Friday, 10 February 2012

Penang Thaipusam 2012

It was Thaipusam, a Hindu festival celebrated on the day of the Pusam star in the month of Thai (between January and February). It commemorates the day Lord Muruga received a vel spear blessed by Mother Shakti. With it, Lord Muruga vanquished the demonic forces and liberated everyone.

Penang Thaipusam:: Endurance
Hooks pierced at the back of a devotee
In South East Asia, the Penang Thaipusam is arguably of the grandest scale. 800,000 Hindu devotees from different parts of Malaysia make their pilgrimage to Penang on this day. Even non devotees - locals and foreigners alike - flock to the island to witness this religious festival. Guess what, there're also photographic tours hosted by professional photographers - accommodation, food, photography workshop and even a handphone with a local SIM card for use during the trip, all in one package!

While many people from afar take the trouble to come and experience this unique event, most locals take it for granted. We'd rather sleep in on this precious public holiday. When I was a small kid, my parents used to bring me to the Thaipusam but it has been a long while since I last went to one. So this year, I decided to brave the crowd and take some shots at the festival. It was also my first time photographing Thaipusam.

Penang Thaipusam:: Paal Kudam
A devotee carrying a pot of milk
Thaipusam is a 3-day event. But the second day of Thaipusam attracts the most number of non-devotees. It is the only day that is declared as a public holiday in Malaysia and it is also the day when the processions would take place. Early in the morning, devotees would either go to the temple in Lorong Kulit or in Jalan Dato Keramat for some rituals and receive a kavadi. A kavadi is a "burden" carried by devotees in fulfilment of vows. Some devotees, however, bear a kavadi for spiritual development. The simplest form of kavadi is paal kudam - a pot of milk carried atop the head to the temple and poured on the statue of Lord Muruga. Milk is considered to be pure so the act symbolizes that only those who are pure in thought, word and deed will reach God.

Penang Thaipusam:: Kavadi
A decorated semicircular kavadi carried on the shoulder
Another form of kavadi consists of a decorated canopy supported on the shoulders. The kavadi is often adorned with peacock feather, which is symbolic of the vehicle of Lord Muruga.

Penang Thaipusam:: Kavadi
A devotee bearing a kavadi in fulfilment of vow
Mortification of flesh is also a form of kavadi. This is done by piercing the tongue or cheeks with a vel (spear). However, a kavadi bearer has to observe strict rules before taking up the kavadi. Cigarettes, alcohol, lustful thoughts and negative emotions are to be shunned. A vegetarian diet has to be followed and some even sleep on hard floors in preparation for the day.

Penang Thaipusam:: Endurance
A vel pierced through the cheeks
It is said that the kavadi bearer does not feel any pain from the piercing because the they are under the protection of the deities and therefore will not be allowed to come to any harm. a non-devotee cannot but help wonder how much faith and willpower it takes to undergo the grueling ritual. But to a devotee, it is perhaps a means of seeking peace through pain.

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