Thaipusam 2009 in Penang
Thaipusam 2009 in Penang is over. It was my third time I visited the Thaipusam in Penang. For a non-believer, the first time is always the most impressive. Even if you document yourself the total impression is far more then what you can imagine when you are preparing yourself.
The first time, in 2007, I was mostly knocked out by the amount of people (this year, 2009, there were 800.000 in Penang alone!). Another thing that really impressed me was the devotion of the devotees. And of course I was impressed with the piercings and how these could be.
Last year I witnessed from very nearby my friends' Mr. Chandra and Mrs. Pearly's son who was performing the Kavadi. I witnessed the whole second day their son. But this year it was different.
This year, I went to visit with Mrs. Nazlina, owner of a Penang website www.penangheritagecity.com . This year, Thaipusam was held on February 7,8 and 9 when Lord Muruga returns to the Mariman temple in the heart of Georgetown.
On the 7th February Lord Muruga came out of the Mariman temple in Georgetown. This is always a highlight for the devotees. In 2008 I witnessed that event. There was a chill going through the crowd assembled. Thaipusam had officially started.
Devotees start the day at around 5am with offerings at their home altar, having been vegetarian for 3,5 or 7 days. Some fast for several days before taking the vow.
Then the family can proceed to one of Lord Muruga's temples in either Penang (Waterfall Hill Temple), Ipoh (Cave Temple), Kuala Lumpur (Batu Caves) or Pahang (Marathandavar Temple)
We were around 8 am in Little India. It was very busy with many Indians carrying offers for the Lord Muruga who was installed in his chariot which now slowly moved the 12 km trail to the Waterfall Hill Temple. Those offers typically have fruits, a broken coconut shell and milk. Legend has it that Idumban, an ardent follower of the Lord Muruga, once decided he wanted to bathe the idol of the lord in milk.
The first day is partly for the Hindu money makers who carry their own kavadi and make substantial offers to the temples. All along the road coconuts are broken to cleanse the road. Not only Hindus are devotees. Many Chinese are active too. Many Chinese temples along the 12 km road pay respect to the passing Lord Muruga. And on the second day, you will see many Chinese believers taking the vow and carry a kavadi to the Waterfall Hill Temple.
On the second day we visited the area near the Waterfall Hill Temple. We were quite early when it wasn't too busy. We went purposely early to get a good view what was happening. Later on the day, after 3 pm it would be very busy, report spoke of 800.000 people in 2009 for the Thaipusam on this day alone!
A kavadi bearer can carry a pot on your head, or a simple wooden structure (the paal kavadi) to which pots of milk are attached. Others carry huge structures that takes weeks of preparation. Those structures can weight 30 to even 60kg.
Small hooks may also be attached to limes or little pots of milk. There are also skewers that go into the tongue and across the cheeks, Then, there are large hooks that are pierced into the back. These hooks often have ropes attached to them and can be used to pull the mini-chariots.
Being a a vegetarian and staying away from alcohol and other intoxicants, as scientists have found, keeps the brain and body from being “excited.” Thus, one can always be even tempered, if one tries hard enough. When they start putting the hooks and skewers into you, they always start with the forehead, one or three little pins into the forehead area. Apparently, it’s a bit like acupuncture. When the hooks are removed, the skin heals in a hurry. Amazingly, more often than not, there’s nary a scar to tell of the experience!
When the kadvadi bearers walk their 12 km long journey to the Waterfall Temple, they will stop at many to dance. And trust me, dancing with a 30kg-60kg load on your shoulder in the tropical heat is not easy but one most happily do it. And by the time you reach the foot of the steps after what could be a 12km-dance-trek, you are dead tired. And all you want to do is rush up those steps to fulfil your vow.
We sat for awhile on the lower part of the stairs that lead to the temple. I could see many of the believers were dead tired, as I could imagine. With chants "vel vel", the supporters try to lift the believer to the temple.
The larger structures are not going up the stairs to the temple. The believer leaves the structure at the foot of the stairs and fullfil the vow after. It was my third time, as said, to experience this magnificent and colorful festival in Penang. It's an event you have to be to understand what really goes on. And I will be there next year again.