When we first moved here we were talking to our director, Sara, about all of the festivals in Malaysia. She invited us to Thaipusam with her this year many days in advance and we took her up on her offer. As the weekend approached, we prepared for Ipoh and learned more about the festival but nothing could prepare us for what we were about to experience. It was beautiful, wonderful, energetic, lively and overall something I would never have thought to encounter in my entire live.
We left after work on Friday after baking a gift for the family. Ipoh is a little over two hours from KL and the car made it without a hitch (car story to soon follow.) We arrived to Ipoh and immediately went to a local Chinese restaurant for dinner to meet with Sara’s husband Francis and his family. After dinner we went to the house to unload our things and then it was off to the temple for the beginning of the celebration. I did not have my camera with me, but Cody took some amazing video and will post them soon.
Around midnight is when everything starts and it lasts for three days. We were there to see it from start to finish. For the men who are going to walk with the kavadis, they prepare a month in advance that includes rituals and fasting. Friday night, the men participating and their families and friends, gather at the temple to start their journey. They get into a trance with the help of drums and chanting to assemble their edifices or kavadis that are often carried or pulled by the devotees with chains and ropes anchored in the skin of their backs or chests. After circling the temple three times, they then follow the chariot bearing Lord Murugan’s image to another temple about 10 kilometers away throughout the night.
The next morning, we met the followers still making their journey throughout the city streets of Ipoh.
Groups will continue through the day and night making the walk to the temple. On Saturday afternoon we followed the celebration to the second temple to witness the men removing their kavadis. When they arrive at the temple, they will dance at the entrance to ensure they are in a trance, before the decorative part of the kavadis are removed. Then the men and their families enter the temple and begin removing the hooks and peircings. Ash is placed over the holes in the skin as the pieces are removed. The men rarely bleed with the removal, and it is a sign of their devotion and purity.