Quiet signs of faith endure even as Batu Caves falls silent this Thaipusam

Keertan Ayamany
·3-min read
Police personnel stand guard in front of Batu Caves during Thaipusam January 28, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Police personnel stand guard in front of Batu Caves during Thaipusam January 28, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 28 — Normally a day of fanfare, colours and passionate displays of worship, Thaipusam has taken an almost silent turn this year at the Batu Caves temple complex, after the government called off public celebrations in states currently under the movement control order (MCO).

Checks by Malay Mail at 7.30am found roads leading to the complex were cordoned off, and a significant police presence at its entrance. Roads to the nearby KTM station, however, remained open.

For the most part, only police and media personnel were seen milling about the complex’s gates.

Police seal roads leading to Batu Caves during Thaipusam amid the movement control order January 28, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Police seal roads leading to Batu Caves during Thaipusam amid the movement control order January 28, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara

A number of vehicles were sighted parked within the premises, which, according to police personnel, belonged to either them or the few civilians who were allowed to be in the temple — such as temple staff and committee members.

Upon Malay Mail’s arrival, the only sound signifying the day auspicious to Hindus was the faraway ringing of a prayer bell, emanating from a shop house nearby.

Only later in the morning, at about 9.15am, did the temple’s speakers play music praising the deity celebrated for the day — Lord Muruga.

Motorcyclists stop for a quick prayer by the side of a flyover overlooking Batu Caves during Thaipusam January 28, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Motorcyclists stop for a quick prayer by the side of a flyover overlooking Batu Caves during Thaipusam January 28, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara

On an overhead bridge overlooking the temple, a few people could be seen stopping their vehicles, either to raise their hands in prayer or to take pictures with their smartphones.

The police, however, were quick to chase these dawdlers away with a shout or a blast of their sirens.

Aside from dealing with these rare instances, police officers seemed quite relaxed throughout Malay Mail’s visit. A senior police officer said that the public had been cooperative with no serious problems encountered.

Hindu devotees perform prayers at the banks of the Batu River during Thaipusam amid the movement control order January 28, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Hindu devotees perform prayers at the banks of the Batu River during Thaipusam amid the movement control order January 28, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

The banks of the Batu River — a site usually filled with devotees coming to bathe after shaving their heads as part of their devotional activities — were nearly devoid of people, except for a few who stopped by to release offerings of flowers or betel leaves into the river's waters.

Nearby, a family could be seen making flower garlands in front of their home.

The head of the family, Vijanthiran Shanmugam, said he was forced to close his shop in the Batu Caves temple complex, but was allowed to make the flower garlands to fulfill the temple's needs for the day.

Shanmugam prepares a flower garland near Batu Caves during Thaipusam January 28, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Shanmugam prepares a flower garland near Batu Caves during Thaipusam January 28, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara

“Our business has been badly affected. Thaipusam usually brings us our biggest sales, and with the MCO, we are very worried for our future, but what to do?” he said, as his children, Thines and Kalieswari, played nearby.

Another shopkeeper who only wished to be known as Mugan said his shop — which carries his name — is largely dependent on the sales of kavadi — a decorative structure usually carried by devotees during the festival.

Kavadi sales during this month usually bring in at least RM20,000. This can cover our cost for about six months.

“Most sales are normally during weekends and public holidays when there are tourists, or Thaipusam. The rest of the year, our sales are very slow.

“(Due to lost sales) my mental health has been very affected, and I’m almost in a blur,” he said when contacted.

A Hindu devotee prays at the entrance of the Sri Subramanian Swamy Temple at Batu Caves during Thaipusam January 28, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
A Hindu devotee prays at the entrance of the Sri Subramanian Swamy Temple at Batu Caves during Thaipusam January 28, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

Mugan said that despite the difficulties faced, he understood that the restrictions on festivities and businesses were necessary, and he is trying to cover costs through online sales.

The MCO was reintroduced on January 13 in most of Malaysia’s states as a response to an increase in Covid-19 cases nationwide. This placed severe restrictions on public movement, businesses and religious activity.

The government order is currently set to end on February 4.

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