I had been expecting this for a long time, being unable to check it out last year because I was lost somewhere in Java. Two friends were staying here with us, a French and a Chinese. Plus an Italian and another Chinese, yes, it sounds like one of those jokes where people are about to jump off a plane or something equally silly. Well, the whole experience was as funny as a joke, by the way. We started taking a walk around my neighborhood around 3 pm, and we stumbled across a full open field full of people running amok, some pierced up for good, some others in the process of being savagely saucered, and others just praying and preparing for the massive feast of religion and craziness.
Basically, if you get pierced up it means that you want to pay back the gods for something good they gave to you during the year. I asked a few people, and the best answers I got where “they gave me a beautiful child”, “they gave me a good job”, “they saved my father’s life”. In this context, the physical pain and expiation is a payback, a way to honor the earthly favors that have been sent from above.
The festival is one of the most colorful you can see: the devotees themselves wear brightly colored clothing, adorned by tons of bells and scrap metal clinging all over their legs and bodies, the women, who of course don’t get pierced (and how a woman could do that, in Indian culture?), show and shine in some of the most beautiful saris you’d ever seen. It’s quite a contrast to see all of these colors, all of these people and noise, and not even a drop of blood. Yes, you read it right. NO BLOOD. How? This is something very strange. I perfectly know, and not just on my studies on pro wrestling’s “crimson masks”, that usually when you just get the smallest wound in the face, full of capillaries, you start bleeding pretty bad. Apparently, the trick is to just eat vegetarian for the previous week, and thus your body will not release any blood. It seems to be true: the only blood I saw was tiny drops around the deepest wounds in the backs of some people. Consider this idea if you are a pro wrestler and want to impress the Necrobutcher when he’ll try to staple your forehead, folks.
After the preparation, a big chariot (that was a few statues mounted on a truck) was brought to the main road and five devotees attached to it like oxen ready to plough the land. I’m not kidding, surprisingly enough, these folks started walking and pulling and… magic!! The tons heavy chariot started rolling after them, surrounded by a mob of crazy Indians dancing and jumping around like Saint Vitus’ dancers. The procession starts from the different side temples in Georgetown and leads along jalan Utama to the Botanical gardens and the waterfall temple, the most sacred hindu shrine in town. It’s roughly 13 kilometers of savage pulling and crazy dancing, almost killed by the megawatts of Bollywood hits blasted from speakers aligned along the way. It’s just plain dumb and mad, with all of these people forcing to dance and party like there’s no tomorrow. And just the sheer quantity of Indian coming from Penang and the surrounding states, all crammed in the same road, is a volume of human flesh and bones that rarely you’d experience in this life. Just eyes, hands and bones everywhere around, under and inside of you.
We spent the whole evening in this mess, danced like crazy, observed so many devotees bringing and swinging their kavadis around, and overall thinking that this is just great. For as much as it has become also a showcase for several brands to commercialize their products offering free refreshments along the way, it’s a unique festival, a pure Malaysian landmark, and if you are planning to head this way in January next year, make sure you don’t miss this. According to some Indians we met, Georgetown is much better than Kuala Lumpur as a festival, because the city actually gets blocked, crazier and doomed like no other place on Earth. Think about this.