The annual Penang Thaipusam festival is always a huge event that attracts huge crowds. However, the huge numbers of Hindu devotees attending the 2017 Penang Thaipusam festival increased dramatically over the previous year. This is because of the introduction of the golden chariot by the Penang Hindu Endowment Board.
Due to the introduction of the new golden chariot, the number of devotees attending the festival ballooned to well over one million as compared to the usual 700,000. The use of both the silver and golden chariots occurred again in 2018 and it will likely continue indefinitely.
Historical Controversy at Penang Thaipusam Festival
For the last 123 years there has only been one chariot at the festival. Historically, the silver chariot would bring Lord Murugan from Kovil Veedu on Lebuh Penang to the Nattukottai Chettiar Temple on Jalan Kabun Bunga. Therefore, the introduction of the new golden chariot is controversial.
Indeed, the silver chariot had been used exclusively at the Penang Thaipusam festival for over a century. However, some Hindus may have felt excluded because they were not members of the Chettiar caste. The surge in crowd numbers indicates that the introduction of the golden chariot certainly encouraged more Hindu devotees to attend.
The new golden chariot carried Lord Murugan’s “Vel” from the Sri Mariamman Temple on Lebuh Queen to the Arulmigu Sri Ganesha Temple on Jalan Kabun Bunga. Early in the morning the two chariots departed the temples at staggered times. Theoretically, they were expected to arrive late in the evening on the same day. Easier said then done!
Logistics Issues of Two Thaipusam Chariots
The local newspaper that I read in Penang called “The Sun Daily” announced in the February 9, 2017 publication that the golden chariot had reached it’s destination at 10PM in the evening of February 8, 2017.
Huh? The reporters for the Sun Daily must be in a different time zone. However, my clock is set to local Penang time. Therefore, I must clarify that at 2AM February 9, 2017, the Penang Thaipusam golden chariot was outside the Hotel Waterfall on the corner of Jalan Utama and Jalan Gottllieb. At that point it was still at least 300 meters from its destination and moving very, very slowly……
Indeed, the golden chariot was running very late. Nonetheless, I was determined to wait for the arrival of the new golden chariot. This was a very festive location and there were several huge piles of coconuts to indulge in when the chariot arrived.
Why do Hindus Break Coconuts at Thaipusam?
- The coconut symbolizes the head of man.
- The outer husk symbolizes ego.
- Karma is symbolized by the inner fibrous matter.
- Materialism and its illusive nature are symbolized by the shell.
- White fruit inside symbolizes the universal soul or God.
- The coconut water inside symbolizes the heavenly bliss realized by union with God.
“Going Coconuts” Penang Thaipusam Festival
The golden chariot was significantly slowed down by the broken coconuts in its path. Indeed, smashing the coconuts has huge metaphorical significance in Hinduism. Therefore, devotees break the coconut in the path of the chariot. In so doing, they pray Lord Murugan will shatter their ego, thereby granting them the strength to obtain self realization.
The devotees were very peaceful and humble as the chariot began to approach. Additionally, they devoutly said their prayers in front of the approaching golden chariot.
However, their peaceful nature would soon change as the chariot drifted closer. Indeed, the golden chariot arrived and chaos broke out. As a result, coconut pieces and water from the flying coconuts covered everyone within a 20 foot radius. Unfortunately, the debris left behind from the thousands of smashed coconuts posed a significant obstacle for the chariot.
Therefore, there was a special crew that operated ahead of the Penang Thaipusam golden chariot to keep the road clear. It was a slow process but effective nonetheless.
I suspect that the new golden chariot made it safe and sound to the Arulmigu Sri Ganesha Temple on Jalan Kabun Bunga. However, by then I had taken in enough action for one night and headed home.