GEORGE TOWN - A RM3 million (S$1 million) golden chariot will hit the streets here on the eve of Thaipusam in February, challenging the 120-year monopoly of the silver chariot operated by the Nattukottai Chettiars.
With the new chariot commissioned by the Penang Hindu Endowment Board from Karaikudi in Tamil Nadu, there will now be two chariots making the trip from Little India to the temples in Jalan Kebun Bunga.
Their routes will not overlap.
The 1.6-tonne golden chariot measuring 4.3m-high and 4m-wide will feature two golden horses in the front with several statues adorning the kalasam (tower).
The chariot bearing Lord Muruga's vel (spear) will move on rubberised wheels pulled by devotees.
Board executive director M. Ramachandran said the inner frame of the chariot was made in Karaikudi and shipped to Penang where it was assembled.
"The other parts of the chariot are still under construction.
"Special prayers will be held by the end of the year," he said at the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Hilltop Temple in Jalan Kebun Bunga yesterday.
The golden chariot's journey will be from the Arulmigu Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in Queen Street to the Arulmigu Sri Ganesha Temple in Jalan Kebun Bunga.
The 7.3m-high silver chariot normally makes its way from Kovil Veedu in Penang Street to Nattukottai Chettiar Temple in Jalan Kebun Bunga.
Ramachandran said the golden chariot would begin its 7km journey at 6am and reach its destination around 7pm.
The chariot would be placed at the Sri Ganesha Temple for two days - on Thaipusam eve and on Thaipusam day.
Ramachandran said the board did not introduce the chariot to challenge anyone.
"The hilltop temple has everything except a chariot.
The planning for the chariot began several years ago," he said.
Nattukottai Chettiar Temple managing trustee Dr A. Narayanan and the three trustees are believed to be in Tamil Nadu.
They are expected to issue a statement upon their return.
Board chairman Dr P. Ramasamy, who is Deputy Chief Minister II, has been at loggerheads with the Nattukottai Chettiars over several issues.
In February, he announced that the board would organise its own procession.
It was reported that certain Indian non-governmental organisations had urged the board to take over the running of the chariot procession as they did not want one group to monopolise it.