Monday, July 1, 2024

Penang Thaipusam: A Journey of Faith and Discovery


Truth be told, the foundation of Hinduism, I’m not your typical holy Hindu or devotee (MASI MAGAM PANGKOR). Performing poojas or hosting prayers at home by inviting a priest is not part of my routine. Fasting and following a vegetarian diet, even on Hindu festivals, are practices of the devout Hindus I know. These individuals have taught many lessons about faith and spirituality despite their contradictions in attitude, character, and behaviors (VARANASI NIGHT PRAYERS & CHANDIGARH MARVELS). 

Still, I had a reason for making a vow, not for myself, but for something else which I prefer not to share. To fulfill this vow by carrying the Paal Kudam (Milk Pot) during Thaipusam, I went to Penang. This was my third time attending the festival, though previously I had only observed the celebrations. This time, it was for the Paal Kudam vow.

Three days before fulfilling the vow, I adopted a vegetarian diet. However, I accidentally ate fried anchovies and eggs without realizing it. Despite this, I continued with my plans and arrived in Penang by 1 PM. I checked into a hotel in Georgetown, strategically located along the Thaipusam chariot procession route. After changing into the yellow outfit and having a vegetarian lunch, I proceeded to the Penang Waterfall Hill Temple (Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple) on the eve of Thaipusam.


I chose to go on the eve to avoid the massive crowds carrying Paal Kudam on Thaipusam day. Even then, there were other devotees, and the climb up the hill was challenging. The temple now stands seven stories high, and climbing it in the late afternoon was a real struggle. I perspired heavily, taking breaks along the way, questioning my vow but somehow managing to reach the top.

Despite the temple not being fully ready for prayers, a mild prayer session was underway. I poured the milk from my pot into the provided pail, performed my prayers, and made a few circles around the prayer hall. The descent from the hill was a relief, far easier than the climb up.

The next morning, I stood outside the hotel for watching the procession. The spirit of Thaipusam in Penang was on full display, with families dressed in similar colors, ladies in glamorous sarees and makeup, and a festival-like atmosphere. It was like a fashion show, but it was nice to see how people put effort into dressing up for such a religious occasion. I found myself admiring them.

Walking behind the chariot, I saw stalls lined up on both sides of the street, with even the Chinese offering free food and drinks. Corporations had their own tents, similar to what I had seen at the temple the previous day, also offering food and drinks, and some had altars where you could pray as well.

Having opted out of the buffet breakfast at the hotel, I was quite hungry by 10 AM. I wasn’t shy about taking the free food and drinks being offered. I ate to my heart’s content, as though I hadn't eaten in days. After another hour, I returned to the hotel, feeling a strong sense of spirituality and community.



Reflections On Thaipusam

The Flow of Milk: A Question Unanswered

I often ponder the fate of the milk carried in pots during Thaipusam. As I watch it flow continuously towards an unknown destination, I wonder: where does all this milk go? Sadly, at Batu Caves during Thaipusam, gallons of milk seem to be going  down the drain without purpose. Could this effort in Hinduism not be better reflected by collecting and utilizing the milk for a noble cause?

 

Rethinking Vows: A New Perspective

After climbing the daunting steps for my last Thaipusam vow to Lord Murugan, I've had a realization. The physical strain and near-collapse made me reconsider my approach. There's a gentler way to connect with the divine that doesn't involve such physical hardship.

 

Giving Back: A Resolution

In my future vows, I plan to donate the milk and more to those in need - especially the poor and homes for the destitute. Additionally, I'll contribute to educational causes for underprivileged children. It's a way to honor my faith and make a meaningful impact.

 

Volunteerism Reconsidered: Lessons Learned

My experience volunteering at Batu Caves on Thaipusam day was enlightening yet challenging. The overwhelming crowd pushed and shoved as I climbed the steps to the volunteering area. It was disheartening to encounter volunteers who were demanding, rude, and more focused on seeking recognition than serving with humility and respect. This experience, coupled with previous volunteer work in a temple, made me question the true essence of volunteerism - is it about genuine service or validation?


Penang Thaipusam: A Unique and Divine Experience
Honestly, compared to Batu Caves Thaipusam, Penang Thaipusam stands out as unique and outstanding. You truly feel the spirit of Thaipusam, unlike the carnival atmosphere at Batu Caves.

Penang is well-organized, especially with the swift removal of broken coconuts from the road immediately after devotees break them. The aura of Penang Thaipusam is truly divine, with vibes that are captivating, and soul-touching. Words cannot fully express the feeling, even for someone like me who isn't a devout Hindu.


The spirit of Thaipusam is palpable as everyone comes together to make it a meaningful celebration. Corporations partake in the festivities, and the unlimited free food and drinks offered are remarkable. People were well-behaved, respecting each other throughout the festival.

However, seeing those supposedly in a trance, dressed as holy Hindus, dancing with Western tourists, was not a sight to be appreciated.

 

Overall, Thaipusam in Penang is a must-experience. If you have experienced it, you will understand what I mean. For those who haven’t, you will discover why it’s a must.

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