If we were to summarize our Thaipusam experience in 3 words, it would be Colourful, Loud and lots and lots of People!
The celebration of Thaipusam is one of the many festivals we celebrate together as Malaysians in this multi racial country. When we think of Thaipusam, naturally the first image that comes to mind is of Hindu devotees making offerings to Lord Murugan, carrying kavadis and piercing of the body with hooks and spears… but nothing could have prepared us for witnessing the ritual live in person.
Thaipusam is celebrated in many major towns in Malaysia and this year Happy Campers is experiencing the Thaipusam celebration in Penang, an island about 300 kilometers to the north of Kuala Lumpur. It is one of the main events in Penang, attracting over 700,000 visitors to its famous Waterfall Hilltop Temple. On this day, the devotees celebrates Lord Murugan, the Warrior God.
On any other ordinary day, it is common for worshipers to visit the temple to see Lord Murugan, however on Thaipusam Eve, happening only once a year, a silver chariot with the deity Lord Murugan is led on a procession starting from the temple house ‘Kovil Veedo’ passing through major roads in Penang making its way to the Nattukottai Chettiar Temple where the deity will stay for 3 days before being led back to the temple house in Penang Street. In other words, this is the only time in a year Lord Murugan will be going out to meet its devotees.
Although the silver chariot procession starts at 6am, we could see the crowd started to gather at the Kovil Veedo as early as 4am, each with their offerings in hand for Lord Murugan. The procession will be accompanied by the ‘Chettiar Kavadis’. The Chettiar originates from the district of Tamil Nadu, India and are known as merchants and money lenders. Where as ‘Kavadis’ literally means ‘burden’ where by the devotees will undergo a physical burden as an act of faith and atonement.
Doing the ‘Kavadi’ ranges from the simplest of carrying a pot of milk to the more extreme of body piercing using hooks and spears. Walking amidst the crowd, we could see different types of kavadis with beautiful designs and colours. Another type of commonly seen kavadi is the two semi circle pieces of wood which are bent and attached to a cross structure that can be balanced on the shoulder of a devotee.
As the silver chariot makes its 15 hour journey to the Nattukottai Chettiar Temple, we could see hundreds of thousands of devotees waiting patiently to make their offerings to Lord Murugan. It is truly amazing to see the devotees flock the chariot to offer their offerings and receive blessings from Lord Murugan, making it quite difficult for the chariot to move more than 20 meters each stop.
Ahead of the procession, where the Chettiar Kavadis are, we could see stacks of coconuts being piled up at the side of the roads all the way leading up to the Nattukottai Chettiar Temple. These coconuts are donated by respectives devotees where they will smash these coconuts on the roads before the chariot to symbolize the shattering of one’s ego.
It is quite an event watching the crowd smashing thousands and thousands of coconuts which in the end causing quite a big mess!