Do's And Don'ts At This Year’s Thaipusam Festival

Travel. Enjoy. Respect.

  • Monday, 29 January 2018
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 Do's And Don'ts At This Year’s Thaipusam Festival
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On the day of Thaipusam last year, this writer met a fellow Malaysian who was oblivious to the festival, and asked her, “Is today Deepavali?”

Yes, we are blessed with a significant number of public holidays here, to the point that we don’t even know why we have the day off work.

So, here’s a quick recap of that Pendidikan Sivik lesson you might have missed. Thaipusam is a festival celebrated to honour the occasion where Goddess Parvati bestows Lord Murugan with a Vel (spear) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman.

It’s the classic good triumphs over evil story. Others believe that it is Lord Murugan’s birthday.

Needless to say, Thaipusam in Malaysia has become unanimous with droves of people dressed in yellow visiting Sri Subramaniar Swamy Devasthanam in Batu Caves and plenty of worshippers carrying colourful kavadis up the iconic 272 pink steps.

Penang's Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple.Our friends in the northern region flock to the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple, colloquially known as the Penang Waterfall Temple. This magnificent place of worship has a few routes to reach the top, most of which require the visitor to walk up a whopping 500 steps.

On the eve of Thaipusam, there will be a chariot procession where the deity, Lord Muruga, is brought through the city with thousands of devotees behind Him.

To help you prepare for the festival, we at Rojak Daily have compiled a list of dos & don'ts for Thaipusam this year, for both worshippers and visitors alike.

1) Don’t ask if it is Deepavali

It is not Deepavali, mind you.
Straight to the point answer: it's not. Seriously, most of us are the products of the wholesome Malaysian education system. You need to know that there’s a difference between Thaipusam and Deepavali, and between Hari Raya Haji and Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

The fact that we live in such a beautiful, diverse society is reason enough for us to be aware of the festivals celebrated in Malaysia, and not just use the public holiday as an excuse to swarm the malls.

2) Do check on the temple opening hours before you go

This year's Thaipusam festival coincides with Lunar Eclipse.
A lunar eclipse is taking place on Thaipusam day this year. As such, most temples will be shut for five hours, thus, shortening the prayer time.

All Hindu temples will be closed from 6.30pm to 11.30pm, according to Malaysia Hindu Sangam president, Datuk RS Mohan Shan. A total lunar eclipse is expected to take place on 31 January between 6.51pm and 11.11pm.

Hindus believe a total solar or lunar eclipse to be an inauspicious time, hence the temple closure. The eclipse is believed to obstruct the energy from the sun and moon from reaching planet Earth.

So, before you head out to a temple near you, do remember to check if they are closing early.

3) Don’t threaten to spray paint women who wear revealing clothing while visiting the temples 

Be respectful.
Last year, a group caused a stir when they issued a threat to women who dressed ‘indecently’ to the temple and they would spray paint on the women's exposed parts.

The threat was unnecessary, because women know what to wear and where to wear them. Having said that, do be mindful of what you wear (guys, you too!) to the temple because every temple has its own dress code.

It's an auspicius day and a religious festival, so respect is of upmost importance. 

4) Do read up on the culture

Learn and understand culture.
Another fellow Malaysian once asked this writer, “You ada main cucuk-cucuk kat Thaipusam ke?” (Did you poke each other at Thaipusam?)

It’s never right to gawk, laugh or point fingers at people who choose to worship God in a way that is unfamiliar to you. Let’s not belittle practices which we don’t understand.

Kavadis, for example, are colourful ceremonial offerings that are usually carried on one’s back through a procession to the temple that houses Lord Muruga, as an act of penance or to pay off a spiritual debt. Kavadis may range from carrying a pot of milk to piercing the skin, tongue and cheeks or even flagellation.

Some kavadis are so extravagant that they weigh up to 30kg and sometimes take up to 48 days of preparation. This includes, vegetarianism, fewer meals per day, cold showers, sexual abstinence and constant prayer. Mind you, these kavadis need to be carried a good distance with the procession, and is no easy feat.

So, try to read up on the culture and avoid making fun of the procession. It's just rude. 

5) Don’t miss the excitement on the temple grounds 

There's so much going on.
Thaipusam is more than the kavadis and the veneration of Lord Muruga. The grounds of the temples will have a carnival-like atmosphere. It’s electrifying!

There will be a blood donation drive, games and even audio launches by local artists. It is also where hundreds of entrepreneurs set up shop in the days leading up to the festival. Be prepared to find almost anything Malaysian and Indian in these stalls, from snacks to incense sticks to even clothes and accessories.

It really is quite a spectacle. Many people visit Batu Caves and the Waterfall Temple solely to check these stalls out!

6) Do go a few days before Thaipusam itself, if you don’t like crowds

The celebrations start early.It is no secret that over the three days leading up to Thaipusam, this annual festival attracts more than 1.5 million pilgrims and visitors - at Batu Caves alone!

So if you don’t like crowds, go a few days earlier to worship or visit. There are usually a lot of things to do and see at the procession grounds a couple of days leading up to Thaipusam, so you won't miss out on much.

The real fun, however with the crowd en masse, starts on the eve of Thaipusam.

7) Don’t shove your camera lenses into the devotee’s faces 

Please do not block their path.Photographers, both amateurs and professionals, revel in the vibrant colours and grandeur that Thaipusam has to offer. The kavadis can be very elaborate and this makes for good pictures.

However, it is helpful to remember that the devotees are actually in deep prayer, and some may be in a trance, so it might not be the wisest idea to thrust your fancy camera lenses into their faces, to capture them ‘in the moment’. 

Also, do not block the procession path just to take a picture for your Instagram. You could seriously injure yourself - or the devotees.

8) Do take public transport 

Don't drive, take the train.
The KTM Komuter train stops a stone’s throw away from the Batu Caves temple entrance. This not only makes it easier for people from Tanjung Malim, Gemas and Port Klang to reach the temple, it’s also a chance to try out the MRT and the LRT extension!

Plus, who could be bothered to park by the side of the highway? 

KTM Berhad announced last week that their trains will be operational up to 5.30am from 30 January to 1 February 2018. There's no better time for you to take the train.

9) Don’t litter, obviously

Throw your garbage into the garbage bin, please!
The Thaipusam clean-up affair used to be a monumental task. However, 2017 marked a significant decrease in the clean-up efforts required, with strategically placed rubbish bins every 200 metres.

We remain optimistic that this year, it would only be better, with more people utilising the bins and keeping the temple grounds clean. Do clean up after yourself, or if you see an empty plastic bottle on the floor, help lah to pick to it up and throw it in the bin.

The cleaners will thank you.

10) Do grab a free meal and drink!

Help distribute them too!Many NGOs and spiritual bodies will be serving food to the masses, at no cost. Feel free to grab a packet of the scrumptious vegetarian fare served! Food served at temples somehow has a reputation for tasting delicious in spite of being a simple repast.

There will also be numerous companies offering complimentary drinks as part of their CSR to keep the devotees hydrated. Our favourite is a South Indian yogurt based spicy drink, moru!

If you don't like any crowd at all, there's another alternative for you to revel in the Thaipusam celebrations.

You can catch a live stream of the festivities from temples such as the Thanner Malai in Penang, Sri Subramaniya Swami Devasthanam Temple in Sungai Petani and Kallumalai in Ipoh, to name a few, on Astro Ulagam (CH201), Astro Raaga (CH859) and Astro GO as well as NJOI Now.

Join the celebrations.Did you know that Thaipusam is celebrated in Malaysia on a grander scale than it is in India? So, come on over to the Batu Caves and join in the festivities and watch the outpouring of devotion by the droves of worshippers who travel to perform their spiritual duties to Lord Muruga.

Both Batu Caves and the Penang Waterfall temples will be transformed into vibrant grounds with entrepreneurs peddling their wares and devotees negotiating their way through the throngs of people, all in the name of devotion.

And if you’re feeling a little adventurous, why not join the crowd and chant “Vel, vel!”

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