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Published: February 5th 2007
That's a nasty first picture, eh? Wish I could say I took it, but I didn't. A couple of friends who came with us to this did, and they were nice enough to let me copy their pics. Thanks Joanne & Yves!
So why on earth was this guy getting a pole rammed through his face, anyway? And how the hell did Rob and I stumble upon this? Well, the guy was getting this done to celebrate (if that's what you want to call it) Thaipusam, and it was dumb luck that we found out about it. Rob and I were up north in the Cameron Highlands, and were just about to leave when the manager of the hotel we were staying gave us the rundown on Thaipusam. This ceremony takes place all over Malaysia (there are huge festivities in KL, Melaka, and Ipoh), and it just so happened that one was taking place in the nearby town of Ringlett. I don't know how we never managed to hear of it before, but we obviously made sure to check it out.
According to Wikipedia.org
, Thaipusam is a Hindu festival that falls on the full moon in the Tamil month
If you look closely, the calculator says, "BOOBLESS." You're boobless because your a nerd - NERD! Uh oh, I'm boobless too... guess that confirms the obvious!
of the Thai calander (January/February) and celebrates Lord Murugan's birthday. It also commemorates, "the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel (lance) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman." It is really quite a sight to see: Women wearing their finest, brightest silks. Drums pound away at accelerating speeds, indian horns blare out distintive tunes, men sing into bullhorns, and people lose themselves in the music, dancing away in celebration. Howls in the crowd as faithful followers fall into a spell, preparing for the dangers at hand. Hooks, spikes, and blades tear away at flesh, and the crowd sit back and take it all in. Meanwhile, tourists like me watch in awe and wonderment, trying not to look like complete assholes while jamming cameras in people's faces.
The purpose of this event muddled; you will get different answers from everyone. For the most part, it's to give thanks to Lord Murugan and to show their devotion to him by taking on a burden. Many people prepare prior to Thaipusam by adhering to a strict vegetarian diet for 40 days - the idea being to cleanse the body of impurities. On the day of Thaipusam, followers show their devotion
Rob and I went on a fantastic jungle trek to Chilang Waterfall while in KL. That's where I found this guy. Bugs are cool! If anyone's planning to go to KL and wants to do this, e-mail Yen at firstname.lastname@example.org - he'll help you out!
by carrying burdens from the outskirts of town (where the festival starts - at least in Ringlett) to the temple.
There are many ways to carry a burden: it can be as simple as carrying a split coconut with milk still in it (which most people do), or as complex as piercing one's face, tongue, and flesh with hooks, then strapping a portable alter to your shoulders. It really just depends on the person. One guy we saw cut open his tongue with a huge blade then walked to the temple hunched down, with the sword balanced on his two shoulders - OUCH!
The walk to the temple is not easy either. It's only a short distance, but devotees take their sweet time getting to that final destination - at least two hours. Not a pleasant thing to do when you've got a spear through your cheeks! It's fair to say that the time from carrying one's burden to relieving themselves of it is easily three hours, maybe even four.
During this time, the crowd keeps pace the faithful, following them as they head to the temple. The music and singing never stops. Once they arrive, they
Die, Die, Die, Die!
I claim this rack of lamb for Spain!
make their way to the alter, where hooks, poles, and other nasty items are taken out of their bodies. They are then cleaned up and finished with this part of the festival, until next year. The party doesn't stop there though - a chariot with Murugan's image gets pulled around the temple by tractor, free vegetarian food is served, and the music carries on until late in the evening.
So why go through with it? Why cut open your mouth, or jam a bunch of hooks into your flesh? One word: Faith
. The people participating in these mutilating acts have faith that Lord Murugan will protect them from harm; that they will feel no pain. When devotees are getting hooks pushed into various parts of their bodies, you'll notice that there's not much blood. Some think this is Lord Murugan's doing, that he is saving them. Others told me that people who bleed to much did not follow a vegetarian diet for 40 days and are therefore, 'impure,' hence the bleeding. Not sure about any of that, but I did notice there was a lot more blood from the people cutting open their tongues and mouths with swords than
from those who pierced their bodies. Coincidence? I don't know - I'm not a doctor.
One thing I do know is that those about to go through with a more painful hindrance prepare for it by going into some sort of trance. It is really amazing to see them go into it! The closest thing I can compare it to is being hypnotized. At first you think, 'Bullshit!', but if you get up real close and look into their eyes, you'll see that the lights are on but nobody's home.
Like I said earlier, this was an amazing thing to see - a marvellous and scary spectacle! No matter what religion you may or may not be, you have to respect someone who has enough faith in their beliefs to put themselves through that kind of pain. You may not agree with it, but you can at least respect it.
This is a massive festival that has crowds of over a million in larger areas, but I was really glad to see it on a smaller scale - I think you get to see a whole lot more this way and don't have to fight through a
The Petronas Towers
Malaysia's famous twin skyscrapers. Eh, I've seen bigger. Ok, I lied - I haven't.
mob of people to see it. Also, I was really surprised that we were allowed to take photos. Encouraged, in fact, even inside the temple area. Usually that's a big no-no. But everyone there had no problem with it, saying we were guests and were glad to have us there. One holy man said we were, "honoured guests." I don't know about that, but I felt very honoured to be there, watching something so special.
*Malaysia's got one amazing culture blend: Chinese, Indian, and Malay people are everywhere. Everyone seems to get along great too! Let's hope the rest of the world is paying attention...
*KL's a beautiful city (very clean too, unlike a lot of other cities in S.E. Asia), but after you've seen the sights, there's not much to do - except shop. The whole city is just a big shopping mall, really. Which is great if you're looking to load up on cheap japanese anime (yes, I'm a HUGE nerd, I realize that).
We did manage to take a tour to the Chilang Waterfall from KL though, which was awesome: a two-hour hike going through rivers more than waste-deep in some
Truer Words Were Never Spoken
With apologies to all the women reading this!
places, swimming by the waterfall itself, and feeding the fishes (doesn't sound like much until you see all the fish attacking the bread - war, baby!). It was really great - just check out the pics! If anyone reading this is going to KL and is interested in going, just e-mail Yen at email@example.com
- it's his tour, so he can set you up.
*The Cameron Highlands was awesome! A fellow blogger recommended we go, and I'm glad we did. Thanks Lauralee! Nestled in the mountains and known for it's tea plantations, the place is gorgeous and much cooler than KL - its over 1000 meters above sea level. That makes for a very comfortable place to be, especially for one so close to the equator.
*We'll be in New Zealand in just a few days! ROCK ON! I'm loving S.E. Asia, but I'm a mountain boy at heart and am looking forward to some kick-ass hiking!
That's it for now. Next time I'm blogging, it'll be in the Southern Hemisphere!
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