Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Joyful Malaysian Indian Festivals

Malaysia is home to one of the largest ethnic Indian populations outside India.  Almost 7% of Malaysia’s population (29 million) is of Indian origin and about 89% of this demographic segment follows the Hindu faith.
Malaysia’s Indian roots date back to the 3rd Century BC, when ancient Hindu kingdoms existed on the peninsula, however the descendants of these kingdoms have long since assimilated into the Malay population. The current Indian-origin population in Malaysia, consists largely of descendants of Indian traders who settled in Malaysia, laborers from Southern India who were brought to work on plantations by the British and Indian personnel who worked in the colonial forces

These early Indian immigrants brought with them their religious beliefs, customs and traditions, as they established temples at the plantations they worked on. Many of these temples continue to exist until today and serve as focal points for the Malaysian Indian community. In addition, Indian festivals are also celebrated with much gusto in Malaysia. Two major Indian festivals, Deepavali and Thaipussam are in fact designated as public holidays in most of the country.
Major Indian Festivals in Malaysian include:

Thaipussam (January/February)
Thaipussam is a festival dedicated to Lord Subramaniam(also known as Murugan). At Thaipussam, people thank the lord for granting their wishes and getting rid of their daily demons. Rituals and ceremonial parades featuring self-mutilation by devotees in a trance-like state are a highlight of the festival, also considered to be a day of penance. The Thaipussam celebrations at the Batu caves outside Kuala Lumpur and at Thannir Malai in Penang are especially famous.

The word Pongal translates as ‘boiling-over’ from Tamil. This harvest festival is celebrated over four days in mid-January. Malaysian Indians attired in their traditional best,gather at temples to offer prayers to Lord Surya during Pongal. Temples like Sri Veerakaliamman Devasthanam Temple (Penang), Sri Mahamariamman Temple(Penang) and the Batu caves feature as focal points during Pongal celebrations.

The Hindu festival of Navratri honors the Hindu goddesses Durga,Lakshmi and Saraswathi, and  is celebrated with much devotion and fervor over nine days during the seventh month of the Hindu calendar. During Navratri, Hindus stick to a vegetarian diet and celebrate with religious ceremonies and nocturnal dances.


The festival of lights is celebrated all over Malaysia. Spring-cleaning, offering of prayers at temples, new clothes all feature during ‘Deepavali’ along with the hosting of an open house, during which Malaysian Indians invite their friends of all races to partake of the festivities.

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