Thaipusam Festival 2023 in Malaysia
Thaipusam is a Hindu festival that is celebrated primarily in Malaysia, as well as in other parts of South and Southeast Asia. Thaipusam falls on the full moon day of the Tamil month of Thai, which usually falls in January or February.
In 2023, Thaipusam was celebrated on the weekend of February 04 and February 05 followed by a public holiday on February 06 in Malaysia (Penang, Kuala Lumpur).
The largest Thaipusam celebrations happen in Malaysia and most of the devotees are Malaysian with Hindu-Tamil background but there are also a few Hindy devotees from India and tourists and participants of all ages and religious backgrounds.
In Malaysia, Thaipusam is celebrated primarily in the state of Penang, although it is also celebrated in other parts of the country, such as Kuala Lumpur. The main celebrations take place at the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple in Penang, which is one of the largest Hindu temples in Malaysia.
Besides, the Batu Caves in the north of Kuala Lumpur are a focal point of the festivities.
During Thaipusam, devotees perform various rituals and ceremonies to honor the Hindu god Murugan. One of the most notable rituals is the carrying of kavadi, which are ornately decorated structures that are carried on the shoulders of devotees as a form of devotion. In Kuala Lumpur, many men carry these structures for 8-12 km from the city center walking barefoot during the night to reach the caves in the morning. They are accompanied by family members and friends and often by music groups.
Alongside the road, religious organizations, companies and groups provide food and beverages for free for those that make the journey. Irrespective if they know these individuals or not – it is real support and hospitality in action! No cash or card needed!
Near the Batu Caves, devotees can shave their heads and the music groups stop playing at the foot of the stairs that lead up to the caves where everything is silent and crowds gather for prayer and contemplation.
Some devotees also perform piercing rituals, in which they pierce their skin with small needles or skewers as a sign of devotion. This is especially common in Penang and on Sunday 05th, whereas in Kuala Lumpur and on Saturday 04th of February 2023 that was not a common thing.
Tourists of all religious backgrounds are welcome to participate in the Thaipusam celebrations in Malaysia, although it is important to show respect for the cultural and religious significance of the festival. Tourists should dress modestly and avoid taking photographs of rituals or ceremonies without permission. There are also many other activities and events that tourists can participate in during Thaipusam, such as food festivals and cultural performances.
It is best to take off shoes at the most important areas like inside the Batu Caves and other areas. You will see Malay muslims, Malay Chinese and western tourists alike joining in the celebrations. Most areas can be accessed without any fee or payment – but in some areas you might need to pay a ticket.
Make sure to plan your transportation properly. Around Batu Caves, there will be a traffic jam and parking will go for about 30 Ringgit per hour. Or you park half a kilometer or more away for free and walk to the entrance of the Batu Cave area. It is also often difficult to get a taxi or grab to go there on these days. So plan accordingly.
Overall, Thaipusam is a very safe and peaceful festival and a strong police force is on site to ensure this. Still, good to read up on scams in Kuala Lumpur here.