Malaysian Hindus Celebrate Religious Festival with Penance, Political Protest

January 23, 2008


Source: AOLnews

Wire Service: AP

Ten of thousands of pilgrims, some with skewered cheeks, gathered Wednesday for a Hindu festival dampened this year by a boycott among ethnic Indian activists discontent over the government's treatment of minorities.

After overnight prayers and preparations, pilgrims carrying kavadis -heavy frames decorated with beads and peacock feathers - and brass pots with offerings of milk marched in processions to Hindu temples across the country to celebrate the Thaipusam festival.

But the main procession and prayers, which normally see nearly 1 million people gather at Sri Subamaniar Swamy Temple inside the limestone Batu Caves near Malaysia's biggest city, Kuala Lumpur, were this year the target of a boycott by ethnic Indian activists, who urged pilgrims to go to other temples in order to express their anger at the government.

Many ethnic Indians, who make up 8 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people, feel they face discrimination in jobs, education and business, and say they do not have full religious freedom in this Muslim-majority country.