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GEORGE TOWN, Jan 8 — The annual Thaipusam celebration in Penang has been cancelled for the first time in over a century with devotees told to stay home.
Deputy Chief Minister II P. Ramasamy said there will not be any chariot procession, breaking of coconuts, panthal stalls, distribution of free food, kavadi bearers and paal kudam (milk pot kavadi).
“Devotees are not allowed to go to the temples during Thaipusam from January 27 to 29, they must stay home and conduct prayers at home,” he said.
He said this decision was made jointly with the Penang Hindu Endowment Board, Unity Department, Health Department, Penang Security Council and police to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“We have been told that the situation is very serious so we must control it from spreading. We do not want a Thaipusam cluster,” he said.
He said the month of Thaipusam, according to the Tamil calendar, starts on January 14 and some paal kudam would start then but they will not be allowed to do so this year.
“They will not be allowed at all; there will not be any public procession or kavadi bearers throughout the Thaipusam month,” he said.
The mass head shaving ceremony during Thaipusam will also be cancelled.
In short, he said the celebration this year can only be conducted at the devotees’ respective homes.
“Only the temple committees of Nattukottai Chettiar Temple and Waterfall Hill Temple will be allowed to conduct the Thaipusam prayer ceremony at the temples. The public will not be allowed to go to the temples during the three-day celebration,” he said.
He said the temple committees will find ways to broadcast the prayer ceremonies online.
Traditionally, Thaipusam in Penang is celebrated on a large scale with two chariots, a silver one and a gold one, making their way through the streets of George Town to the Waterfall Hill Temple in a slow procession while devotees make offerings and break coconuts along their paths.
Kavadi bearers and paal kudam also make their way to the temple then while free vegetarian food are distributed and mass head shaving ceremonies held within temple grounds.
This year, the chariots would have started its procession on January 27 for the actual Thaipusam day on January 28, making its way back on January 29 while panthal stalls line the streets near the Waterfall Hill Temple over the course of the three days.
Ramasamy said the decision to cancel the festivities was to ensure devotees do not crowd the temples.
“We do not want people to come out and crowd the temples so it is better that we do not allow them to go to the temple at all during the three day celebrations,” he said.
He said devotees can still conduct prayers at the temples between January 14 and 26 but they will be subjected to compliance with Covid-19 SOPs.
He advised devotees not to rush and crowd the temples during this period.
“We must all cooperate to stop the spread of Covid-19, so avoid crowding the temples at any time,” he said.
Ramasamy said the National Security Council (NSC) only allows 24 Hindu temples nationwide to conduct Thaipusam prayers and ceremonies.
“Only two temples each state are allowed and one temple each in Perlis, Kelantan, Malacca and Terengganu,” he said.