murugan at the entrance of the 'kavadi' procession route.

The billboard also bore the portraits of DAP chairman Karpal Singh, Datuk Keramat state assemblyman Jagdeep Singh, Sri Delima state assemblyman R.S.N. Rayer, Bagan Dalam state assemblyman A. Thanasekaran and Prai state assemblyman P. Ramasamy.

"It is akin to promoting political parties at a religious celebration. This was not the practice of the previous BN state government," he said.

A Bernama check showed that the 'kavadi' processions were well controlled, with the police handling the flow of traffic.

A tourist from Canada, G.C. Paula, 32, did not forgo the opportunity on the last day of his visit to the state, along with five friends, to take photographs of the celebration.

"Such an amazing culture ... everyone gathering here in harmony and cheerfully despite the hot weather, and all those unique rituals," he said.

A visitor from Taiping, S. Vishnutharan, 34, said he found nothing more fulfilling than balancing a pot of milk on his head and climbing the hundreds of steps to the temple as a thanksgiving for his wife having delivered their firstborn two months ago.

"Last year, I came to this temple to pray for a child. God has answered my prayers," he said.

In SUNGAI PETANI, the Kedah branch of the People's Progressive Party (PPP) distributed 30,000 food packets over three days to the Indian community in conjunction with the Thaipusam celebration in the Kuala Muda district.



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