thaipusam. Imagine a three-day extravaganza filled with coconut smashing, dancing and partying, head shaving, body painting, BDSM, colorful clothing, free vegetarian food and such. I tried reading background information on the festival, but was quickly lost in all those details of private lives of gods and goddesses. Something do with the good winning over the evil, anyway. Not that it really matters. What matters though, is that people gather together and have fun. From the looks of it, I would never guess that it was a religious festival. Forget boring Sunday church-like meeting, this is a full-blown partying for the whole family spanning over three days non-stop. Especially in the nighttime the festival atmosphere resembled a rave party than a religious gathering. And all that without alcohol, bhang or other intoxicants, just good old fashioned spiritual high and some self-inflicted physical pain.
Many participants show their devotion by piercing their cheeks and/or tongue with a spear, getting hooks attached to the skin on their torsos and hanging bells, coconuts and other random things on those hooks. The more, the merrier. To make things even more exciting, another person pulls the ropes attached to hooks, like pain caused by piercing would not be enough. I witnessed a piercing process (in a temple too!) and it was rather painful sight. During the process the poor guy shouted and his whole body shook either from pain or trance-like state from time to time. Hopefully it was well worth it.
Then there is a thing about smashing coconuts. On the first day of the festival coconuts are gathered along the procession path, which are then fiercely smashed against the ground just before the procession. And then the whole mess is promptly cleaned to make way for the procession. Why do they hate coconuts so much? The official explanation has something to do with purification or something along these lines. Personally I think it is just an elaborated way to get rid of the excessive supply coconuts thus keeping the price level artificially high. Or maybe not. Anyway, it is such a shame to see delicious coconuts going to waste. I guess I could sustain myself for the rest of my life with all those wasted coconuts. Sigh. On the other hand I must admit doing it myself was rather fun.
All in all, an interesting experience and well worth all the extra time spent in Penang. Really weird and rather sick at times, but well this is just how some people roll. Thumbs up.