Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Hindu Festival of Thaipusam -Part 2

Here's part 2. Part 1 here.

Well, I thought they were all possessed and, besides blessing ourselves with Holy Water, I attempted to get the schola to pray the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel too see whether the demons leave screaming. No such luck.


Bleeding backs.


Below, milk pots have become unhooked because they were not hooked deep enough.


But reports to the contrary notwithstanding, they did bleed. And appear fatigued. And tired. Water had to be poured to cool their feet as they walked on the hot tarred road.


This chap looks pretty pooped out to me.



Tired and sad looking, above and below.


Getting his feet wet.

Personally, I think it's more a matter of endurance than anything else. And willpower. Lots of it.


The Chinese get in on it too...


Both sides of the road were lined with refreshment stalls called thaneer panthals. These were sponsored by various groups, government departments and corporations.




These house Hindu deities and can be simple styrofoam carved images like the one above, to elaborate shrines, below.



The simple Motorola and the more elaborate and decorated Intel stall can be seen below.



I wanted to get a drink but the wussies of the schola were afraid of getting diarrhoea. Come on... you can't seriously think Intel would sponsor diarrhoea contaminated drinks, can you?

Free food consisting of rice, curry, lentils and vegetables served on banana leaves were also available to all. One such stall is shown here:


Anyway, all in all, I thought it was a fairly educational and interesting, though very tiring trip. I hope you have all enjoyed this peek into Hindu culture and the great diversity that exists in Penang.


My report on the priestly ordination of Deacon Matthew Bun, tomorrow. So remember to come back!

The Hindu Festival of Thaipusam -Part 1


A break from specifically Catholic blogging. Here's a taste of life in Penang.



Last week, I posted some sneak previews of this event which I attended. This Hindu festival, celebrated in the month of Thai commemorates both the birthday of the Hindu deity Murugan and the occasion of the giving of a lance called a vel which led to Murugan's victory over some demon.


To celebrate the occasion, Hindu's undertake some spectacular acts of corporal mortification. They carry structures known as kavadi's which bear images of the various Hindu deities. They also pierce themselves through the cheeks, tongue, lips and various other parts of their bodies with replica vels. Hooks are also often driven through their backs as they pull little chariots.




Another devotional act is to carry little milk pots called paal kodams. The milk is carried to the temple where the idol or symbol of Murugan is bathed is a symbolic act of purification.


Milk pots or paal kodams.


In Malaysia, the main celebrations occur in the hilltop temple of Batu Caves where an estimated 1.3 million (out of a total 2 million Indians in Malaysia) gather for the festival. In other states such as Penang, 100,000 congregate at the hilltop temple at the Botanic Gardens to celebrate the festival.



The hilltop temple and the entrance, below.


The main event occurred the day before when the silver chariot bearing the idol of Murugan is brought in procession from a temple in the city to the temple near the waterfall. It's accompanied by thousands of Hindus breaking coconuts in it's path and hundreds of kavadi bearers. The following evening, the chariot again makes its way back to the temple in the city.

The schola cantorum chose to make an outing to visit the site of the festivities. 6 of us were present out of 9. An okay turnout on a hot and humid day. We choose the afternoon where there would be less people... but less is still a lot!


We made our way though the crowds towards the temple. At intervals, kavadi bearers and milk bearers passed us.


There were many stalls selling all sorts of things from food and drinks to Hindu devotionals. A copper carved image can be seen here:


Here are some shots of the temple. Some of our entourage were too chicken to enter, so we had them take care of our shoes as shoes were not allowed in the temple.




Because the kavadi's are too tall, the bearers have to bend over while in the temple until they get out, above and below.



Apparently, they are supposed to be in a frenzied state, having been on a strict vegetarian diet before and going into some sort of trance before being skewered. They are not supposed to bleed or feel fatigued.


This fellow is dancing to some rather loud music.


They also cannot shave or cut their hair. However, at the end of it all, they have to go bald.


Come back tomorrow for part 2.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Orthodox Church of Greece leader dies from liver cancer

Memory eternal!

ATHENS, Greece - Hundreds of mourners, many sobbing, gathered Monday at Athens' cathedral to file past the remains of Archbishop Christodoulos, the first leader of Greece's powerful Orthodox Church to welcome a Catholic pope to Athens in 1,300 years.

The charismatic cleric was often named Greece's most popular public figure but was also criticized as an ambitious reactionary. He died at his home in Athens on Monday at age 69 of cancer, leaving the race for his succession wide open.

With JPII at the Areopagus.

Christodoulos has been credited with reinvigorating a church seen as distant from its followers in a country where more than 90 percent of the native-born population is baptized into it.

Greece's Orthodox Church holds considerable sway among the world's Orthodox churches. Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I is the spiritual leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians.

Arguably the greatest achievement of Christodoulos was helping improve ties with the Vatican.

"The doors of communication with the Catholic Church had rusted over and they were again opened by Archbishop Christodoulos," said the theologian Giorgos Moustakis. "This was a very difficult thing, and it was opposed by powerful fringe religious groups."

At JPII's funeral with Bartholomew of Constantinople.

Despite vigorous protests from Orthodox zealots who marched through Athens denouncing the pope as the anti-Christ, Christodoulos in 2001 hosted the late John Paul II — the first pope to visit Greece in centuries. The archbishop followed up in 2006 with visit to the Vatican, where he and Pope Benedict XVI signed a joint declaration calling for inter-religious dialogue.

Orthodox zealots supported Christodoulos, however, on one of his most outspoken public campaigns. His efforts to stop the government from dropping the religion entry from state identity cards saw him holding public rallies before hundreds of thousands of people in 2001. The church claimed its petition campaign gathered 3 million signatures — more than a quarter of the population. But the campaign failed.

Christodoulos was elected church leader in 1998 and thundered onto the public stage, appearing on television and radio shows, visiting schools and hospitals, alternately fascinating and shocking Greeks with his fiery speeches.

"Clergymen are above kings, prime ministers and presidents," he once said.

Within months, he had expounded on everything from Greece's economy to relations with Turkey, leading some politicians to grumble about his apparent political ambitions.

A spate of scandals which saw senior clerics accused of embezzlement, involvement in sexual misdeeds and even trial-fixing in 2005 led to calls for his resignation. Christodoulos publicly apologized for failing to contain the scandal and defeated a no-confidence motion in the church's governing Holy Synod by a vote of 67-1.

But public criticism quickly faded after he was diagnosed with cancer of the liver and large intestine in June, and he was widely praised for the strength and dignity he showed during his illness. He refused hospital treatment in his final weeks.

The government declared four days of mourning, culminating in a funeral in Athens with full state honors Thursday. Christodoulos' body will lie in the capital's cathedral until then.

The Holy Synod has set the start of the election to chose a successor for Feb. 7.

"The Archbishop worked to bring people closer to the church ... now his tireless voice has fallen silent," the Patriarchate said. "His parting is painful."

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of the Holy Land Theofilos III described Christodoulos as "a very dynamic church leader... He was a man who worked in order to promote reconciliation and coexistence and mutual tolerance between the religions."

In a statement, President Bush said, "The late Archbishop was well known as an articulate voice of the Orthodox faith, for his engagement in inter-religious dialogue, and for his promotion of social programs to help the vulnerable. Our prayers are with the people of Greece and all those who followed his spiritual guidance."


Associated Press writers Derek Gatopoulos and Nathalie Rendevski-Savaricas in Athens contributed to this report.