Hindu chariot procession cancelled due to coronavirus

Gurdip Singh

Singapore, Mar 15 (PTI) A chariot procession in Singapore held mostly by Indian-origin Hindus here will be cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, officials said on Sunday.

The Panguni Uthiram chariot and foot procession, which is part of the annual Panguni Uthiram festival, was slated for April 6. It is celebrated by Hindus and held in honour of the Hindu god Murugan, The Straits Times reported on Sunday, citing officials.

Devotees usually bear kavadis and carry chariots and milk pots as they walk about 1.2-km to seek blessings and fulfil their vows.

The temple management committee at the Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniar Temple in Yishun decided to scrap the procession this year, citing coronavirus clusters which appeared at large gatherings in crowded settings, including places of worship.

Temple management committee chairman Narainasamy in a statement on Sunday said, 'In addition, maintaining social distancing amongst devotees and keeping contact tracing records will be very challenging. In arriving at this decision, we took the view that the health and safety of our devotees is paramount.' Every year, the Panguni Uthiram chariot and foot procession draws 10,000 to 15,000 devotees who gather in close proximity with one another; both along the procession route and in the temple.

The procession takes place within Yishun Industrial Park A, where the temple is located but is surrounded by a major public and private housing estates.

The temple committee said priests will still conduct prayers on the day but will limit the number of devotees in the temple to not more than 250 as mandated by an official announcement.

The decision comes after the Government implemented social distancing measures last Friday as a major line of defence in the battle against COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, according to local media reports.

The measures involve not having more than 250 attendees at large private functions and religious services.

Meanwhile, people who enter Singapore with recent travel history to ASEAN countries, Japan, Switzerland or the United Kingdom will be issued with a 14-day stay-home notice.

This will take effect from Monday and applies to all travellers, including Singapore residents, long-term pass holders and short-term visitors, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Sunday.

It will not apply to Singapore's sea and land crossings with Malaysia, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said, adding that separate arrangements are currently being worked out by a bilateral joint working group with Malaysia.

Wong, who also co-chairs the multi-ministry taskforce, added that about 300,000 people move across the land checkpoints with Malaysia every day.

Singapore has 212 confirmed coronavirus cases. PTI GS AMS