Saturday, June 22, 2024

Masi Magam Thiruvizha/Festival, Pulau Pangkor

I am definitely not the most devout person. I certainly don’t look like one, alright? But I believe deeply in my religion, Hinduism. You won't find me in the temple, fervently praying and performing rituals, because my philosophy towards Hinduism is that being a good human is what being religious truly means. Are you a good human?

When I was invited to attend the Pulau Pangkor Masi Magam Thiruvizha, or festival, I thought, why not? It would be my first experience, and I was eager to see what it was all about. My friend took care of all the arrangements, including transport. On Sunday, we departed from Klang Sentral Bus Terminal and arrived in Lumut by late afternoon for the ferry ride to Pulau Pangkor.

The Masi Magam spirit was already vibrant at the ferry terminal, reminiscent of a mini Thaipusam. Along with other festival-goers, we boarded the ferry and set off for Pulau Pangkor. Upon arriving at the jetty, it became clear that negotiating rates was futile during the festive season; you simply accept whatever the rate is, knowing that all drivers are consistent. At our apartment or homestay, I noticed many others who were also there for the Masi Magam festival.


By late evening, as we made our way to the main road, the festival was already in full swing, with a vibrant and colorful procession marking the beginning of the celebrations. Masi Magam, also known as Magha Pournami, is a significant Hindu festival that takes place in the Tamil month of Masi (February or March), coinciding with the full moon day (Pournami).

The Sri Pathira Kaliamman Temple in Pulau Pangkor, Malaysia, holds special significance during the Masi Magam festival due to its historical ties and the deeply rooted beliefs associated with the goddess Kali Amman. According to local traditions, the temple was established several centuries ago by South Indian traders who visited the region for commerce. These traders built the temple in dedication to Kali Amman, a powerful deity revered for her protective and prosperous blessings.

During the Masi Magam festival, devotees gather at the temple to pay homage to Kali Amman and seek her blessings. The festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm, featuring a series of rituals and processions that underscore the temple's historical and cultural importance within the local community. This blend of tradition, faith, and history transforms the Kali Amman Temple into a focal point of the Masi Magam festival on Pulau Pangkor.

The Masi Magam procession in Pulau Pangkor starts at Pasir Bogak Beach, though we chose not to go there. Instead, we followed the procession, and one of it, watching as it was pulled by devoted participants with large hooks attached to their bodies. We walked among the throng, heading towards the Sri Pathira Kaliamman Temple in Sungai Pinang Besar. Along the route, generous locals offered food and drinks to everyone, while others in a trance state performed prayers.

We reached the seaside temple, but the crowd was still sparse since it was only the eve of the Masi Magam Thiruvizha. We joined in the prayers and watched captivating religious dance performances. Stalls around the temple sold various items, adding to the vibrant atmosphere. Returning to our homestay proved challenging as all transport options, including taxis and vans, were full and the prices had surged. Eventually, we managed to get into a van, but convincing the driver to drop us near our homestay was a hassle. By the time we returned, it was almost 1 am.

The next day, we spent some time relaxing at the beach before heading back home. I wish we could have stayed for the actual day of the Masi Magam festival, but it was an oversight by my friend. I was told that on the day itself, you can witness all sorts of kavadi, which I unfortunately missed. 

Reflections on Masi Magam at Pulau Pangkor
Lack of Local Knowledge
It's intriguing how the people I asked couldn't articulate the significance of the Masi Magam festival beyond paying homage to Goddess Kali for personal vows. Surprisingly, they were unaware of the temple's significance as well. Some attendees were there for the experience, while others were faithful returnees. Even my friend couldn't explain until I researched it myself. 

This highlights a gap in cultural understanding and personal engagement with the festival's deeper meanings, or perhaps a varying level of faith in the divine.

Acts of Devotion

Experiencing the Masi Magam festival at Pulau Pangkor was truly eye-opening. One of the most striking sights was seeing men with huge hooks embedded in their bodies, pulling the  chariot. This led me to question whether being religious necessarily involves suffering and self-torture. 

Did God ever dictate that Hinduism requires such extreme forms of homage to Goddess Kali? Isn’t spirituality supposed to embrace a softer, more compassionate approach? Then again, Goddess Kali is known for her fierce nature, so perhaps this is reflected in the devotees’ acts of penance.

Having said that, seeing Goddess Kali in the temple brought a deep sense of meaningfulness to my soul. Looking at her felt assuring, and she undoubtedly holds the power of my religious faith as well.

The Long Walk of Penance

Walking with the chariot and procession was obviously one of the ways of penance to Masi Magam. Mind you, it's a long walk, and what I noticed is, some people were struggling to walk, catching their breath, taking breaks, and literally wobbling in between, including the person I was with, who insisted on walking. 

To tell you the truth, I was concerned if my friend would collapse, as she was sweating and couldn't even talk while walking the distance to the temple, despite being the one who insisted on walking. Thankfully, thanks to my yoga strength, I did well. 

But is this how we are supposed to show God how religious we are? Or is it more about proving something to others, in the name of boasting about it later as an achievement? Is being religious about suffering so that we will head to heaven? Beats me.


Skepticism Towards Rituals

Another aspect was witnessing the people in trance and those in yellow outfits offering blessings to the public. To be honest, I didn’t go near them because I was skeptical. I don't personally believe in such rituals and found it challenging to understand their significance.


Cultural Diversity

I also noticed quite a number of Chinese devotees participating, which included carrying kavadis. Their presence highlighted the festival’s cultural diversity. However, I didn’t see many Westerners among the crowd.

Practical Tips for Attendees
If you’re planning to attend, booking your stay well in advance is crucial. This not only ensures a better deal but also allows you to choose more comfortable accommodations. We stayed at a homestay that resembled a motel, costing around 350 MYR per night, which was quite pricey given its basic amenities. Thankfully, it at least had windows with an outside view.


Safety and Convenience

Embracing the festival’s bustling crowd is inevitable. Keep a close watch on your belongings and avoid densely packed areas to stay safe. Although we didn’t drive, we relied on public transport, which was convenient despite the inevitable price hikes during the festival. Taking public transport was a fun thing for me. I particularly loved the ferry ride.

Final Thoughts

Overall, attending the Masi Magam festival is a profound experience and an excellent opportunity for introspection. It challenges you to reflect on your own spirituality compared to the devoutness of the festival participants.

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