The annual Indian- Chinese Festival on Pangkor
In March every year there is a festival held on Pangkor which involves both the Indian and Chinese communities. It is exciting, colourful and vibrant with just a little touch of horror. The Indian Temple and the Chinese Temple both prepare for this and participants fast for 2 weeks or more before the climax in preparation for the vows that they will fulfill. About 40,000 people make their way across to the island over a period of about 4 or 5 days.
It is believed here that the Indian Goddess Kali is the younger sister of the Chinese Goddess Kuan Yin and it is at this festival that a person can do penance for a wish granted, an illness healed or a goal achieved. You can also be blessed at the temple in order to keep you safe and healthy for the next year.
The vows are fulfilled and penance served in a number of ways. The simplest is to carry a milk pot first to the Chinese Temple and then on to the Indian, paying respects along the way. The most extreme methods involve having your body pierced, often in hundreds of places, or being pierced in the back and then using these hooks to pull along a chariot, or indeed to be suspended from it. Most of the devotees fall into a trance and become oblivious to everything around them but totally focused on the task at hand. There is no bleeding from the piercing and there are no screams of pain. It is all extremely dramatic and stimulates all the senses and emotions with noise, incense, colour and taste.
Mohan himself, has been through this having had about 70 small hooks pierced into his back, a small lime hanging off each one. He tells me that it does indeed hurt but the healing process is enhanced by the ash that is rubbed on afterwards.
The processions begin at Pasir Bogah, one of the main beaches on Pangkor Island. It is here that the devotees prepare themselves mentally for their journey along the main road of the island and to the temples. It is here that the priests are stationed to chant prayers, build confidence, burn huge amounts of incense and then pierce the devotees in their cheeks, their backs, their chests and limbs. This combination of palm trees, sand, sea, colour and ordered chaos is slightly surreal. Crowds move in and out as a devotee goes into a trance and the group clears a circle around them. There is never a feeling of fear or threat despite some of the devotees holding large but blunt metal machetes, with eyes wildly open, chests pumped and striding around like Gods. The family members keep them on the right track by gently prodding or leading them in the right direction.
This year, Mohan arranged for us- myself, David, Tessa , my mother in law Dilys, and our friend Wouter- to be blessed at the Indian Temple. We dressed in our best Indian clothes and accompanied Mohan down to the temple with a tray of offerings and a huge garland of flowers for the deity of the temple. The streets were lined with stalls selling all the colourful and very sweet Indian sweets, jewelry, trinkets, incense and clothes. The road was covered in broken coconuts crushed by the vehicles that continued to use the roads.
In the inner temple area the medicinal neem leaves were strewn everywhere and tucked into all the statues around the temple. Huge piles of smokey scented saffron coloured marigolds were being scooped up by priests to be used for garlands. Incense smarted at our eyes and the scent of it all quite overwhelmed us as we waited our turn with the priest.
Once ready, the priest chanted prayers and marked our foreheads with ash and vermillion and we had fantastic garlands hung around our necks. It was all quite lovely and we all felt very upbeat afterwards. We watched some of the temple visitors fulfill their vows by lying down and rolling around the temple building. This was really difficult and as the clothes shredded and the person became evermore tired from this physically exhausting task, friends and family splashed them with water to keep them cool. Around us little goats were being pulled to the back of the temple, ready for sacrifice, and then to be made into meals. Everywhere there was people, colour, sound, scents and lots of motorbikes!
This festival with the combination of cultures and religion, of the island, jungle and sea is really worth a look. It is very much a local phenomenon and really should not be missed. This opportunity to watch living cultures express their beliefs and ceremonies is very special and obviously for those interested in photography, this is a great event. Tessa has seen this before so is not phased by it, and it is a totally family affair, but it can be a bit daunting for anyone unused to ceremonies like this. It is though, very much part of what makes Pangkor such a special island.
Deepavali the Indian Festival of Lights is celebrated on Nov 4th. It celebrates Lord Krishna's victory over the demon Narakasura.
Oil lamps outside Hindu homes invite blessings from Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.
Deepavali is a public holiday in Malaysia - a great time visiting Indian friends & eating festival delicacies.
Moon Cake Festival - Chung Chiu
This mid-autumn festival is the third major festival of the Chinese calender & is celebrated on the 15th day of the eigth moon. It corresponds Western culture to the harvest festival.
The moon plays a significant part in the festival. It is the largest full moon of the year & to celebrate this, lanterns in traditional designs and nowadays, in plastic battery operated glowing Hello Kitty or Pikachu, are peraded outside by kids at night. It's a charming occasion.
During the festival a traditional delicacy, sweet cake (yueh ping), is prepared. It is round in the shape of the full moon and filled with sesame seeds, ground lotus seeds & hard boiled duck egg.
On every mooncake box is stamped the image of a lady, Chang-O, dancing on clouds. Often with her is the Jade Hare.
Chang-O, the wife of the Divine Archer, shot down nine of ten suns plaguing the earth & was rewarded with the Herb of Immortality. She grabbed the herb & fled to the moon when she found a friendly hare.(whose image can be seen on the full moons) Because it was cold on the moon she coughed & the herb came out of her throat. She ordered the hare to pound the herb so it could be scattered onto forth giving immortality to all. This hare came back to be known as the Jade Hare.
Hungry Ghost Festival - Kuei Chieh
These ghost who are not cared by living relatives are prove to be malignant & mischievous. According to belief The Gates of Purgatory are thrown open and the ghosts mingle with human being for 30 days. To appease these starving destilute ghosts, sticks are placed on altars, and paper money is set ablaza or the side or the street.
Nine Venerable Sovereigns
The pilgramage of the enerable Sovereigns is celebrated on the 9th of Chinese moon. These deified brothers known as Kiu Ong Yiah in Hokkien are believed to give luck, riches and long life and cure ailments. The statues are at the Kuan Yin Temple on Burma Road.
At this time the temple is very busy with joss stick sellers people offering prayers 7 the less fortunate accepting alms. Incense smoke clouds the place, traffic is jammed but it is interesting, colourful and slightly chaotic!
At this time, it is encourage to be pious by consuming only vegetarian food for a stretch of 9 days from the 1st day to the 9th day of the 9th month, and in some cases for the whole month. It is the longest vegetarian season of the lunar year.