Devotees waiting with offerings as the Silver Chariot carrying the statue of Lord Muruga passes by during a procession in conjunction with Thaipusam in George Town yesterday. Pic by Danial Saad

GEORGE TOWN: This year, the grand Silver Chariot used in the Thaipusam celebration here is 120 years old.

More often than not, the chariot has been the focus of photographers and tourists, who stare at the shiny, polished structure in awe.

But many forget about the statue that sits in the chariot. The idol is older at 160 years old. It is the pride of the Nattukottai Chettiars, who own the chariot, the statue and a special temple house called the Kovil Veedu at Penang Street here.

Its managing trustee, Dr A. Narayanan, said the idol was made in Chettinad, India, in 1854, two years before the Kovil Veedu was built.

“The idol, which weighs 4kg, is made of five precious metals — gold, copper, silver, tin and brass — and is studded with diamonds and gems.

“Lord Muruga is depicted standing on a golden peacock, his favourite animal, and beside him is a small gold statue of Lord Ganesha, his brother.”

Narayanan said it took nearly four months for artisans in Chettinad to make the idol, using materials sourced from India.

“This is now a rare idol, which we have to preserve because there are not many artisans in India with the skills to make it any more.”

He said the Kovil Veedu, which was opened in 1856 by the Chettiar community, who were mostly Muruga devotees, was a community temple.

He said during the early years of the temple, the chariot was made of seasoned Burmese teak wood carved with intricate designs.

“It is usually favourable to carry the idol on a silver or gold chariot. So, whenever a temple can afford it, they usually upgrade the chariot.

“Thanks to the forefathers’ donations, we were able to commission a silver chariot in 1894 from Karaikudi in Chettinad.”

The silver chariot was about 7.3m high, 3.4m long, 2.4m wide and weighed about seven tonnes.

“The top is made of silver and the base is Burmese teak. In fact, the base is part of the first chariot in 1856.”

He said the chariot had undergone repairs after devotees threw coins and salt at it, as well as the wear and tear from the polishing every year.

“The only major refurbishment was in 2004, which included changing the wooden wheels to metal with bearings so that it was easier for the bulls to pull it without strain.”

He said the temple authorities were planning to replace the old Burmese teak wood of the chariot.

“That part of the chariot is really old and no refurbishment has been done. So, obviously, there are parts that have been chipped or are no longer as stable as they used to be.

“After this Thaipusam, we plan to bring four artisans from Chettinad to make a new base for the chariot,” he said, adding that the temple would had to look for good seasoned Burmese teak, as well as obtaining work permits for the four artisans.

Commenting on Thaipusam, Narayanan said there was a common misconception about the Vel (spear) used by Lord Muruga.

“There is a general misconception about the vel. While it was used to defeat the evil demon Soorapadman, it is, in fact, a representation of knowledge that is sharp, deep and wide,” he said.

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