Thaipusam scenes at the compound nearby Sri Muthu Mariamman Temple in George Town, Penang.
Thaipusam in Penang paints a vivid tapestry of religious devotion and cultural spectacle. Celebrated annually in late January or early February, this Hindu festival honors Lord Murugan with a mesmerizing procession from Georgetown to the sacred Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple atop the Waterfalls hill area.
The highlight is the iconic Silver Chariot, adorned with devotees carrying ornate kavadis, creating a symphony of traditional music and rhythmic drumbeats. The atmosphere is electric as devotees showcase their unwavering faith through acts of penance, including body piercings and elaborate decorations (also known as Kavadi bearer). Thaipusam in Penang is not only a religious event but a testament to the island’s cultural richness and the harmonious coexistence of diverse communities, offering a must-see experience for locals and tourists alike.
Scenes from the Thaipusam festival celebration in Penang.
A Hindu festival mostly celebrated by the Tamil community every year, the Thaipusam festival for this year falls on the 31st January. The most notable or intriguing scene from this festival is the kavadi-bearers, devotees who usually had their bodies pierced while undergoing a pilgrimage as part of their offerings for their gods during the festival.
Today marks the day of the Thaipusam festival, celebrated by Hindu devotees in the country.
Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community annually. Outside India, Malaysia is the only country which widely observes this festival. In Malaysia, it was popularly celebrated by many Hindu devotees either at the Batu Caves in Selangor or the Waterfall Temple in Penang. Carrying the ‘kavadi’ or pulling chariots via ropes pierced on the bodies of devotees are common sights during the festival.
“The simplest kavadi is a semicircular decorated canopy supported by a wooden rod that is carried on the shoulders, to the temple. In addition, some have a small spear through their tongue, or a spear through the cheeks. The spear pierced through his tongue or cheeks reminds him constantly of Lord Murugan. It also prevents him from speaking and gives great power of endurance. Other types of kavadi involve hooks stuck into the back and either pulled by another walking behind or being hung from a decorated bullock cart or more recently a tractor, with the point of incisions of the hooks varying the level of pain.”
For these devotees, they were pulling the large chariot for the Hindu goddess Kali via ropes which were hooked to the back of their bodies.
Piercing is very common for the devotees.
For some, it was a family affair.
Ropes with hooks attached at the back of the devotees.
Devotees usually prepare for the celebration by cleansing themselves through prayer and fasting approximately 48 days before Thaipusam.
During this day, devotees will shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi (burdens). In Penang, the pilgrimage’s common destination is the Waterfall Hill Temple.
Hindus generally take a vow to offer a kavadi to a deity or god for the purpose of tiding over or averting a great calamity.
Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community annually. In Malaysia, many Hindu devotees generally will flock to the Batu Caves in Selangor or the Waterfall Temple in Penang to celebrate this festival. One of the main highlights of the festival is the kavadi being carried by devotees seeking help from the God Murugan (as shown in the picture above).