Ancient Hindu Festival in Melaka
Our second day back in Melaka we were fortunate enough to see a very ancient Hindu festival taking place. The procession began at 8:00 in the morning and started at one temple where the resident God (we were told) was leaving to visit the God of another temple, accompanied by many followers. Those participating in the parade were engaged in various acts of asceticism including fasting, piercing their backs, chests, cheeks, foreheads, etc. with needles and skewers, pulling carts (often by their skin), and carrying yokes among other things. These acts and the percussive music accompanying the procession were meant to help induce trances in the (often) young ascetics. The parade wound down the streets for hours in the hot sun before arriving at the second temple where food was served and the piercings were removed. The festival continued all day and the procession returned to the original temple late at night, around 1:00am. These traditions originated in South India but it is very rare to see them in India anymore as the practices are considered too gruesome and there has been some measure of government intervention. What I found most interesting though was that because the Indian population has been in Malaysia so long there were several Chinese Hindus participating in the festival and even non-Hindus on the streets stopped to pray and receive a painted mark on their forehead, or else offered gifts of incense or water to those walking. This fusion of traditions is fascinating and wonderful; helping us to appreciate the vastness and complexity of human culture.