Friday, August 21, 2015

Asian Eyes's Thaipusam - Mardi Gras of Malaysia

Update on Penang Thaipusam celebration in 2016
When - 24 January 2016
Where - Penang from Penang's Little India to Penang Botanical Garden            
              Today I am writing on good places to visit in Malaysia, especially in Penang, where I am based, a tourist island on the West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Here is my first post on one of the myriad cultures that can be found in Malaysia - a celebration called Thaipusam or spiritual Mardi Gras of Malaysia.
A huge spear spikes through the cheek with a mini one through the tongue will send the fainted heart squeamish person during Thaipusam. This is a mystic yet intriguing festival.  
          Thaipusam is religious celebration held either during late January or late February, mostly by people of Southern Indian origin, and it is a significant event observed by the Hindu community in Malaysia. People of all races catch the sights of chariot procession, devotees and Kavadi bearers at these official routes and locations in Penang. The procession begins in the wee hours of the morning from Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in Penang's Little India to Waterfall Hilltop Temple as a religious undertaking to Lord Muruga that may last 14 hours. Some devotees shaved their hair and paid tribute for prayers answer, others for good life and health. Devotees, who had been fasting or on vegetarian diet since 1 week to earlier, carry containers containing milk as offering to Lord Muruga, either by hand, or in huge decorated carriers on their shoulders called 'Kavadi'. The Kavadi may be just a simple wooden arched semi-circular supports holding a carrier foisted with brass or clay pots of milk, or to the heavy ones which may rise up to two meters, built of bowed metal frames which held long skewers and hooks, the sharpened end of which pierce the skin of the bearers torso without a single flinch when it was administered to the bearers by a priest. Priests sprinkle consecrated ash over the hooks and skewers piercing the devotees' flesh before they are removed. No blood is shed during the piercing and removal.The bearers were in trance like and does not feels the pain, before, during or after the ordeal. The kavadi is decorated with flowers and peacock feathers imported from India and some kavadi may weigh as much as a hundred kilograms. 
           Along the procession routes, coconuts being are smashed onto the ground to signify the breaking one's ego before the chariot passed through. The best place to catch the coconut smashing spectacle is on Jalan Dato Keramat, in front of Penang Times Square. The chariot stopped on many Hindu temples along the way and final stop of the Thaipusam procession is at Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple or Waterfall Hill Temple or Hill Top Lord Murugan Temple at Waterfall road, just before Botanic Garden in Penang. There are some 513 steps leading to this temple, more than the 272-steps in Batu Caves, another Thaipusam celebration site in Kuala Lumpur. Thaipusam is celebrated for 3 days but do standby for the procession from 12 noon onward on the first day. During the 3 days, roads leading to the hil top temple were closed. The atmosphere is festive with India music blaring loudly, coconuts piled up high by the roadside, donated by the community, refreshment stalls are being setup to offer food and drinks to devotees and visitors that throng the street where the chariot will pass through. 
           I attached herewith some pictures of Thaipusam celebration held in Penang in 2015. (Photo credit to Mr. Philip Chong). Everyone, lets join the celebration and yell "Vel, Vel". May your wishes come true! Come visit Penang!.

Thaipusam procession starts from Penang downtown where the passing of a Kavadi bearer pulling the chariot with the statue of Lord Muruga is considered a blessing to everyone who witnessed it. Many join in and follow the procession on foot. 
A gory picture of the suffering of these devotees who make a vow for some request make the previous year. Fret not for they do not feel the pain and no blood oozed out when the hooks pierced through the skin or when they were removed. 
Priest sprinkled holy ash before administered spikes and hooks onto Kavadi-bearers.  No blood was in sight and Kavadi-bearers does not bore any scars during or after the ordeal. Some cannot even remember the ordeal! 
A devotee in trance, pulling the chariot of Lord Muruga. The mini spear that pierce this devotee was shaped like the Vel, a spear like weapon favored by the Lord Muruga. Friends and family members surrounding him will yell "Vel!, Vel!" to urge him on.
A Kavadi-bearer deep in trance, making his way to the 513 steps Hill Top Waterfall Temple
Women do not carry Kavadi, but pot of milk, balanced on their head, for the offering to Lord Muruga, for a vow answered. 
This devotee had make vow to Lord Muruga to cure of his parent's sickness, and now fulfilling his vow during Thaipusam celebration for his request answered. 
All races in Penang came out in droves to witness or took part in Thaipusam celebration. They lined the street where the chariot will pass through.
The Kavadi-bearer will dance to the beat of Indian trumpet and tabla, and continuously being taken care off by family members and friends to prevent any untoward incident. 
Some devotee shaved their head bald before carried the Kavadi or had their cheeks or tongue pierced with Vel spike.
Another devotee carries nearly a hundred tiny pots containing milk attached onto his body with tiny hooks. 
This guy has been on strict vegetarian diet for at least 1 week to 4 weeks before he can achieve a pure mental state to endure the pain of hooks and spikes to his cheeks, tongue or body.
The gaze on this lady devotee seem out of this world. The white powder on her forehead was put on by a priest to aid her in walking all the way from downtown Penang to Hill Top Waterfall Temple without stop or feeling tired. 
A close up on the Kavadi. The cushion pad was for protection against abrasion from the weight on his shoulder. The Kavadi may weigh up to as much as 100 kilogram and to carry it up 513 flight of stairs was not easy feat.
This Kavadi gave an illusion that iron rods spiked through this guy body, but in actual fact it was not. Having said that , any one want to try body piercing?
Older man may not be able to carry the Kavadi, but that does not stop one from carrying pot of milk to repay the vow he made to Lord Muruga. Some continue to repay vow year after year and they would be some of the familiar faces around each Thaipusam celebration.
Huge Kavadi with elaborate structures and markings during the Thaipusam procession added to the festivities and should not be missed by any tourists to Penang in late January or early February.