A Unique Malaysian Experience. Celebrate life in multi-racial, multi-religious Malaysia, where there is an astonishing array of cultural observances.
More than just ritual and traditions, they are a way of life mutually respected by all. The open house or rumah terbuka tradition is unique to Malaysia. Open houses are usually held during major festivals and celebrations like Han Raya Aidilfitri, Chinese New Year, Gawai, Christmas and Deepavali. During open houses, Malaysians literally open their doors and welcome friends, relatives and even strangers into their homes to celebrate the festivities together. Even tourists who happen to be in the country at the time of the functions join in the fun too.
Such gatherings foster goodwill and provide the opportunity to renew social ties in a convivial mood with the host usually feting their guests to a generous spread of food and drinks. Indeed, the tradition of the open house is something to be admired and emulated. It has been replicated by the government at the notional-level celebration of all major festivals. Large-scale open houses like those organised by political figures are announced in the moss media and held at public venues. Visitors attending these open houses hove the chance to meet the country’s leaders and enjoy local delicacies. Many a time, these festivals coincide and are celebrated together with great joy.
RAMADAN – FASTING MONTH / SEASON IN MALAYSIA
Marking the beginning of a 30-day fast for Muslims all around the world. During this period, Muslims are required to abstain from eating and drinking, among other things, from dawn till dusk, which, in Malaysia means typically from about 5.45 am – 7.15 pm.
Even though Muslims in Malaysia observe their religious duties during this time, it is business as usual in Malaysia. Shops, restaurants, shopping malls and tourist attractions continue to operate their usual hours for the benefit of tourists and the rest of the non-Muslim Malaysian population. Muslim tourists who decide to spend their holidays in Malaysia can enjoy a great vacation while observing their religious duties. Hotels in Malaysia have special sahur (early breakfast) menus either at their restaurants or delivered to guest rooms. The breaking of fast is a grand affair in Malaysia at the Ramadhan bazaars where whole streets throughout the country are lined with stalls selling a colourful variety of food, souvenirs and clothes. It’s a great place to sample Malaysian food from noodles to rice, from drinks to desserts.
These bazaars usually start as early as 3pm and even non-Muslims love to buy their dinners here. At hotels, a wonderful buffet spread is made available with menus featuring a mix of local, western and Middle Eastern cuisines. The hotel restaurants are so popular during the breaking of fast that it’s advisable to book ahead to avoid disappointment.
Most mosques throughout Malaysia, too, prepare a nightly buffet for patrons to enjoy at the break of fast. Muslims can then stay on to perform the tarawih prayers there led by the mosque’s resident imam. The Islamic Arts Museum, just walking distance from Malaysia’s National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, has an Egyptian chef preparing the restaurant’s buffet menu during Ramadhan. Dishes include food from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Tunisia, Morocco as well as some local favourites.
To celebrate the end of Ramadhan, special Eidul-Fitr prayers are held in mosques throughout Malaysia on the first day of Syawal. The National Mosque Kuala Lumpur will be graced by the presence of His Majesty the King of Malaysia who will perform the prayers together with the public. It is a great opportunity to catch a glimpse of His Majesty the King. Elsewhere in Malaysia, Muslim families celebrate Eid ul-Fitr in typical Malaysian style, with the open house concept where they literally open their doors to welcome relatives, friends and neighbours from near and far to celebrate the occasion together. The warm hospitality is extended to every guest, and food, drinks and merriment is much a part of the celebration. So, despite the observance of Islamic rituals during the fasting month, life continues in Malaysia in a unique way that celebrates the diversity of race, culture and creed. It is a special experience that tourists to Malaysia, whether Muslim or not, will certainly find memorable.
|Hari Raya Puasa / Hari Raya Aidil Fitri|
Muslims celebrate Hari Raya Aidil Fitri to mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadhan.
In Malaysia, special morning prayers are held in all mosques and families visit graves of departed loved ones to recite prayers. This is also the time for family reunions where the younger generation will seek forgiveness from their elders for any wrongs committed. The 30 days month-long fasting during the Ramadan ends and celebrates with the Hari Raya Puasa or Hari Raya Aidil Fitri. There are two methods to determine the fall of Hari Raya Aidil Fitri: following the sign of the new moon (Rukyah) or based on the astronomical calculation (Falak). Muslims adopted the first method and this is always done. Besides spring cleaning, the house will be decorated with the lighting of oil lamps at the surrounding compound as to welcome the angels which is believed to be visiting during the seven days preceding the festival. So, the first day of the Hari Raya Aidilfitri always starts with prayer in the morning in mosque then the Zakat giving, i.e. to donate money to the mosque as to support the poor and the mosque. This will followed by a visiting to the ancestors graves. This celebration lasts for a month but the is concentrated in the first three days.
During these few days, there will always be open-house as to welcome visitors from all races regardless whether you know the owner. Visitors will be served with different type of favorite dishes such as Ketupat, beef rending and cookies. Hari Raya Aidilfitri always bears with full meaning of thanks giving and forgiving. The Muslims offer their thanks to God and the elders meanwhile also request to be forgiven for all their wrong doing in the past. Hari Raya Aidilfitri is not only purely a religion celebration instead also to unite as a family with of love, understanding, blessings, forgiveness and also the spirit of harmonious among the races in the country. Traditional delicacies and local favourites like lemang (glutinous rice cooked in bamboo), ketupat (rice wrapped in coconut leaves), peanut sauce and rendang (a dry spicy beef dish) are usually served. Although the first three days are celebrated on a grand scale, many Muslims, especially those in the cities, hold open house celebrations throughout the month, when friends and neighbours of other races are invited to join in.
|Hari Raya Aidil Adha / Hari Raya Haji / Hari Raya Korbam|
Aidil Adha marks the completion of the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. In Malaysia, it is more commonly known as Hari Raya Haji or Hari Raya Korban. The highlight of the festival is the sacrifice of cattle, goats or rams, following which the meat is distributed to the poor. After the pilgrim, the men will be given Haji as the title in front of their name whereas Hajjah for women.
Hari Raya Haji falls on the 10th of the 12th month in Islamic lunar calendar which was the day where Adam and Hawa came from the heaven and made their trip to the earth before they met each other in Arafah. This celebration day will start with prayer in the morning followed by the sacrifices of sheep at the mosque. The Sacrifices are made to commemorate the prophet Abraham’s test of faith by the Allah when he was asked to sacrifice his son, Ismail. Today this sacrifices will then distributed among the poor and the relatives. Hari Raya Haji is of little different from Hari Raya Aildil Fitri. It is normally quite and people celebrate by enjoying the feast with the family and it celebrates for one day.
|Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday / Maulidur Rasul|
The Prophet was born on the third month of the Muslim calendar in 570 AD. In Malaysia, his birthday is commemorated with gatherings for religious lectures and recitals of verses from the Holy Qur’an.
|DEEPAVALI – A Festival of Lights
To the Hindus, oil lamps symbolize the removal 01 darkness within human hearts by replacing it with light.
Every seventh month of the Tamil lunar calendar, Hindus all over the world celebrate a festival known as Deepavali or Diwali. The word “Deepavali” is a Sanskrit term meaning “.Row of Lights”.
It is a time when they commemorate the triumph of good over evil, and light over darkness. Many stories abound about the origin of the festival. According to the most popular legend, on evil king by the name of Narakasura loved darkness and would torture and kill people who had lights in their houses. As he became ever more powerful, his subjects feared for their lives and pleaded to God for help.
In answering their prayers, God come down to earth in the form of Lord Krishna who fought and slayed Narakasura. On his deathbed, Narakasura regretted his evil ways and asked that the people rejoice upon his death by lighting lamps to dispel his gloomy reign. And rejoice they did. Today, Hindus celebrate Deepavali by lighting oil lamps all around their homes. The oil lamps symbolize the removal of darkness within human hearts by replacing it with light. Celebrations begin on the eve of Deepavali when family members gather in the house of the elders. It is a time for families to end feuds and settle misunderstandings.
Everyone wakes up before sunrise the following morning to bathe in sesame seed oil (also known as gingerly oil) to purify their bodies and cleanse themselves of sins of the past year. They then dress up in new clothes – sarees and Punjabi suits for the women and jippas and veshtis (long-sleeved tunics and sarongs) for the men – and gather with the rest of the family to receive blessings from their elders. Sometimes, pockets of money are given to the younger members of the family. After prayers at home, the whole family visits the temple for mass prayers. Following the elaborate ceremonial rites, families return home to receive friends of all races in the spirit of the Malaysian open house”.
The open house concept is something that is uniquely Malaysian and came about due to the multi-ethnic society in the country. Malaysians of all races and religions celebrate each other’s religious and cultural festivals together showing that racial tolerance, understanding, respect and unity are a way of life treasured in this multi-racial country. In Malaysia, it’s common for Chinese, Indian and Malay neighbours to live on the some street. By celebrating and sharing the main religious festivals with other races, Malaysians have come to understand and appreciate each other’s religious beliefs and celebrations. On such occasions, there is certainly much eating, drinking and merrymaking. A typical Deepavali spread includes Indian food such as rice and curries for the mains, and titbits such as murukku, a crispy, savoury snack mode of rice flour, and sweet coconut candy.
These days, it’s common to find traditional Indian food served side by side with other local Malay, Chinese and even European food, to cater to the varied palates! So don’t be surprised to find pasta, curry and fried rice being served on a plate! At the front entrance of the house, it’s typical to find a colourful kolam or rangoli, a decorative artwork made from dyed rice flour or rice laid out on the floor in interesting motifs of flowers and symmetrical shapes, lines and curves. Creating the kolam requires a steady hand, dexterity, concentration and patience. Besides their decorative value, kolam’s are believed to invite the Goddess of Wealth, Mahalakshmi, to bless the homes where they are found.
Thaipusam is celebrated on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (Jan/Feb). Pusam refers to a star that is at its highest point during the festival. The Thaipusam festival commemorates the birthday of Lord Murugan (also known as Lord Subramaniam), the occasion when his mother Devi Parvathy gave Lord Murugan a vel (lance) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman, and when he taught his father (Lord Shiva) the meaning of the word Aum. Aum is a highly potent terminology in Hinduism that signifies the primeval sound of creation. The significance here is based on the moment when a son turned teacher to his father.
Customarily, Thaipusam is celebrated during the month of Thai when the moon waxes to its zenith (full moon). Apparently, there are several places in Malaysia where this celebration takes place, but if you are visiting Malaysia for the first time, the celebration can best be viewed at Batu Caves (in Kuala Lumpur) and in Penang. On the eve of the celebration, devotees would gather at the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in Tun H S Lee Road, (High Street) Kuala Lumpur to witness the ceremonial “bath” of Lord Murugan. The deity is then dressed with elaborate offerings, gold ornaments and colourful flowers before being placed on a silver chariot drawn by two oxen. The chariot is then taken on a pilgrimage from the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple to the Sri Subramaniar shrine at Batu Caves.
By 12.30 am, the chariot begins to move out of the temple grounds and thus begins its slow, eight-hour journey to Batu Caves. At the same time, thousands of devotees will accompany the silver chariot on its long journey, some carrying the kavadi as a vehicle of self-inflicted penance. The kavadi is a concept originated from India and is actually something like a mobile altar carried on both shoulders as a sign of accomplishment of their vow to the Lord for the purpose of tiding over or averting a great calamity. It can be made of either wood or steel and is decorated with peacock feathers, coloured papers, tinsels, flowers and lime. Word has it that in the olden days, normally Lord Murugan temples were set atop high ridges and mountains.
Whilst undertaking the long and hard journey uphill, the devotees would inflict a heavy burden onto themselves. Some would hang pitchers of milk and pots of honey as a token of their love to the deity. These venerable burdens would normally be wrapped in saffron cloth, indicating “total submission to God”. In a similar manner, the devotees in Kuala Lumpur would make an effort to ascend the 272 steps at Batu Caves whilst carrying a heavy burden on their back and shoulders. The significance of this represents the divine understanding that some people describe to. They belief that it is not easy to attain the feet of God without first putting some effort and labour as a sacrifice. Only those who pass this test will be pleased with lots of bounties and glad tidings.
MIND OVER MATTER
Devotees conform to a certain ritual in their preparation before they can participate in fulfilling their vows during Thaipusam. The preparation takes about a month prior to the celebration. Devotees rise very early in the morning and take a customary bath to cleanse themselves. They then observe a strict vegetarian fast and complete chastity for about a month. According to orthodox doctrine, rigid fasting and abstinence have to be observed over a 48-day period prior to the offering of the kavadi on Thaipusam Day. The main meal comprises only of milk and fruits. This is to fortify the senses and suppress passions – it helps in achieving a profound control of the mind over matter. Such incredible feats of mind over matter are commonly demonstrated during the celebration.
Some devotees would add burden to the kavadi with heavy pitchers of milk, while others prefer to pierce their cheeks with spears and hooks. Kavadi bearers or the devotees who have been pierced are believed to attain spiritual strength to enable him to do incredible feats. He dances with the kavadi on their shoulders and metal skewers pierced through his cheeks. Accompanying family members and devotees would chant “Vel, Vel Muruga” (Glory unto Muruga). “Vel” is a word that represents a lance or spear wielded by Lord Murugan which he uses to fend off evil and symbolizes wisdom. Another spectacle that you will witness during the Thaipusam celebration is the breaking of coconuts during the chariot procession and at the temple grounds. This signifies humility and the suppression of one’s ego upon attaining wisdom. Even, non-Hindu devotees are sometimes seen breaking coconuts to fulfill their vows.
CHINESE NEW YEAR
The festival is welcomed with family reunions, the lion dance, firecrackers, mandarin oranges and giving/receiving ang pow (red packet containing money).
The preparation, however, begins with shopping of new clothes and decorating one’s house. A few days before the New Year celebration, Chinese families give their home a thorough cleaning. It is believed that the cleaning sweeps away the bad luck of the preceding year and makes their homes ready for good luck. Brooms and dust pans are put away on the first day so that luck cannot be swept away. Some people give their homes, doors and window-panes a new coat of red paint. Red is a must to characterise wealth and prosperity. Homes are often decorated with paper cutouts of Chinese auspicious phrases and couplets. The eve of Chinese New Year is the highlight of the celebration as it is on this day that family members return home for the reunion dinner to rekindle family ties and enjoy the sumptuously prepared meals. Dinner is usually made up of seafood and dumplings. Meanwhile, children look forward to playing with fire crackers while gleefully receiving the ang pow.
MOON CAKE & LANTERN FESTIVALS
Also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, this event is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. It marks a successful rebellion against the Mongol rulers of the Yuan Dynasty in 14th century China, where secret messages were hidden inside some moon cakes while lanterns were used as signals. Today, round moon cakes with various fillings are presented as gifts while lantern processions are held.
Literally, it means the 15th night and is referred to the 15th night in the Chinese New Year. Initially it marks the end of the Chinese New Year but the Chinese always has symbolic meaning behind a practice. In the ancient China, lantern festivals accompanied by poem guessing and reading sections were the main events during a Chap Goh Meh evening. The young ladies who were not allowed to hang on the street will be granted the permission to go out from the confines of their homes, dressed in their bejeweled best and walked in the street. They are normally accompanied by the fiercest looking aunts and servants. Many of the ardent gentlemen found their princess of charming during from looking on longingly at the passing parade under the moonlighting.
And there begins their romance. Instead of the lantern parade and guessing-answering activities, the highlight of the festival is the orange throwing ceremony. Usually after the family dinner, the local maidens will be in gang either with fellows or family go to the nearby river or sea and throw orange into the water orange with the wish that the suitor will approach her sooner. Meanwhile the gentlemen will row a boat and try to catch the ?suitable? orange. Off course it is always for fun. Today there are local associations or clubs organized this ?oranges throwing? every year as one of the festivals for this celebration. Chap Goh Meh here is still celebrating with dragon dance, prayers and family gathering.
Many Chinese, Indians and indigenous communities of Sabah and Sarawak are Christians. On 25 December, special services are held in churches all over Malaysia while carolers mark the yuletide spirit in homes and shopping centre.
A day when Buddhists observe the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha. Religious offerings and rituals such as ‘bathing of the Buddha’, chanting of Sutras (holy scriptures), lighting of joss sticks and ordination of monks usually take place in the Buddhist temples around Malaysia. Night sees colourful processions of decorated floats with devotees carrying candies to denote the ‘path of light and righteousness.
The new year celebration for Sikhs, it also commemorates the birth of the Khalsa order in 1699AD, when Guru Gobind Singh (the 10th Sikh Guru) baptized the Sikhs. Bestowing the name Singh – meaning ‘lion’ upon males, and Kaur – meaning ‘princes’- upon females. At home and in Sikh temples, prayers are chanted and hymns are sung.
The word “Gawai” means a ritual or festival whereas “Dayak” is a collective name for the natives of Sarawak, i.e. the Iban, Bidayuh, Kayan, Ken yah, Kelabit and Murut among others.
Celebrated throughout Sarawak, the Gawai Dayak festival marks the end of the rice harvest and is a thanksgiving ritual to the spirits for a bountiful harvest. It is also common for marriages and unions to be carried out at this lime. Celebrations include live traditional music and dancing, the sharing of food and drinks and other cultural displays. Beauty pageants and traditional games are also organized. Tuak which is wine made of fermented rice is generously passed around. On this auspicious day, the Dayaks would visit their friends and relatives. Such visits are also known as “ngabang” inthelban language. Obviously, it is a great time to visit Sarawak during the Gawai Dayok festival. Visitors are welcomed to share the celebrations at the various longhouses in the state.
The Kalimaran Festival is an annual cultural event held to celebrate and honour the Murut people and their traditions. More than 10,000 people are expected to throng the colourful festival, which will be held at the Tenom Murut Cultural Centre, in Tenom, Sabah. Locals and tourists will be able to watch and take part in traditional dances and games or view the intricate designs on the Murut attire particularly from the largest sub-groups of the Tagol from Nabawan and Timugon from Tenom. Among the other activities include the Kalimaran concert, Kalimaran Queen competition and Murut handicraft exhibition. Apart from that, two Murut sub-ethnic groups namely Tagol and Timugon will showcase their traditional culture through cultural performances and a mock wedding. It is jointly organised by the Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry, Sabah Cultural Board, Tenom District Office and Sabah Murut Association.
The Kadazan Dusun and Murut groups of Sabah celebrate their harvest festival in May. The highlight is a ceremony performed by the Bobobizan, or high priestess, to pay homage to the rice spirit so that a good harvest can be expected. Tapai (rice wine) is commonly served amidst festivities, and the harvest queen contest is held to seek the fairest maiden in honour of a legendary heroine of the community.