Celebrated each year during the full moon in the tenth month of the Hindu calendar – falling from mid-January to mid-February – is a key Hindu ceremony known as Thaipusam. It is an event that is especially observed by the Hindu community in Malaysia, where people pay respect to the highly revered deity, Lord Murugan. The festival of Thaipusam pays tribute to the day when Goddess Pavarti gave her son Lord Murugan an invincible lance which he used to destroy evil demons.
Up to 1.8 million Hindu devotees are expected to gather throughout the three day festival, and especially on Wednesday January 31st, at the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple (the Waterfall Hilltop Temple) in Jalan Kebun Bunga for the Thaipusam festival. The procession of the official chariot of Penang Thaipusam, also known as the Golden Chariot, accompanied by pierced, and kavadi-carrying devotees, will set off from Queen Street Maha Mariamman temple the day before, Tuesday January 30th, at 5am, and will make its way along Buckingham Street, Campbell Street, Penang Road, Burmah Road, Anson Road, Macalister Road and Ayer Raja Road before reaching the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple at around 9pm. The chariot will leave the Temple on February 1st at 5pm and is expected to arrive back in Queen Street at 7am the following day.
Devotees will carry frames that are decorated with coloured paper and flowers, called kavadis, fresh fruit and milk. They will climb over 500 steps to the temple, where they will place these tributes at the feet of the deity and pour milk over it. During Thaipusam, charity organizations provide inexpensive or even free food. Every year there are volunteers who help packing and distributing vegetarian food to feed the large crowd from stalls along the side of Jalan Kebun Bunga and Jalan Gottleib, such as rice with vegetarian curry, vegetarian meat and lots of delicious spices.
You will be amazed watching this fascinating festival. There will be rituals performed, coconuts smashed on the road before the chariot, as well as the parade and the processions of the devotees, some of whom have remarkable hooks and other objects penetrating their body, and others of whom are dressed up in their finest colourful saris. If you are around in Penang, the festival of Thaipusam is not one to miss!
By Mojdeh Zarbakhsh