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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dirt and noise mar Thaipusam


This year’s festival saw a crowd, but the lack of public facilities made it less than perfect.
BATU CAVES: Observers agree that the crowd at last weekend’s Thaipusam celebration in Batu Caves was the largest in recent memory. Officials of the Sri Subramaniar temple estimate that more than 1.6 million pilgrims and tourists were at the holy site during the climax of the annual festival on Sunday.
Observers also noticed that this year the number of non-Hindu Malaysians in the crowd, especially those not accompanied by Hindu friends, was bigger than in previous years.
Perhaps the most plausible explanation for both the record attendance and the high proportion of non-Hindus is that it was a three-day weekend for Malaysians, Monday being a national holiday.
Officials said they were gratified that no major untoward incident happened despite the difficulties involved in managing such a large gathering of people.
However, the authorities failed in a few aspects of crowd control, most obviously in the management of rubbish and the provision of toilet facilities.
Rubbish bins and trash cans were nowhere to be seen, and the enormous amount of garbage that littered the area during the festival should jolt the temple management into considering a budget for janitorial services for future celebrations.
When it came to public toilets, not only were there too few of them, but they were also hard to locate. There was not a single sign pointing directions to them.
Several pilgrims complained about the level of noise, especially the sounds coming from the carnival areas and concert stage.
One devotee complained that even the devotional songs broadcast by the temple management was too loud.
K Ashok, a 37-year-old pilgrim from Kedah, said the public address system was turned on so loud that it frustrated his attempts to locate his missing family by mobile phone.
“I’m not objecting to the management playing the devotional songs but I think they should reduce the volume, maybe at the medium level,” he said.
“I was separated from my family was trying to call one of them, but I couldn’t hear anything.
“I went to the stalls where they sold food and souvenirs, but one of the stalls was playing CDs and the stereo was turned on full blast.”
Stop unnecessary entertainment
Ashok suggested that the temple management ban “unnecessary entertainment” at future Thaipusam celebrations.
“I think the time has come for the temple management to stop unnecessary entertainment like the free concerts and fun fair,” he said.
“We come for prayers, not for entertainment.”
Another pilgrim, M Kauri of Kajang, also complained about the noise. She was particularly irritated by the blowing of air horns, which were sold this year at several stalls.
“We already have the Urumi Melam beats and the songs from PA system and shops selling things,” she said. “All of these make for a very noisy environment.
“Now we have the air horn as well. I don’t understand why people would blow those horns during the festival. This is not a football stadium.”
A Murugan of Seremban said he did not mind the noise, but was concerned about the congestion at the entrance to the temple complex.
He said the temple management should ensure that no stall is allowed anywhere near the entrance and along the route to the temple steps.
“Every year the crowd is increasing, but the width of the path remains same,” he said.
“The only way to minimise the congestion is to do away with the temporary stalls and booths on both sides of the road.
“The temple management must emphasise the comfort, safety and security of the devotees.
“I was stuck in the crowd for almost an hour before I could make my way to the top for prayers. A number of ‘kavadi’ bearers were also stuck in the crowd.”
Murugan said he was still looking forward to riding a cable car to the cave temple, referring to a project announced several years ago.

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