ANNUAL CELEBRATION: Fire-walking ritual kicks off grand week-long event
BUTTERWORTH: MORE than 50,000 Hindu devotees, people of other faiths and foreign tourists, including from Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India, thronged the Arulmigu Sree Maha Mariamman Devasthanam Temple for the annual week-long festival here recently.
The festival started with a fire-walking ritual in Jalan Mengkuang in which more than 2,000 devotees walked across a seven-metre-long by two-metre-wide poo-kuli (fire pit). Others walked around the pit.
The tradition of fire-walking (in Butterworth, it was always on a Monday) has been in practice for more than a century.
The following day, more than 3,000 devotees fulfilled their vows by carrying decorated kavadi, paal kudams (milk pots) and agini satee (pots of fire).
Devotees also performed angga paravasam (rolling on the floor) and shaved their heads.
Temple chairman, S. Partiban, said the festival actually started 10 days before the fire-walking ritual with the koodi yaettram (flag-raising ceremony) to signify the start of the festival.
"Hindus celebrating the festival will adhere to a strict vegetarian diet for at least 20 days," he said.
"The celebration, dubbed the mini-Thaipusam of Penang, was the longest and second-largest Hindu festival in the state."
Partiban said the festival has been celebrated at the same place for more than 140 years.
He said in conjunction with the festival, a four-day cultural drama and stage show was held at the Dewan Sree Mariamman in Jalan Menkuang.
Sungai Puyu assemblyman and State Health, Welfare and Caring Society Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh, a devotee and an arden supporter of the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple for more than 30 years, provided free light refreshment to devotees. His father, the late Phee Joo Teik, who was also an elected assemblyman, was also a devotee and a strong supporter of the temple for many years.
The silver chariot bearing the deity of Arulmigu Sree Maha Mariamman was taken on a 20km procession in the north of the town on the third day. On the fifth day, the procession went round the south of the town, covering more than 30km.
Thousands of devotees, with trays of offerings filled with fruits, flowers, incense sticks, burning camphor and perfumed joss sticks, lined the streets to offer prayers and receive blessings as the chariot passed through the town on both days.
Devotees, well-wishers, businessmen and women, especially the Chinese community in Jalan Raja Uda, broke thousands of coconuts on the streets as a symbol of cleansing to pave the way for the chariot to pass.
Vegetarian food for breakfast, lunch and dinner were served at the temple and at the many thanneer panthals (refreshment sheds) around the town throughout the week.
The festival ended with the goddess being carried by devotees on a specially decorated dais to the Sree Sithi Vinayagar Temple about a kilometre away in Jalan Bagan Luar before heading back to the Arulmigu Sree Maha Mariamman Devasthanam Temple.