Monday, February 20, 2012

The Silver Chariot

On the pusam day, which is the day before the full moon, during the month of Thai in the Hindu calendar, Lord Murugan's image rides a silver chariot from his temple home in Georgetown to a waterfall temple located near Penang Hill. This journey opens a three-day Tamil Hindi festival known as Thaipusam, which is celebrated by Indian settlers in Penang. Here we are standing near the Silver Chariot on day 1 of Thaipusam.

Here is a closer look at the image of Lord Murugan. Lord Murugan, also known as Lord Subramaniam, is the son of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva is the chief god in Hinduism. Thaipusam honors two of the achievements of Lord Murugan. First, he won the war in heaven by defeating the Asuras or demons and casting them out. Second, he uttered "Aum", the primevil Hindu word for creation.

The Silver Chariot takes all day to make it to the waterfall temple. All along the way, people stack and bless coconuts. These coconuts have been blessed with an orange powder, and have a small Chinese note on them.

Even though Thaipusam is a Tamil Hindu celebration observed by ethnic Indians, many other cultures get involved as well. Malaysians truly know how to embrace diversity by welcoming and celebrating each culture's holidays together. This shopkeeper is ethnic Chinese. Although she is not Hindu, she is welcome to join in the celebration. According to other Malaysian Chinese friends that I have, Lord Murugan is regarded as a very powerful god, so many Chinese pray for help from him.

You're probably wondering what the significance is of the coconuts. Well, everyone is welcome to take a coconut...

And smash it! Yup, all those nicely stacked coconuts end up as husks sitting on top of coconut milk soaked asphalt! Craig got to smash a few! At first he was hesitant, as if he didn't believe we'd let him smash something on the road and leave it there.

But then Jennifer smashed a few coconuts, and so did everyone else. And we were all having fun while doing it!

So, Craig got really excited and smashed a few more! The sound was incredible - like firecrackers all exploding in rapid succession! After all the smashing we were covered in coconut milk. You can see the juices flying around int he picture above! It was really cool!

Here are the leftovers. Cracking the coconuts cleanses the way before Lord Murugan, and is a symbol of thanksgiving and a prayer for prosperity all in one.

The coconuts are broken all along the path of the Silver Chariot. The two oxen pulling the heavy cart only get to stop to wait for more coconuts to be broken to cleanse the path ahead.

Here is Craig standing by the aftermath. It was truly an amazing experience to participate in cracking coconuts in Penang!


  1. Did it smell like coconut everywhere? What a fun and interesting custom!

  2. Yup! It smelled like coconut, and if you weren't careful you probably got a taste of coconut as well! How cool is it to smash coconuts on the street? I love Penang!