Family & Friends!
Nan Nalla Irikuren. Nandri."
Thank you. Hindi language)
really interesting is the mystery. If you seek the mystery
instead of the answer, you'll always be seeking. I've never seen
anybody really find the answer, but they think they have. So
they stop thinking. But the job is to seek mystery, evoke
mystery, plant a garden in which strange plants grow and
mysteries bloom. The need for mystery is greater than
the need for an answer."
(Ken Kesey - author)
extreme. This is an Indian ceremony pushing the limits of human
endurance. It is noisy, lively, colorful, drop jaw outrageous
so what better place to experience this than the multi cultural city
of Penang? It is still a mystery why the devotees endure the
pain and suffering. We were there to experience the mystery. I have read about this phenomenon. We missed
it while traveling around the India continent for a year and since
it was usually in February we thought we would miss it again.
To our excitement we found out that because of the cycle of the moon
it was happening the following weekend. The city started
filling up with Indian visitors and we were glad we had booked out
room. You could feel the excitement rising as the day
approached. Decorations were displayed, new clothing racks
were put out and music was cranked up a notch or two in Little
Religiously celebrated during
the full moon in the tenth month of the Hindu calendar,
Thaipusam is a significant event observed by the Hindu community
in this multi racial country of Malaysia. Thaipusam tradition was
brought to the Malay Peninsula through the South Indian Diaspora
during the 19th century. The festival has since evolved and grown so
big in Malaysia and Singapore that it has now far outsized
most other celebrations, even
in India. In keeping with the multiculturalism of Malaysia,
one group of Chinese devotees was seen pulling a small chariot of
Kuan Yin, the Chinese goddess of mercy. Another group had actually
prepared an ornate chariot replete with giant images of Hindu gods
such as Shiva and Kali accompanied by the serene image of Kuan Yin.
Several small groups also took part in piercings.
Traffic is always a
problem as over 600,000 spectators and devotees walk the 8 miles or
so from the center of Little India out to Waterfall Temple.
The first day the ceremonial worship of Hindu's celebrated deity,
Lord Murugan, began with a silver chariot procession led by
kavadis adorned with peacock features. Along the procession
routes, coconuts were smashed onto the ground to fulfill sacred
vows and line the route with the holy coconut water. Coconuts were smashed by men and women in colorful saris
as music blared. In a combination of old and new, the silver
chariot was pulled by decorated oxen in old tradition but once the
coconuts were smashed a city crew with little mini excavators rushed
in to pile the coconuts and haul them away before the chariot
arrived. We were invited to a vegetarian Indian food stand for dahl and rice and spent a couple of hours visiting with Indians from
all over Malaysia. In keeping with the multicultural feeling
of Penang we walked home and were compelled to eat at the Chinese
Buddha food restaurant.
The early morning of
gives the observer a completely different feel of the ceremony,
before the show starts that is. The calm and tranquil march of
thousands of devotees bearing ceremonial milk-pots, coconuts and
simple shoulder 'kavadis' or ceremonial, light weight, 'mini floats' in the balmy
hours is an interesting sight to remember.
Clad in yellow and saffron, clean-shaven heads (symbol of humility
and atonement) smeared with sandalwood paste, the devotees walk
along the road sans the boisterousness that dominates the later
hours of the day. The pilgrim procession passes a number of temples
along the Waterfall road before the ascent up to the famous hilltop
temple. The usually barren rain gutters along the hillside look like
slender white capillaries, flowing down with ceremonial milk offered
at the temple above. Further below, a whole river has turned into an
amazing canal of milk.
Timing is everything
and location, location, location. Just maneuvering through the
crowds we realized that experiencing the Kumla Mele, with 12 million
people in India, may be pushing even our envelope. The
previous day, as the chariot made its way along the procession route
a helpful Indian man had scrawled the name of the temple where the
initiation rituals began. We walked a couple of miles then
seemed lost. We took a taxi for an additional mile, mainly to
get our bearings. Down a long alley we saw a thousand devotees
gathered. Nothing prepared us for what we saw at that Lorong Kulit
Temple. Men of various ages were being turned into objects of
piercing art before our very eyes; 'Woshi Ka Ti' or piercing.
The implements of piercing, carefully prepared, were laid on
saris in front of the devotees. Many observe a strict
vegetarian diet for about 40 days and renounce all forms of comfort
and pleasure-giving activities. The 40 days are spent in meditation
and prayer, often staying in the temples and
now were preparing themselves in a kind of trance. A small
band of drums with loud singing would stop in front of the devotee.
The ear shattering beat lasted several minutes as the devotee put
himself in a trance, at times with eyes rolling back in his head.
A temple priest and his assistants chanted prayers and it seemed
assessed the man as to whether he was properly prepared for the
ritual. If completely clear and prepared, the piercing are not
felt and little blood is drawn. If not coming with a pure
heart the devotee will experience the excruciating pain of the
piercing and suffer
from serious scaring afterwards. 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 and believe in Lord
Murugan is what prevents the pain and the bleeding.
Human shish kebobs.
Devotee after devotee was first smeared with yellow turmeric powder
then decorated with designs in white ash. Laying down on a sari
on the ground, face first, a dozen steel hooks connected to long
ropes were systematically pierced through their backs. The
young man was then pulled to his feet by the ropes, to test how well
the hooks were holding. One of the helpers of the devotee then
held the rope and the devotee lunged forward pulling the hooks to
the max. Once this strength was determined another group of
Temple priests moved in and began connecting little steel pots
filled with milk, up to 99, over his body. This done the
master priest arrived and stuck a spear in one side of the check
and out the other. Just when you thought that the maximum pain
threshold had been crossed the devotee stuck his tongue out and a
spear was pushed through his tongue and connected to his metal face
decorations. A walking decorated Christmas tree this poor
fellow was then hooked up to his carriage/float which he pulled or
remaining 8 miles to the final temple. Along the way he
stopped for drinks, was carefully seated on a stool provided by his
spotters and when loud music was blaring he and his friends/spotters
would dance wildly. Unbelievable!
Told that when caught up
in the river of devotees the miles would pass quickly and so we set
out. Tika carefully painted on my forehead, we followed the
path for the next 6 miles. Along the way we were invited
several times in for dahl and rice and once stopped to have a
coconut, watching the river pass us by for a few minutes. The
route, shut to traffic, was fringed with stalls and displays.
Near the temple the noise, confusion, and cacophony increased as
music blared from every stand and or little shrine, hawkers sold
food and drinks to weary walkers. Devotees carried milk-pots
of brass and silver, wrapped in colorful kavadis, and inched their
way to the great temple overhead with sweet hypnotic resolve. The
children, the elders and even the disabled ones, scaled slowly with
their ceremonial burdens, ascending with a mission to the call of
the good Lord Murugan.
The festivities end on the
evening when the impressive Silver Chariot bearing the image of
Murugan, is slowly driven from the Sri Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani
Temple in Waterfall on a long overnight journey to the Natukottai
Chettiar Temple in George Town, or Little India.
This yearly chariot procession
during Thaipusam has been held without fail since 1857. A wooden
chariot was used for the first 37 years until the silver chariot was
brought from India in 1894; this chariot has been used ever since.
On the return trip hundreds of devotees flock peacefully around the
gleaming chariot, carrying trays of offerings , coconuts, flowers,
fruits, betel-leaves, amid the melodic music of an Indian
piper and his drummer.
Little children are lifted up to the idol in the chariot for priests
to invoke the deity's blessings. Jasmine garlands are
passed up to be placed on Lord god Murugan, incense wafts, chanting
As the chariot, pulled by bulls, slowly lunges forward, a frenzy of
coconut smashing ensues before the sacred deity. During the
procession, many peaceful waves of devotees wait patiently to have
their glimpses of the sacred idol of Lord Murugan. Once home
fireworks lit up the sky in Little India.
We left long before the
midnight return of the chariot.
Hot and tired we only
watched as our fellow walkers climbed over two hundred stairs to the
top. Enough was enough and we walked another 2 miles through
the mele to wait for a bus back to town. Whatever the reason,
for penance or gratitude, for future good luck or to please the
gods, we felt cleansed, excited and full of life. We were
grateful for yet another experience to be immersed in a culture of
this fascinating planet we all share.
And so it
goes.........................................Next a "One Way Ticket
to Ethiopia." Let's remember to
seek mystery, evoke mystery, plant a garden in which strange plants
grow and mysteries bloom. Take
care and Keep in Touch!
Love, Light &
Nancy & Joseph
1 US Dollar equals
Have a Happy
Chinese New Year. 'Gong Xi Fa Chai '(in Chinese).
Rows of red lanterns are hung above the streets in
both Penang and Butterworth. Also the big Ke So Lok
Temple is lit up at night for 2 weeks
around Chinese New Year.
around Malaysia: It is a rainbow of racial, ethnic,
religious and cultural mixes: orang ulu tribe from Borneo, Muslim, Chinese, Indian
and combinations of them all.
Malaysia My Second Home Visa
welcomes you warmly into their country. Three month, no
questions asked visa on arrival. But if you want a place
to stay longer our advice once you have decided for sure you
want this 10 year visa, go to the official government website.
Look at the requirements. Download all forms and just
start doing one page at a time. Get forms certified, free,
at a government office. Submit by registered mail to KL.
When you get your approval letter back, within 90 days, then do
step #2 requirements. When completed go to KL suburb -
Putrajaya. We flew to KLIA with Air Asia, took a train to
Putrajaya right from the airport, took a taxi to the office,
completed out visa, took the train back to the airport, and flew
to BKK that eve. Just step by step and save $2000 to $3000
Good Doctor - Inexpensive - helps do the MM2H physical quickly.
Signs paper and for under 100rg each you get your
blood pressure taken - no tests necessary- done in 5
Poliklinik - Fettes Park #30 Jalan Fettes
Bank - Fettes Park Branch - very helpful, friendly and
efficient. Ask for Faridah, Joyce or Omar.
They will open a FD account for you prior to
receiving your MM2H approval letter. Fettes
Park Branch; 98-G-31 & 32, Jalan Fettes, Prima
Tanjung Business Center, Tanjung Tokong, 11200 Pulau
Pinang - tele 604-899-9069,
- they can provide, through their life insurance
branch , insurance for 3 months, which can be
renewed quarterly. They insure to over age 80.
Try agoda.com for possible discounts on some of the hotels
listed below. Sometimes when you fly on Air Asia they
offer discounts if the hotel is booked at the same time.
Contact Megan at firstname.lastname@example.org
department actually answers any emails with questions you may
have (contact us on the website). Develop a relationship
with any officer working there and their help will be
Penang Adventist Hospital: Great friendly modern, moderate
priced hospital for check ups, etc. English spoken,
465 Jalan Burma, Phone# =604 222 7200 24 hr Emergency: 604
Good skin doctor: Dr Khoo Siew Swan:
Indian Rest. across from Woodlands is on Jl Lebong Penang
Best vegetarian food outside of India
Just down the street
The Leaf Healthy House 11:30-3 5:30-9
Clean, a bit trendy, good prices, AC if the Indian Restaurant is
Seamstress Yuana, 65 China St Little India
Victoria Inn [$30] just East of Little
India and only 2 blocks from Ferry to Butterworth.
Modern. clean with internet working most of the time.
Star Lodge, 39 Munthri-
Great guesthouse but limited number of rooms. Basic but
clean and extremely helpful staff during the day. Get a
room on the 2nd floor
email@example.com Phone # 604-2626 378 Owner Aun says
"hello". Robert also. Reasonable rates.
Discount for week or more
Traveler's Lodge 75 Munthri , same owners, Just down the
road - give them a try until the Star opens up - bigger
New Asia Heritage Hotel [$35
including fees--but not including breakfast]: discovered Dim
Sum place we frequented; but a breakfast place starts at 5
am and woke us up both days.
Acupuncture clinic 71 Munthri. - a
few doors down
Tuesday there was no acupuncture because of the Koran
Bee [the national contest to see who reads the Koran
best]. Ramadan is super busy, expensive and best
to avoid Penang
Red Garden Food Paradise: Great Thai food Opens at
5pm A wild local, fun hang out with music/Kareoke at 9pm
but be careful walking home at night after dark. (Always/Anywhere)
Don't stay nearby (Red Cabana Inn) if you want to sleep.
Red Cabana Inn [$24 with horrible breakfast]--just
off Muntri: nice rooms but the Red Garden next door is an
open air night club with loud singing until 2 AM. They hand
out ear plugs after your credit card is swiped haha (Thanks
for the info Paul & Reese.)
Another option is Hutton Inn, a little more expensive but
the upper floors of this old colonial style hotel are quiet
as is Hutton JL on which it is located.
Check agoda.com or Airbnb.com also has options - usually starting around
Organic shops: All near Pilau
#101 bus - get off at Reclining Buddha Temple and walk 2
LSY Health and Organic Products:
open 7-noon for juice
phone: 04-2291337 T.C.K. and wife very
knowledgeable on health
Teoh Chooi Keat Email:
Go Organic: 7j Marble Arch Pulau Tikus
phone: 604 229 4226
2 other shops around the corner ie Organic -
compare prices between shops
Other veggie restaurants near downtown:
Lilies Vegetarian Kitchen: Madras Lane. From Komtar
walk down Burma Rd past Komtar Center (round building) - left on Madras Lane
Award winning, great variety of pure vegetarian food. Most
meals about 5-8 R.
Believe it or not - one of the best places in Penang
is the lunch cafeteria of the Penang Adventist Hospital
- first floor All types of curries, Chinese, etc
for only about $2
Vegetarian Restaurant: The best going in Penang for Chinese
Vegetarian Buddhist food. Across from the big main blue &
white Police station on Penang Rd. From Chulia side turn right
just before the Police station. Down half a block on your
right. Closed Sunday or Monday. Lunch 11-2.
Dinner 5-7. Great food. Plenty of vegetables, with soy
or mushroom look alike dishes. Full of flavor but with the
usual msg we assume, so don't eat it often. Large plate full
An Indian beauty.
The silver chariot
procession carrying Hindu's celebrated deity,
Pulled by a team of oxen.
Devotee after devotee was
first smeared with yellow turmeric
then decorated with designs in white ash.
Laying down on a sari on the ground, face first, a dozen steel
hooks connected to long ropes were systematically pierced
through their backs.
A small band of drums with loud
singing would stop in front of the
devotee. The ear shattering beat lasted several minutes as the
put himself in a trance, at times with eyes rolling back in his head.
A group of Temple priests moved in and began connecting
little steel pots filled with milk, up to 99, over his body.
The young man was then pulled to
his feet by the ropes,
to test how well the hooks were holding.
Just when you thought that the
maximum pain threshold had been
crossed the devotee stuck his tongue out and a spear was pushed
through his tongue and connected to his metal face decorations.
"My jugs are bigger than yours!"
A float displaying Hindu gods.
Families walked together to the Waterfall Temple.
A friendly Indian man walked with us for several miles.
Clad in yellow and saffron,
clean-shaven heads (symbol of humility and atonement) smeared with
sandalwood paste, the devotees walk along the
road sans the boisterousness that dominates the later hours of the
Simple shoulder 'kavadis'.
Devotees carry ceremonial light weight, 'mini floats'.
Mini temples blare music along the
route to the
Hundreds of thousands are fed free dahl, curry and rice enroute.
Towards the end of the route a
loud party atmosphere prevails.
Resting along the route. His buddies carry a small stool on
he can rest. When passing a stall with loud music he and his
friends start dancing wildly. From pain to party!
Bright, colorful saris.
Two little princesses.
A Hindu temple near the end of the procession.
Sri Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani
Temple in Waterfall.
A typical street scene in Old
Town, Georgetown, Penang.
Bike built for three!
This pretty young Muslim girl informed us that it was too windy
to see any of the festival's hot air balloons.
Striking young Indian couple.
Muslim tourists riding in rickshaws through China Town.
Lanterns lit for Chinese New Year.
Elaborate temples in China Town.
Traditional Chinese lion dance.
Ke So Lok Temple is massive.
Up and up it goes with
with a large
Kuan Yin statue, the Chinese
of mercy, at the top of the hill.
Ke So Lok
Temple is lit up at night for 2 weeks
Chinese New Year.
EE Beng Vegetarian
Restaurant: The best going in Penang for
Chinese Vegetarian Buddhist food.
We met so many lovely people in Penang. Sharing food
from all the different cultures was our favorite social activity.
We enjoyed learning about the
traditional trades of Penang
with Ms Goo, Boon, Ronnie, Clarae, and Ooi. Ronnie
makes traditional wire egg baskets, like his Grandmother
had in her kitchen.
Sing it Shirley! A band, with instruments made from only
recycled items, was entertaining at the monthly organic
food fare at Straights Quay. A fun afternoon.
Sun setting on the clock tower,
near the ferry
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