Malaysian Human Resources Minister Fong Chan Onn has called on the country's private sector to give its employees a day off on Wednesday for Thaipusam, a Hindu festival mostly celebrated by the Tamil community.
The minister urged private companies to declare on January 23 a holiday since the day has big religious significance, The New Straits Times reported on Tuesday.
The only exception will be the firms that provide essential services such as 24-hour call centres. Employees working on Thaipusam should be given a "substitute day off", the minister said.
"We have to honour the fact that Thaipusam has been made a public holiday for Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya," he said, adding that the ministry would make the necessary changes to the 1951 Holiday Act of the country.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Sunday announced that starting this year, Thaipusam would be a public holiday in the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.
Thaipusam is one of the most important festivals dedicated to Lord Murugan. On the day, people celebrate the marriage of Lord Murugan with Valli, a gypsy girl. The festival has been a state holiday in Selangor, Penang, Perak, Negri Sembilan and Johor states in Malaysia.
Meanwhile, there has been a flood of requests from devotees to celebrate Thaipusam at the 60-year-old Sri Balasubramaniar Swamy Temple at Port Klang.
The temple expects to receive 100,000 visitors including "kavadis" - the devotees who walk long distances carrying on their shoulders pots of holy water tied at two ends of a pole. The festival will be celebrated at the temple for the first time, The Star newspaper said.
RS Maniam, chairman of the temple, said the committee had been inundated with calls from devotees who wanted to take their kavadi to the temple.
"We are surprised by the sudden number of requests. This is the first time in the temple's long history that the celebration will be carried out so grandly," Maniam was quoted as saying.
"Thaipusam is usually just a small affair here with only about 1,000 paal kudam (milk pot) bearers making the three-kilometre journey from the Hari Krishna Alayar Temple in Jalan Tengku Badar," he added.