February 6, 2007

Dance, Drums and Spiritual Pilgrimages

The Indian community celebrated Thaipusam / Thaipoosam on the 31st of January last Wednesday. It was a public holiday for all Malaysians; and so this young and curious little Chinese girl took the opportunity to join in the fun! As a child, Thaipusam in Ipoh was always too scary, painful and overwhelming to watch..but as I've begun to take interest in other cultures and religion, I've gradually grown to appreciate the significance of this very inspirational festival.Here a brief summary of Thaipusam by Wikipedia;
Thaipusam (Tamil: தைப்பூசம்) is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (Jan/Feb). Pusam refers to a star that is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates both the birthday of Lord Murugan (also Subramaniam), the youngest son of Shiva and Parvati, and the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel (lance) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman.

Thaipusam falls on a full moon day in the auspicious 10th Tamil month of Thai when the constellation of Pusam, the star of well-being, rises over the eastern horizon.
Tourists watch in awe as metal pierces the skin with hardly any bleeding and, apparently, no pain as the devotee stands in a trance in the dawn light after weeks of rigorous abstinence.

Over the years, curious British, American and Australian medical experts have come to observe and speculate. Some think the white ash smeared on the body, the juice squeezed from the yellow lime fruit or the milk poured on the pierced areas may help to numb the skin. But most admit they have no answer.
The devotees say it is faith.
"The belief in Lord Murugan is what prevents the pain and the bleeding," says Krishna Vadyar, a priest at the temple which conducts the annual rituals.

Devotees prepare for the celebration by cleansing themselves through prayer and fasting. On the day of the festival, devotees will shave their heads undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi (burdens).
At its simplest this may entail carrying a pot of milk, but mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers is also common. The most spectacular practice is the vel kavadi, essentially a portable altar up to two meters tall, decorated with peacock feathers and attached to the devotee through 108 vels pierced into the skin on the chest and back. Fire walking and flagellation may also be practiced. It is claimed that devotees are able to enter a trance, feel no pain, do not bleed from their wounds and have no scars left behind. However, some of the more extreme masochistic practices have been criticized as dangerous and contrary to the spirit and intention of Hinduism.
Click this link from All Malaysia for more pictures and information on Thaipusam.

Kavadi's fill the Main streets of Ipoh from dawn to dusk...I got up ridiculously early that morning to skip the afternoon crowds. It would have been difficult to take good photographs with swarms of people pouring into the streets when the majority of devotees came out to celebrate.

Stalls selling sweets, nuts, and Indian delicacies are set up along the sidewalks trimmed with decorative lights, banana leaf trimmings and all sorts! Larger companies and colleges are beginning to take advantage of the celebration to set up advertisements and promotions alongside!

Here's a short compilation of what I filmed that morning.

I wish I had more time to film more extravagant kavadis and chariots that morning; but I had made plans at home to deliciously celebrate Thaipusam with a generous serving of tantilizing Vegetarian curry! *yum* hehe.
2 large tomatoes chopped
1 eggplant sliced into thick strips and soaked in cold salted water
1 carrot sliced
1 small head cabbage sliced into strips
1 handful long beans chopped into 4cm lengths
70ml coconut cream
420ml coconut milk
3 shallots sliced
5 shallots ground with : 3 red large red chillies+4 candlenuts+1inch cube tumeric
4-5 dried chillies (optional)
Oil for frying (2-3 tbsps)
salt to taste
Heat oil and fry sliced shallots till golden brown, remove from pot and add ground chilli mixture. Saute till fragrant and add in vegetables, think coconut milk and salt. + dried chillies at this point if you like it xtra-SPiCY! Simmer for 10-12 minute till vegetables are soft. Add coconut milk and gently stir to combine. Garnish with fried shallots and dig in~

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