Hindu Caste Music in the Malaysian Thaipusam Festival.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Thaipusam, is an annual festival beginning on a full moon day between January 14 and February 14. This festival is celebrated in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Mauritius and South Africa. It is celebrated by all Hindu castes, from the highest Brahmin to the lowest Dalit. An important feature of Thaipsam is the kavadi ritual. This follows the myth of Surapadma, the demon, who eventually became Lord Maruga's honest devotee, Idumban. This conversion is represented by purification ceremonies, around which the festival focuses, and in which participants enter a state of trance, in order to carry out physically demanding feats. Kavadi originates from a Tamil (South Indian) word, kavati. It describes anything that can be suspended on the body (pole, hooks and chains). Today, it is taken to mean a semi-circular structure that is decorated with flowers, peacock feathers and palm leaves. The kavadi is drawn by devotees who have hooks, attached to their skin, with which to pull along the structure. The Brahmin caste, however hook small pails of milk onto their skin instead. The kavadi usually bears a vel (flesh-piercing implement), which represents Lord Maruga's lance. Devotees who 'take kavadi' do so in a higher state of mind or trance. Chanting, music, especially drumming, and incense are used to induce trance. Focusing mainly on fieldwork undertaken around Thaipusam in Kuala Lumpur, this thesis examines the background of the ceremony, its Hindu connections and the different music associated with each caste. The different drumming patterns, of each caste in particular, are transcribed, analyzed and compared, together with the melodic music of the nadaswarum, the instrument associated with the Brahmin music.