Penang Taipusam – The golden chariot fiasco

 |Jan 18, 2017
DAP's golden chariot will make its debut this Taipusam that falls on Thursday Feb 9, 2017.
DAP’s golden chariot will make its debut this Taipusam that falls on Thursday Feb 9, 2017.

Now the DAP-controlled Penang government plans to have a golden chariot procession for the four-day Taipusam festival this year.

The public holiday for Taipusam falls on Feb 9, 2017.

The DAP government has even declared that the golden chariot would be the official chariot of Taipusam this year.

The DAP government plans to launch this golden chariot, that would ferry Lord Muruga Perumaan’s spear ‘Vel’, through the Penang Hindu Endowments Board (PHEB).

Isn’t it ridiculous?

There is the 123th chapter of silver chariot procession deeply embedded with the Penang Taipusam that had its humble beginnings in 1790s.

Prior to that, there was a wooden chariot procession, also organised by the Chettiars between 1858 and 1893 for 35 years.

Suddenly PHEB has decided that the DAP’s inaugural golden chariot would be the official chariot of this grand old festival.

Something fishy!!!

Penang Hindus are now either taking sides – golden or silver chariots, in confused state or couldn’t careless on the goings-on.

Currently DAP government leads in media war, thanks to its endless propaganda based on caste politics, half-truths and half-lies.

Media groups, journalists, NGOs and social activists opposed to the unwarranted golden chariot are being condemned instantly and regularly by DAP cyber-mongers as “traitors bribed by Chettiars.”

Certain characters in the DAP camp have been identified of being behind this unsavoury cyber attacks on golden chariot critics.

A social activist P. Rajendran was even abducted and assaulted for four hours by a group of men early last week just because he opposed the golden chariot.

Battle of chariots ... golden chariot vs silver chariot fiasco will surely mire this year's Taipusam in George Town, Penang.
Battle of chariots … golden chariot vs silver chariot fiasco will surely mire this year’s Taipusam in George Town, Penang.

PHEB is actually a statutory body created by the British to safe-keep and manage properties, only properties, belonging to Hindus.

The Hindu Endowments Ordinance 1906 is the governing law of PHEB.

It’s a federal statute.

Lawmakers who drafted, amended and passed the ordinance and the federal constitution had clearly spelled out that the religious activities were not the government and PHEB business, neither that of its instruments.

Article 11 of the Federal Constitution has expressly stated this point.

But the official website of PHEB, a state government body, states that the board was the organiser of Penang Taipusam.

This statement is subject to legal interpretation.

Perhaps someone has to take PHEB and Penang government to court to stop their hegemony which had surely overstepped legal boundary.

Not only the proposed golden chariot procession to be organised by PHEB via its committees would be in violation of its own ordinance and the federal constitution.

The single public address (PA) system installed by PHEB, along the Taipusam route of Jalan Utama between Brown Road and Gottlieb Road, is also legally questionable.

The system is also abused and misused by politicians to politicise Taipusam with their unwarranted political speeches and walkabouts.

Malaysia Federal Constitution Article 11

This was started in 1995 when a lawyer, said to be of a Sri Lanka descent was then the Waterfall hilltop temple, Balathandayuthabani Koyil chairman.

This lawyer later also served as the board commissioner.

It’s mind-boggling to learn that this English-speaking lawyer, who can hardly put two decent Tamil words together in his oral communication, had headed a temple dedicated to Muruga Perumaan, a much revered Hindu God by the predominantly Tamil-speaking Indian population in Penang.

During his time as temple head, this lawyer was accused of manipulating his chairmanship to encourage PHEB to interfere into Hindu religious affairs.

He was the man who chased out many tanneer panthals (refreshment sheds) from the hilltop temple compound.

Prior to his hasty and harsh decision, many NGOs and charitable organisations had put panthals for years in the compound.

He was the man who first started to use the police to interfere and interrupt panthal operations, especially after introducing the single PA system.

Since the introduction of the single PA system, the stretch between Brown Road and Gottlieb Road has now sunk into a “funeral-like” atmosphere.

It has also caused massive human congestion along preceding Jalan Utama stretch between the Macalister Road – Brown Road, where panthals play their own music.

Panthals at Penang Taipusam.
Panthals at Penang Taipusam.

That lawyer used to justify his single PA system by claiming the hilltop temple had received hundreds of letters from Penangites complaining about the music played during Taipusam.

But he had never revealed any of these letters to the media or public.

The letters were most probably written by temple staff, board members or friends to the temple committee, according to those familiar of the hilltop temple operations then.

The distasteful legacy left behind by this lawyer was continued by the subsequent temple leaderships, and the hegemony now been tightened further by the current DAP government, accused by some, “for its own selfish political benefits.”

Back in mid-1990s, critics have warned that the single PA system would be the start of PHEB interference and encroachment into the religious affairs of Hindus.

But these critics were ridiculed then.

Devotees taking paal kudams (milk pots) and paal kavadis (milk kavadi) to fulfill their vows during Penang Taipusam in George Town.
Devotees taking paal kudams (milk pots) and paal kavadis (milk kavadi) to fulfill their vows during Penang Taipusam in George Town.

Now the proposed golden chariot, and propaganda to justify it, has taken this dangerous trend of state interference into Hindu religious activities to higher level.

Indeed PHEB has no right even to ask fees of RM180 from panthal operators, as permit, cleaning and administrative charges.

Panthals are operated independently and through own financing by NGOs, workers of various government departments and agencies, hotels, factories, even individuals and group of friends to provide free food and drinks to devotees and tourists for the four-day festival.

Why then the PHEB, which has done nothing beneficial for panthal operators, collecting money from these panthals via its-appointed hilltop temple management committee?

Since PHEB is a state body. the state government is indirectly charging panthal operators for merely putting up voluntary and non-profitable sheds to serve free food and drinks for a day or two.

After panthals are not occuppying PHEB land, so why panthals are being charged ‘quit rent’?

Wonder what happens to all the panthal collections?

Kavadis, music and dancing are colourful features of Penang Taipusam that promoted it to an international spectacle.
Kavadis, music and dancing are colourful features of Penang Taipusam that promoted it to an international spectacle.

 

The panthals have their financial capacities to put up their own PA systems.

Why PHEB then needs to spend thousands of ringgit to install this unwarranted and wasteful single PA system, which has actually given the festival a drab and dour “graveyard-like” atmosphere?

Instead PHEB should use the money to purchase land to build Tamil schools, community halls and affordable homes for Penang Hindus.

But the DAP government through PHEB, which is already rich with land and property bank estimated to be worth over RM500 million ringgit now, seems not keen to provide these benefits for Hindus.

It seems more interested in embarking on a ‘divide and rule’ policy with a grand golden chariot agenda.

Wonder whether atheists, non-believers were also involved to promote this agenda?

Related links:
DAP’s shameful, appalling Taipusam golden chariot monetary agenda
DAP’s golden chariot critic assaulted by thugs in Penang
Ignominious battle of Taipusam chariots – DAP government’s golden move to split Penang Hindus
Police told to check on legality of the DAP government’s Taipusam golden chariot
Penang Taipusam – A reflection on its history
Penang Taipusam – The Chettiars’ role

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Athi Shankar has been a journalist for past 30 years. He believes that democratic rights come with responsibility.