Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Sarawak’s tiny Indian community glad to celebrate Thaipusam once more

While Indians make up less than 2% of the population in the state, those who observe Thaipusam are grateful for the chance to celebrate even on a smaller scale than usual.

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While Hindus in many parts of the country observed the festival of Thaipusam under strict Covid-19 SOPs yesterday, celebrations were especially muted in Sarawak where the Indian community comprises less than 2% of the population.

Prior to Covid-19, celebrations would largely mirror those in the peninsula albeit on a smaller scale.

Devotees would carry ceremonial milk pots while others pierced themselves with metal spears and hooks before walking the 3km distance from the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple to Srinivasagar Kaliamman Temple in Kuching.

Since the pandemic began two years ago, though, festivities have been even more muted. While authorities gave the green light this year for the holding of ritual prayers on Thaipusam morning, many devotees said the atmosphere remained lacking.

A young girl holds her grandmother’s hand as they arrive at the temple on Thaipusam morning.

“The only part that makes us eager to celebrate Thaipusam is the procession,” 41-year-old Gangespare Subramaniam told MalaysiaNow.

“The celebration this year is very simple as the temples are not allowed to organise chariot processions.”

Nevertheless, they are glad to have the opportunity even for this as celebrations were completely prohibited last year.

Sarawak is the only state in Malaysia where Thaipusam and Deepavali are not declared public holidays.

There are about 4,000 Indians in the state, mostly from the Tamil community. While Sarawak is the largest state in the country, it has only five Hindu temples: three in Kuching and one each in Miri and Sibu.

Devotees balance pots of milk on their head as they participate in religious activities at a temple in Kuching.

Srinivasagar Kaliamman Temple president V Sahundararaju said most of Sarawak’s Indian community reside in Kuching.

“There are some in Sibu, but it is very rare to find Indian people in other parts of the state,” he said.

Gangespare meanwhile said it was more difficult to observe Thaipusam in Sarawak as devotees would have to plan ahead and apply for leave from work.

“Children have to skip their lessons in school,” he added. “Sarawak should at least declare Deepavali a public holiday to reflect the true Sarawakian spirit.”

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