The International Steam Pages

Thaipusam, Penang, 2012 - Day 1

Click here for links to the other early 2012 Penang pages.

It's sometimes said that somewhere in Penang, there is some kind of festival going on everyday of the year. Of course, some are bigger than others and the Hindu festival of Thaipusam is certainly the biggest public one by far. This is Part 1 of our picture report from February 7th/8th 2012 - click here for Part 2.

Celebrations occur at the temples in Queen Street in the historic centre of George Town and in Waterfall Road near the Botanical Gardens, and in between. To quote a poster displayed at one of the food-dispensing stalls in Western Road: "Thaipusam is celebrated on the day of the Pusam star in the month of Thai (between January and February). Thaipusam signifies the day Lord Muruga received the Vel which was blessed by Mother Shakti. Using it, he overcame all the Asuras or demonic forces and liberated everyone." It goes on to explain the Vel:


Basically, devotees will do some form of penance which may involve physical pain either as acknowledging prayers answered or as a way of requesting boons. Typically they will carry 'Kavadis' which have pieces of metal sticking into their body, often cheeks and tongues are also pierced. Others will have hooks in their backs which will carry citrus fruit or be connected to ropes to pull a small chariot, a lesser penenace is to carry a Paal Kudam (pot of milk). Whatever, their choice, they will walk barefoot in the blazing sun between the two temples, a journey which most people would find challenging dressed normally!

By common consent the best action is concentrated in the last kilometre along Western Road and Waterfall Road where charitable bodies and other institutions set up stalls dispensing free vegetarian food  - there is far more available than can possibly be eaten and visitors are likely to be almost dragged off the street... 

The following pictures are an attempt to convey something of the atmosphere:

Not for the first time in my career, I decided that the ground level view could be bettered, someone had kindly erected a viewing platform for me:

Rationality doesn't enter into the discussion, it's definitely a case of "You don't have to be mad to do this, but it helps":

This is the last stage of the journey up to the temple on the hill, the path gets very crowded...

And then, it's all over, the bliss of success and just a bit more pain as all the metal work is removed piece by piece:

Click here for Part 2.

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson