Timothy Tye's Travel Encyclopedia
Hindu Mahajana Sangam

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Gandhiji Ashram during the unveiling of the Gandhi statue (5 October, 2008)

The Hindu Mahajana Sangam is an association of Indian workers. The name Mahajana comes from two words, maha meaning "great" and jana meaning people. So Mahajana can be described as "great people" in Tamil, though in Sanskrit, it is translated as "great vehicle". The Indian workers who arrived here were farmers back home. They preferred to call themselves Kootakadai, because they work as a kootam (gang or group), rather than calling themselves coolies or labourers.

The Hindu Mahajana Sangam was established in 1935 after following the first consecration of the Sri Muthu Mariamman Temple in Queen Street which was held in 1933. (The temple was renamed Arulmigu Mahamariamman Temple in 1980 by the Hindu Endowment Board.) It was established to take part in the management and development of the Sri Muthu Mariamman Temple, which was then managed by a few trustees appointed by the Board. One of these trustees was Mr K.V. Karuppiah Thandal, who became the inaugural secretary of the sangam.

The Hindu Mahajana Sangam was active in organising Hindu festivals such as the Thaipusam, Chitraparuvam and Navaratiri. Later, when the Board formed the Temple Management Committee, some members of the sangam were also appointed. The sangam also served as an avenue to discuss and address social problems affecting Indian workers. It set up a panchayat committee to solve these problems. The sangam started Tamil schools to educate the Tamil children, and was active in promoting cultural activities and religious practices.

The Hindu Mahajana Sangam acted as a union for the waterfront workers until 1950, when the Waterfront Workers Union was formed. This later became known as the Weld Quay Workers Union. In the early 1970s, when the Government established the Penang Labour Board, the Weld Quay Workers Union was amalgamated with the Prai Cargo Handlers and the Penang Stevedores Union to form the Penang Port Workers Union, with its office in King Street. The Hindu Mahajana Sangam operated out of 47 Church Street from 1935 until 1947, when it moved to 40 Church Street. Today it is based at the Gandhiji Ashram, a community hall at the foot of the Balathandayuthapani Temple near the Penang Botanic Gardens. The hall was built in late 1935 and was originally known as Madalayam or Kootakadai Maadam.

The sangam moved out of 40 Church Street in 1988 after the property was sold. It was then that it moved to its own building, the Gandhiji Ashram, at 674 Jalan Kebun Bunga.

Getting there

The nearest bus stop is along Jalan Kebun Bunga, which is served by Rapid Penang bus 10.

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Penang Travel Tips thanks Mr Nelamegam Malairaja, President of the Hindu Mahajana Sangam, for assistance in compiling its history.

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