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Thousands attend annual festival


FULFILLING OF VOWS: Devotees throng temple at seven-day ceremony for blessings from revered Goddess

BUTTERWORTH: ABOUT 100,000 strong crowd -- largely made up of Hindu devotees, while people of other faiths included locals and tourists from  Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Nepal and India -- thronged the Arulmigu Sree Maha Mariamman Devasthanam temple for the annual seven-day fire-walking festival here recently.

The festival started with a fire-walking ritual at Jalan Mengkuang, where some 3,000 devotees walked over a 7m long and 2m wide poo-kuli (fire pit).

This fire-walking tradition in Butterworth has been practiced for over a century and always held on a Monday.

On Tuesday, more than 5,000 devotees, including the local Chinese and foreigners, fulfilled their vows by carrying decorated kavadis, paal kudams'(milk pots), agni satee (pot of burning fire), shaving their heads bald, performing the angga paravesam (rolling on the floor), carrying the maa vilakku (lighted lamp made of flour) and performing the madi pitchai (fulfilling vows by asking for alms).

Temple chairman Parthiban Sanderasaggaran said 10 days prior to the fire-walking ritual, the kodi yaettram (flag-raising ceremony) signified the start of the festival.

"Hindus celebrating the festival will adhere to a strict vegetarian diet for at least 21 days.

"The celebration is the longest and second largest Hindu event in the state," he said.

Parthiban said the festival has been celebrated at the same place for more than 140 years.

He said that to mark the festival, a four-day cultural drama and stage show was held at the Dewan Sree Mariamman in Jalan Mengkuang.

The temple management, with the cooperation and sponsorship from Maxis, also distributed hampers and RM100 cash to 69 students, who had excelled at the PMR, SPM and STPM examinations on the second day of the festival.

Present at the ceremony were state deputy Chief Minister II cum Penang Hindu Endowment Board chairman Professor Dr P. Ramasamy, Bagan Dalam assemblyman A. Thanasekaran, Bagan Jermal assemblyman Lim Hock Seng and representatives from Maxis.

On the third day, the silver chariot bearing the statue of the deity Arulmigu Sree Maha Mariamman was taken on a 20km procession around the northern part of the town.

Then on the fifth day, the procession went around the southern part of the town, covering some 30km.

Thousands of devotees made offerings consisting fruits, flowers, incense sticks, burned camphor and perfumed joss-sticks when lining the streets to offer prayers and receive blessings from the seaside Amman (as she is fondly referred to), as the chariot passed through the town on both days.

Devotees, well-wishers, businessmen and women, especially from 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 was served for breakfast, lunch and dinner at the temple and at the many thanneer panthals (refreshments centres) around 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 at Jalan Bagan Luar before heading back to the Arulmigu Sree Maha Mariamman Devasthanam temple.

The fire-walking pitch being prepared by burning mangrove logs. Pics by K. Kandiah

Devotees dressed in saffron clothing waiting to participate in the fire-walking ritual at the Jalan Mengkuang pitch in Butterworth.

Devotees with small milk pots pinned to their bodies pulling the ‘ratham’ (chariot) to fulfil their vow.

The Penang Port Indian Cultural Society’s ‘Thaneer Panthal’ (refreshment centre) served vegetarian food to devotees and the public during the festival.

Volunteers begin preparations for the fire-walking ceremony.

A child’s head shaved bald to fulfil a vow

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