Thursday, March 3, 2011


Not too long ago Brent had to take another trip back to the States for some business meetings. Unfortunately for him, one of the most amazing cultural Indian Hindu experiences in Penang happened while he was back home: Thaipusam. Not one to sit around the apartment when a festival is going on, I wrapped myself in a sari, threw a punjabi shirt on Craig and went to see what Thaipusam is all about! I can post pictures, but it won't do this experience justice. Look at the journey that millions of Hindu faithful participate in each year!

We went with our good friends, Frank and Kay Lyn Shaw. Frank is the managing director of another computer chip company here in Penang. His company had a booth set up along the road that devotees walk on. The booth serves food to employees and family members on their journey. Here they are serving lunch in their booth I thought we would stay in the booth and watch Thaipusam, but boy was I wrong!
Thaipusam is a Hindu celebration that takes place when the moon is full in the Tamil month of Thai (between January and February). Dedicated to Lord Subramaniam, also known as Lord Murugan, the deity of youth, power and virtue. This Hindu festival commemorates the feats of the Hindu God, Lord Subramaniam son of Lord Siva. It also acknowledges Subramaniam's triumph over the evil forces. Devotees go through a physical endurance of being skewered and pierced on the back and front of their bodies by hooks with miniature urns as an act of penance. These hooks and skewers and the burdens they carry are called Kavadi. After being burdened (or pierced multiple times!)a pilgrimage of several kilometers is made through the streets of Penang, and up a hill to a temple where prayers of thanksgiving and penance are offered to Lord Murugan. We joined in on the pilgrimage. What made this so unreal is that I drive down the street of the pilgrimage all the time, it is literally up the street from Craig's school! While I can post pictures of what we saw, there is no way to post the incredible beating drums and music that filled the air. I also can't post the wonderful smell of curries mixed with incense that permeated the air from the different booths and that lined the streets of the pilgrimage. Here are a group of women in their beautiful traditional dress, making their way up the street and then up the hill.
Here is a devotee making his pilgrimage with his kavadi. Look closely at his mouth. It has been pierced all the way through both cheek, and their is no blood. Look at his body, there are multiple pins pierced all over. Lastly, look at the man walking behind him, pulling some ropes.
Those ropes are attached to large hooks that have been pierced through the body and then pulled on throughout his pilgrimage. And look again, there is no blood!
Craig drew a lot of attention on the street! What a cute little boy! He is very patient with all the people who want pictures of him, everyone loved that he was in festive Indian dress.
Here is a view of the street, so you can get a feeling of the massive quantity of people that walk this road during Thaipusam. There was a stready stream of people from morning until night.
Here is a look at the Kavadi that people in the middle of the crowd were carrying. I was so suprised that the devotees were surrounded by everyone else. I thought we would just watch them go by, I didn't realize we would be in the middle of things, walking with them. Everyone carrying the headresses were also pierced several times.
Take a look at this man! He is covered in metal urns (kavadi)!
If you take a closer look you realize the metal isn't some type of coat, each piece is individually pierced onto the man.
This was the first time I saw fruit covering anyone. This was also the first time I looked at their feet. They make this pilgrimage pierced and barefoot! They walk several kilometers barefoot! I kept wondering why people at the booths along the way where spraying down the cement. I thought they were making a mess, but they were really cooling the ground for the devotees to walk on.
I had a tap on my shoulder and was asked to make way for someone. When I turned around, this is what I saw! Be sure that each one of those metal urns is a piercing!
Look closely at his face!
This is one of the most amazing things to me, look how close Craig and I were to this man. I have never been a part of anything like this before. Craig is understandably a little nervous.
But he calmed down when he saw this man, coming back down from the hill. Here is Mr. Nicholas, a teacher at Craig's school. I really couldn't believe that we actually knew someone so actively participating in this ceremony/pilgrimage. It made it seem not so surreal, that this was actually happening where we live. What a great place to be!!
A few hundred yards before the hill many people stopped at this temple to pray to their Gods. You might remember this temple from Craig's field trip!
And here is the beginning of the end of the journey, the hike up the hill to make offerings of thanksgiving and penance. It was quite a hot day, and we had already walked for more than an hour, so I just couldn't make Craig climb the hill!
So we made our way back to our friend's booth and here we saw a very young boy with his kavadi.

Here are some more awe-inspiring sights we saw and we made our way back to the booth. I took over 350 pictures, and it was so hard to choose what to put in this post!
Yes, the shells are all pierced on!

These men actually stopped to dance!

By the time we got back to the booth, Craig was very happy to see one of his favorite people! This is Patel, Frank and Kay Lyn's driver. Patel and Craig became fast friends when we first moved here. Here we are! Back at the booth. What a truly amazing day! The more I think of Thaipusam, the more I think "Did I really see that? Was I really in the middle of that?" This was one of the true highlights of living in Penang for me, and something I never in a million years thought I would see in person.


  1. Now you've posted some pretty crazy things, but this is the craziest!!! I couldn't look at half of the pictures because it was so crazy looking. I can't believe you were out walking with all of those people. Are they in pain or is it a happy pilgrimage? What an experience you guys are having... Yu Won't want to come back because we are entirely too boring.

  2. Great pictures. Very happy you and Craig were able to join us at the Fairchild booth.

  3. Wow! what an experience. Do they remove all the piercings after the pilgrimage? What a different life we live from them.