PENANG, MALAYSIA, January 25, 2013 (The Hindu, by S. Muthiah): Thai Poosam is celebrated by Tamils everywhere, but in Penang, the Chinese join in too. A few months ago, I was in Penang to attend the Sashtiapdaboorthi (60th birthday celebrations) of a friend. It was conducted in a grand manner in the largest temple in Penang, the Dhandayuthapani Temple, work on which was started by the Nattukottai Chettiar settlers in the town in 1854 and which was consecrated in 1857. A striking temple rich with teak, hidden behind a typical kittangi (Chettiar bank-cum-residence) frontage, it hosted about a thousand guests of all faiths on this happy occasion. But sitting in a corner, removed from the action, I watched, fascinated, a procession of a different sort.
In a corner of the outer circumambulatory corridor, away from the rear of the main temple, is a small shrine to Lord Ganesha. It was to this shrine that the procession I watched all morning headed briskly. It was a procession of Chinese, in their favored workday clothes of shorts and T-shirts, heading straight for Lord Ganesha, either singly or in family groups. And there they made their offerings, prayed with all the fervor of any Hindu and left with ash and kumkum on their foreheads. Some then stopped to pay their obeisance to Lord Dhandayuthapani; no one looking embarrassedly like an intruder even for a moment not only in the temple but also amid the ceremonies going on.
Watching me focussed on this Chinese presence, a trustee of the temple, Dr. S.N.A.S. Narayanan, laughed as he told me, "Many of them are more regular than we are when it comes to communing with Lord Ganesha here. They have immense faith in Him and feel if they pray to Him before they leave for work, their businesses will prosper." And then he added, "I'll bring you here on another day and you can see them performing paal (milk) abhishegam." And he did and I watched a score and more Chinese arrive with pots of milk to bathe their benefactor. As we were leaving, Dato Ramanathan, another Trustee, turned to me and said, "You never accept our invitations for Thaipusam. That's really something to see. Hundreds of Chinese and persons of other faiths...Sikhs, Christians, many a foreigner...they all break coconuts along the processional route and seek Lord Muruga's blessings. Many of the Chinese break coconuts in the hundreds."