BY GOH KOK GUAN
GEORGE TOWN: Apart from the large, colourful structures carried by the kavadi bearers during the Thaipusam festival, another significant characteristic about these worshippers was the piercings around their body, most notably using skewers or vel spears, symbolising the burdens they carried.
However, 2021 is an unprecedented year in which the Thaipusam celebration in Penang has been cancelled and devotees are not allowed to visit the temples to do their prayers due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Both the state and the federal governments have urged all devotees to strictly follow the standard operating procedures (SOP) to curb the spread of Covid-19 and urged them to do their prayers at home.
This has put the kavadi bearer R. Karunaji in an unusual spot, as he had been preparing to purge himself mentally and physically for almost three months solely for this annual tradition.
“For the past 55 years of celebrating Thaipusam as a kavadi bearer, this is the first time I prayed at home, and without carrying my kavadi or wearing any piercings,” he told Bernama when met at his home at Lorong Macalister here.
But despite all odds, Karunaji said what matters most is that the devotees are committed to fulfilling their vows to the Hindu god of war, Lord Murugan.
“We would still commit to our devotion to our Lord Murugan and to be cleansed from our sins, but at the same time, we would also want to follow the guidelines set by the government to ensure our health and safety,” he said.
Karunaji, who is also a kavadi maker, said that he used to make his vows at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple at Queen Street and walked about 10km uphill to the Penang Hilltop Temple while carrying his self-made kavadi.
He also said that after fulfilling his vow, he usually would serve free meals to the needy.
“We used to serve up to 5,000 people with free meals, but we can’t do that much this year because of the movement control order (MCO) and the pandemic.
“This year, we prepared the free meals two to three days before Thaipusam and distributed them to the people on the street,” he said while expressing hope that the pandemic could end soon so that he could relive the tradition of carrying his kavadi to temple during Thaipusam. – Bernama