Last Friday and Saturday was the Hindu festival of Thaipusam. There are celebrations wherever there are significant Tamil communities and Ipoh is one such centre. Thai is the Tamil month coinciding with January/February and Pusam is a star, which is at its highest point at the time of the festival. Thaipusam is a commemoration of Murugan, the Tamil god of war, and devotees carry kavadi to the temple in penance and also to entreat the god for good fortune in the future. Kavadi may be as simple as carrying a pot of milk to the temple but it may also involve piercing of the skin, tongue or cheeks with skewers, or pulling a decorated cart by means of hooks inserted into the back. We went into central Ipoh on Friday night to watch the procession of carts. A family sitting on the steps of a bank invited us to join them at this vantage point. They were local Indians – a father, his daughter and twin sons – who had all come into the city on one little scooter. The children were very excited though their father told us that they were Christians. The Hindu people around us were beautifully dressed, the women and girls in magnificently coloured saris and bright bangles, the men in embroidered shirts. The carts came by pulled by men with hooks in their backs, some of whom also had skewers through their tongues and cheeks. They were accompanied by dancers and drummers. It was an amazing spectacle for these two pale Protestant New Zealanders and a fantastic introduction to the diversity of our new home city.

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