My current home is in a Malaysian town named Penang. The small city is usually known for its artwork and bicycles, but once a year it’s also known for Thaipusam. Thaipusam is a religious festival celebrated during the full moon in the tenth month of the Hindu calendar. This year it fell on January 16th, and I was lucky enough to be apart of it.
The ceremony began at 6 am in Little India with a silver chariot procession led by more than 60 Kavadis resembling peacocks. The procession finished at the Nattukottai Chattier Temple at midnight. Along the route, coconuts were smashed into the ground to fulfill sacred vows and “clean” the roads for the journey. The coconuts were then washed from the street with surprising efficiently by mini diggers!
An early 3 am start at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple saw devotees pierce their bodies with hooks and spears as an act of atonement. This ritual made for some shocking sites as I saw clumps of flesh pierced before my eyes. The Kavadi bearers and I then began the long uphill journey to the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple. (Waterfall Temple). Thunderous loud music, singing, dancing, and the beating of drums were the constant backdrop of the pilgrimage and made for an exciting spectacle.
Thaipusam Festival Final Day
The third day of Thaipusam marks the return journey of the Silver Chariot and Lord Muruga statue. The procession starts at 6 pm and makes its way from the Waterfall Temple to George Town in the early hours. Just like the first day but in reverse two oxen are attached to the Silver Chariot, and the locals Hindus approach to make offerings.
As the festivities came to a climax with an array of fireworks in the early morning, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the fascinating ritual that had unfolded before my eyes, and I felt incredibly privileged to be a part of it.
About the Author: Mike McLeish is the owner of the bicycle blog Pinch-Flat. He’s currently taking full advantage of the of the warm weather in SE Asia. You can find him cycling through traffic in Kuala Lumpur, attempting to drink coffee from a plastic bag, or eating Nasi Lemak at a local corner shop. Follow him on Twitter at @Pinch_Flat.