Since we were in Penang for 2 years we got to experience all the holidays twice. This was especially cool for Thaipusam. The first year we decided to follow the golden chariot and see the offering blessings. You can read about it, and what exactly Thaipusam is on my first post, which is located here: https://therussellsinpenang.com/2016/01/26/thaipusam/
Our second year we did a guided tour with some friends for the day time. We started at the staging area in which the people participating in the Kavadi Attam were preparing for their walk to Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Kovil, also known as Waterfall Temple. Once they get to the temple they walk up the 513 steps and leave their offerings to the deity Murugan. We walked the whole route, including up to the top of the temple. It was hot, but a really cool experience.
The Kavadi Attam is the ceremonial sacrifice and offering that is performed by the devotees. The Kavadi is a physical burden through which devotees ask for help, or are offering thanks for blessings from Lord Murugan. It doesn’t seem that everyone participates in this part the same way. The people that do participate prepare themselves through prayer and fasting. Kavadi bearers have to perform elaborate ceremonies at the time they assume the Kavadi. Also for the month before Thaipusam, they observe celibacy, only take pure Satvik food once a day (special vegetarian, including milk), and think only of God, nothing else. It is a time of reflection and meditation. On the day of the festival they engage in various acts of devotion. This can range from carrying a pot of milk on their head for the entire procession route, to piercing the tongue, cheek, or back to caring a canopy on their shoulders to the temple.
I find this particular holiday absolutely fascinating. It is such a reverent holiday for those who are participating. It is also one that we have little to no knowledge of in the west. Malaysia has traditions that are particular to them, so it is even more fascinating to see it at an even further micro level. It is the most visible holiday in Penang. The rest of the holidays are like our traditions, in which they are celebrated in the home, so unless you are invited to someone’s home, you really don’t get a close up look at what the actual traditions are.
The first part of our tour was to see how some of the kadavi bearers prepared for their walk.
The route we took was a couple of miles. This is the same route from my previous blog in which the chariot took to the temple.
The sacrifice bearers do so in bare feet. Many of the food stalls along the route will keep the street pavement wet for them, so they can cool their feet along the way.
We made the walk, now up the stairs we climb.
Inside the temple were line so people could give their offerings, usually of milk. Everyone that celebrates this holiday walks up the temple to make an offering, not just the Kavadi Attam devotees.
One of the bonuses of walking up the 513 steps is the view at the top. We could see the temple from our bedroom window, so I looked at it every single day. It was really fun to finally see the reverse view.