New Golden Chariot at Thaipusam 2017
The huge numbers of Hindu devotees attending the annual Penang Thaipusam festival increased dramatically in 2017. 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 Thaipusam 2017
For the last 123 years there has only been one Penang Thaipusam chariot. Historically, the silver chariot would bring Lord Murugan from Kovil Veedu on Lebuh Penang to the Nattukottai Chettiar Temple on Jalan Kabun Bunga. The introduction of the new golden chariot is controversial due to the traditional use of only one silver chariot.
Although the silver chariot has been exclusively used for over a century, 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 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. The chariots left at staggered times early in the morning on February 8, 2017 and 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” 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? I am not sure what time zone their reporters are in, however my clock is set to 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 it’s destination and moving very, very slowly……
The golden chariot was running very late, nonetheless I was determined to wait for it outside the Hotel Waterfall on the corner. This was a very festive location and there were several huge piles of coconuts to indulge in when the chariot arrived. When the chariot finally arrived I was relieved that my fortitude had paid off.
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 2017
Certainly, the Penang Thaipusam golden chariot was significantly slowed down because of all of the coconuts being broken.
However, 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 They devoutly said their prayers in front of the approaching golden chariot.
However, their peaceful nature would soon change as the chariot drifted closer. Chaos broke out when the coconut smashing began and nobody was spared! Therefore, everyone in the vicinity was splashed with coconut pieces and water from the flying coconuts.
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.
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