Penang, one of Malaysia’s leading tourist destinations, is made even more interesting for its many special events and festivities. Events in culture and festivals in Penang are colorful, diverse and stacked throughout the year.
First in line is the Thaipusam, a Hindu festival celebrated by the Tamil community on the Tamil month of Thai, which usually happens between January and February. It is a 3-day event commemorating the birthday of Lord Murugan, the Tamil God of War, and his triumph over Soorapadman, an evil demon. Thousands of devotees, visitors and the mere curious come together to witness the silver chariot procession of Lord Murugan’s statue from a temple in Georgetown to a hilltop temple in Waterfall Road. Devotees smash coconuts on their way to Waterfall Road as a way of showing gratitude to the deity. But the real highlight is when Hindu devotees pierce their bodies as they dance the Kavadi Attam while in a trance. This they do as an expression of faith and devotion.
Thaipusam is bloody carnival-like spectacle, more than a somber religious event. Stalls line up along Waterfall Road selling souvenirs, religious paraphernalia, drinks, snacks and Indian sweet meats. People chant and dance to lively music. Tourists should definitely come to Penang during this time of the year.
Right after the Thaipusam spectacle is the Chinese New Year, which usually falls on the first week of February. Chinese New Year is actually celebrated for 15 days, leading up to the Lunar New Year. The days are filled with prayers for a prosperous year ahead. This is also the time for family reunions and the seeking of forgiveness from each other. Traditionally, Chinese families host dinners, prepare lion dances, light firecrackers and conduct open houses. On the 9th of the New Year is the Th’nee Kong Seh, which is the birthday of the Jade Emperor, the ruler of the heavens. According to legends, the Jade Emperor ordered the annihilation of the Hokkien people, since they were enemies of Imperial China. The order, however, was taken back during his birthday. Since then, the Hokkiens have celebrated the Emperor’s birthday with offerings and festivities.
On the 15th and final day of the Lunar New Year is the Chap Goh Meh, which is celebrated with feasting and much festivity. In some parts of Asia, the 15th day coincides with the Lantern Festival or the Chinese Valentine’s Day. In Penang, a unique practice marks the Chinese Valentine’s Day. Young unmarried women gather by the sea to throw tangerines into the water, hoping that their future husbands would come to pick them up.
Other equally exciting culture and festivals in Penang are the Vesak, a Buddhist festival that takes place in May or the full moon of the 5th or 6th lunar month; the Penang International Dragon Boat Festival, which is usually held at the Teluk Bahang Dam and widely participated in by teams from Australia, China, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Canada, and the USA, among others; the Penang Bon Odori Carnival, a traditional Japanese carnival; the Feast of St. Anne in July; the 9-day Nine Emperor Gods Vegetarian Festival held at Taoist temples on the 9th lunar month, which is usually towards the end of September or beginning of October; Deepavali, a Hindu Festival of Lights that takes place in October; and the Penang Bridge Marathon in November.