As we approach the weekend and your time to chill out, come and have a look at what the glorious Malaysia has to offer! This #FridayFunday we are concentrating on the West Coast island of Penang and the annual Hindu festival THAIPUSAM, which attracts the largest gathering in multi-racial Malaysia.
Often referred to as the “Pearl of the Orient”, the island of Penang and its capital Georgetown have a exclusive culture and heritage that originates from Malay, Chinese, Indian and European influences. The island consists of a mixture from the East and the West, the old and the new and has some of the finest cuisine Malaysia has to offer!
Georgetown was founded in the late 18th century and over the years has grown and become an important trading centre attracting Chinese, Indian and Malay traders seeking their fortune. Queen Elizabeth II declared it a city in 1957.
Georgetown is made up of a number of architectural styles dating from 18th to the 20th centuries. As well as a cluster of British architectural churches and religious influences, it also features mosques, Chinese and Indian style temples. It is from the famous Temple Murugan located ontop of a small hill in Penang’s lush Waterfull Suburbia that Thaipusam, the Indian annual Hindu festival began. It is visited by thousands of believers every year who end their pilgrimage by foot at this gathering outside the temple. After hours of trekking from the various temples in Georgetown, the pilgrims make their final ascent up hill to Maurugan persuing fulfillment and peace. They release their belongings and loads in the holy place in recognition of their vows. If you are visiting Penang we strongly recommend a visit to this wondrous place. The long, winding road leading to the area is closed off to traffic, as a barrage of people climb to their destination. Both sides of the road are edged with temporary stalls providing refreshments, vegetarian food and religious souvenirs. From he top of the hill, you can see the procession edging their way carrying milk pots of brass and silver harnessed in colourful slings. Even the children, old people and disabled carry their ceremonial burdens as if on a mission to the call of the good Lord Murugan.
The Thaipusam tradition was bought to the Malay Peninsula through the South Indian Diaspora in the 19th century. The festival has expanded and has grown so large in Malaysia and Singapore, that it is now bigger than many other celebrations even in India. Although it is still inundated with Hindu rites and rituals, this festival has drawn a huge cosmopolitan following. Ardent devotees follow certain rituals spearing their cheeks with long shiny steel rods sometimes over a metre long. They pierce their chests and backs with small hook-like needles in penance.They seem to suffer no pain and appear almost hypnotised in the dawn light after weeks of abstinence. It really is an amazing sight to observe. Over the years many Brit, American and Austrailian medics have speculated that the white ash smeared on the body, the juice squeezed from the yellow lime and milk poured on the pierced areas may act as a numbing agent to desensitise the skin and minimalise bleeding. The followers however, say it is faith and belief in Lord Murugan that prevents pain and bleeding.
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