Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Oranges in the Sea, Coconuts on the Streets - Chap Goh Meh and Thaipusam in Malaysia

"Please... send me a good man, a handsome man, a wealthy man but even-tempered... not fat...
...nice skin... good family background... no busy-body mother..."
"I cannot imagine the state Penang must be in!" Mused Heche about her home island of Penang. "Oranges in the sea yesterday, and coconuts on the streets today!"

"Whatever do you mean?" I inquired.

"Well, yesterday was Chap Goh Meh, and today is Thaipusam, isn't it?"

Ah yes, she is right. I forgot.

Such is the condition of my country, Malaysia, with a majority of Malays, and a very sizable population of Chinese, Indians and other colourful assortments, that we are blessed (a former Prime Minister rather says we are cursed) by many public holidays. In total we have 14 national holidays (including Eid ul Fitri and Chinese New Year which is both celebrated over 2 days). At state level there are additional holidays spread more or less evenly amongst the states through out the year, almost 30 in all, I reckon.

Chap Goh Meh (or Chap Goh Mei, some would call it) is celebrated on the 15th night of the Chinese New Year here in Malaysia. In the old conservative days, it was the only time when single young women of marriageable age was permitted out of their homes, to be dressed in beautiful clothes and stroll up and down the street, but still under the fierce and keen eyes of their aunties. Young men would stand close by, watching the rarely seen maidens parade in their best costumes. The women would also visit the temples, asking for a heavenly matched husband and the beginning of a good and prosperous year. Another tradition also saw these girls throw oranges into a lake on the belief that the man who picked up their orange would inevitably be their future husbands. In Malaysia sometimes a lake is not conveniently available, so they make good with rivers, streams and even the sea, as in Penang. In order to identify your particular orange, nowadays some girls write their cellphone numbers or email addresses on their oranges. Ah, love makes fools of all of us.
Heche texted me late last night that the coconut breaking symbolises the breaking
of one's ego, revealing the purity within, the banishing of obstacles in life
to a begin a clearer and brighter future.

That was last night. Today (being Tuesday, 7th February) marks the Hindu Thaipusam (a national holiday), and we shall see a mass throng of devout Hindus in temples all over the country coming to worship, pray for good things, carry Kavadis in a procession to the temples (See picture below) and throw coconuts on the streets. Of all temples, none shall be as festive and crowded with the Hindu faithful (and curious tourists) as the Batu Caves temple complex not far from my house. Each year at least a million strong is expected.
Kavadis are carried normally as part of a solemn religious vow by the individual.
This guy must have asked God for something really spectacular.

This is my country. Full of varying ethnicity and religion. I am not much for the commonly bandied term of an 'Islamic country' but I  reckon the freedom and recognition of religious rights and festivities of non-Muslims makes my country Islamic indeed - In a very real and poignant way which is beyond the understanding of religious extremists. 

Religion does make people extremist and intolerant. It is people who make religion extreme and intolerant. I am ever thankful to God that in Malaysia we have enough people who actually make their respective religion tolerant and beautiful. And look at the plus side... we have lots of holidays!

Have a wonderful day, sunshine.

wa min Allah at-taufiq

Hate has no place in Islam
Love will show the Way

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