KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 27 — It was a joyful and vibrant Thaipusam celebration this year as over a million devotees, tourists and visitors thronged Batu Caves.
Hindus offered prayers and fulfilled their vows while many others came to enjoy the atmosphere over past two days including witnessing the chariot procession or better known as the Kavadi Aattam (Burden Dance).
Roads were closed to make way for the Kavadi Aattam, while the vicinity of Batu Caves was lined with hundreds of booths made up of food vendors, temple associations as well as corporate and government entities.
Amidst the lively celebrations, a group of local volunteers by the name of Clean Thaipusam did their best to help keep a clean festive environment. cleaning up the area in sessions ,as well as placing waste boxes and raising awareness among the public.
Clean Thaipusam volunteers went around Batu Caves area reminding the public to keep it clean. — Picture by Arif Zikri
From clean up to raising awareness
The Clean Thaipusam started off with a group of 20 volunteers in 2019 with a simple objective in mind - to clean up the temple following the Thaipusam celebrations.
Founded by local filmmaker JK Wicky, the group grew over the years and this year, Clean Thaipusam has become a movement powered by almost 500 volunteers offering a helping hand in cleaning up main temples across Malaysia during Thaipusam.
This year, Clean Thaipusam volunteers were in action during the celebration in multiple states including Penang, Perak and Negeri Sembilan as well as in Batu Caves, Selangor.
Co-founder T. Sathiyavarmaan who led the Selangor clean-up team, told Malay Mail that there has been a significant improvement in terms of overall awareness among the public in keeping temple grounds clean this year.
The Clean Thaipusam group also provided waste boxes around the Batu Caves area to reduce litter. — Picture by Arif Zikri
Their job was also made easier by collaborating with the Selayang municipal council through departments responsible, leading to better waste management including providing waste boxes to vendors.
Sathiyavarmaan said that around 400 waste boxes were also placed around the area and extra boxes were available at hotspots with a lot of foot traffic.
“We really have to thank the temple management and the Thaipusam Task Force (a coalition of NGOs and temples associations) who played a crucial role in getting all parties together.
“The improvement that we can see began with the vendors. They are more conscious in keeping their space clean and second is amongst those who’re giving away free food and drinks, most of them are using paper packaging this year instead of plastics.
“In terms of awareness, we are seeing a lot of devotees, picking up their praying items and disposing it themselves especially after prayers, and that’s really a good thing.”
Apart from physical clean-up efforts and placing waste boxes, Clean Thaipusam volunteers paraded around the temple holding banners and placards reminding the public of the shared responsibility to keep the place clean.
Sathiyavarmaan said that hours spent on cleaning were reduced compared to previous years and efforts raising awareness this year were shared widely on their social media.
Volunteers of Clean Thaipusam in action. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
The volunteers of Clean Thaipusam were equipped with brooms, rakes, dustpans, plastic bags, gloves and sanitisers.
Divided into groups, they began cleaning up in specific areas based on sessions of their choice.
The riverbank across Batu Caves, which is one of the places devotees would go for their prayers, was also one of the areas that the Clean Thaipusam team focused on.
Volunteer Sushmitaa Dhevii Manoharan, 25, from Cheras and her mother joined the morning clean-up team by the riverbank on Friday and spent around two hours cleaning up the area.
“The riverside is one of the hotspots, when we arrived there, we could see a lot of plastic bottles, milk bottles, containers and leftover fruits.
“Seeing all the rubbish lying around, at first I thought to myself ‘how are we going to clean all this up’ but everything went smoothly as we came in a group and teamwork helped us in completing the job more efficiently.”
She said that they separated leftover fruits to their fruit bank that were sent to another volunteer in Rawang to feed wild monkeys and other animals.
This is her second time joining the initiative while it was the third time for her mother.
Sushmitaa Dhevii Monharan and her mother after their morning clean-up session at the riverbank across Batu Caves.— Picture by Arif Zikri
Muthu, 34, who began volunteering with Clean Thaipusam in 2019, said that he felt saddened to see the state of the temple whenever there was a celebration, which compelled him to volunteer.
He believes that keeping a clean environment is a public responsibility and was awed by the outcome this year as awareness had greatly improved.
“Although we could still see litter, the quantity has reduced greatly compared to previous years.
“And seeing people from all races joining in the efforts is just great. We also received a lot of thumbs up from the public and devotees.
“We are not planning to do this every year but instead we want to create an awareness among the public so that in the coming years, the habit of having a clean and trash-free celebration will come naturally for all.”
He said volunteering his time and efforts to keep the temple area clean is also his own way of expressing his devotion.