Upbeat atmosphere as Hindus celebrate Thaipusam despite SOPs

Several devotees performing Pal Kavadi at the Thaipusam festival held at the Sri Srinivasagar Kaliamman Temple at Ban Hock Road.

By Nur Ashikin Louis

KUCHING, Jan 18: There were no body piercings or big processions during this year’s Thaipusam celebration in Sarawak in view of the Covid-19 pandemic but Hindus in Kuching nevertheless were upbeat to have a cheerful festival nonetheless.

Thaipusam is an annual Hindu religious festival celebrated by the Tamil community to honour Lord Muruga — the Hindu god of war and a son of Shiva.

The event today saw only 16 kavadi (decorative burden) bearers taking part in a small procession at Sri Srinivasagar Kaliamman Temple at Ban Hock Road. However, no piercing activities took place.

Nonetheless, DayakDaily managed to witness the simplest form of kavadi which was the “Pal Kavadi” (milk in a pot) followed by “Vel Kavadi” which also entails a milk pot but attached onto a decorated burden which was carried on the shoulders.

A photo of a devotee undertaking Vel Kavadi prior to entering the temple at the Thaipusam festival.

If there had been piercing rituals, the Thaipusam festival today would also have a “Chariot Kavadi” which features a milk pot attached to more elaborate decorations and requiring the devotee to pull it with hooks attached to his back.

According to Hindu Temple Association Kuching president V Sahundararaju, the Thaipusam procession used to begin on the banks of the Sarawak River near the Satok Bridge and would end at Srinivasagar Kaliamman Temple where the pots of milk carried by the kavadi bearers will be used to bathe the effigy of Lord Muruga.

These days, in a show of unity between the two temples and their devotees, the procession begins at the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple at Rock Road and ends at Sri Srinivasagar Kaliamman Temple at Ban Hock Road.

However, in view of Covid-19, this year’s festival was only marked at the Sri Srinivasagar Kaliamman Temple.

Despite the restrictions, devotees were able to perform parts of the Thaipusam ritual this year compared to a total ban last year.

Sahundararaju said it initially seemed that the festival was going to be banned this year too but the government on Jan 13, 2022 announced new standard operating procedures (SOPs) which allowed “paal kudam” (milk offerings), prayer activities, and small chariot processions while the carrying of kavadis was not permitted during this year’s festival.

For the Thaipusam celebration at the Sri Srinivasagar Kaliamman Temple, only a maximum of 50 persons were allowed inside the temple at any one time while not more than 120 people were allowed around the temple’s compound.

“We concur with the SOPs because body piercings normally would involve bleeding and this is definitely a high risk for possible infectious transmission especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Additionally, they are not supposed to do that (body piercings) in the temple’s compound unless we do it someplace else outside the temple before going into the temple,” he said when met at the temple earlier today.

He also disclosed that a normal Thaipusam celebration would last about five days but due to the SOPs and pandemic, the celebration was cut short to only a day.

An elderly devotee (seated right) presenting prayers and offerings before Lord Muruga while Sahundararaju (seated left) looks on.

Technician Kumar Naniapen, 44, who came to the temple with his family in two cars expressed his joy that they were able to attend the festival this year.

“It (Thaipusam) is definitely not as lively as before (Covid-19 pandemic) but I am fine with that because we need to comply with the SOPs, and health and safety come first,” he said.

Kumar (second left) poses for a group photo with his family at the Sri Srinivasagar Kaliamman Temple at Ban Hock Road.

Hindus are a minority in Sarawak, scattered across Kuching, Sibu, Bintulu and Miri.

There are three temples in Kuching namely Sri Srinivasagar Kaliamman Temple at Ban Hock Road, Sri Maha Mariamman Temple at Rock Road and Sri Maha Mariamman Temple Matang at Mount Matang.

Miri also has a temple while Sibu is currently upgrading and reconstructing a new temple. Bintulu had just acquired land for the construction of a temple.

Malaysia Hindu Sangam (MHS) of Sarawak Branch is the main coordinating body for Hindus and temples in the State especially in bringing up concerns or issues revolving around the Hindus to the Unit for Other Religions (Unifor) under the Sarawak Chief Minister’s Department. — DayakDaily