Seminar-Cum-Book Launch: “Thaipusam in Malaysia: A Hindu Festival in the Tamil Diaspora”


About the Book

Recent census statistics indicate that ethnic Indians comprise a mere 7.4 per cent of Malaysia’s total population, with Hindus constituting a 84.1 per cent of that figure. However, the Hindu festival of Thaipusam at Batu Caves outside Kuala Lumpur has become the largest single gathering of any religious festival in Malaysia, and is believed to be the most significant Hindu festival to be held outside India.

Thaipusam has attracted the attention of a number of scholars, but with notable exceptions, most observers of this festival have viewed Thaipusam in Malaysia as a sui generis, and have tended to regard the more dramatic and allegedly confrontational elements of the festival as a cultural aberration. Failure to contextualise Thaipusam in terms of the wider Tamil diaspora or to closely examine the inner dynamics of this complex festival in terms of Tamil Hindu traditions have often resulted in interpretations which are both misleading and/or skewed.

This approach will examine Thaipusam in terms of long established cultural and religious traditions, in the particular those of divine kingship and the rituals of Hindu pilgrimage. it will argue that far from being a merely Malaysian phenomenon, Thaipusam is a feature of the wider Tamil diaspora, and is constructed from condensed coded or Tamil history and culture. However, within the Malaysian context, Thaipusam is not only a continuing political and social assertion of Hindu identity, but as a festival sends a variety of signals, some agonistic, to a range of audiences both within Malaysia and beyond.


About the Author & Speaker

Carl Vadivella Belle obtained a BA at the Australian National University, Canberra, and a PhD at Deakin University in 2004.  Between 1976 and 1979 served in the Australian High Commission, Kuala Lumpur.  He has maintained a long term interest in Malaysian social, political, religious and political issues, especially Hinduism in Malaysia and the histories and traditions of Malaysia’s Indian community. He has also acted as principal consultant to several television and radio productions focusing on the festival of Thaipusam as it is practiced at Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur.  Dr Belle was appointed Inaugural Hindu Chaplain at the Flinders University of South Australia in 2005.  He has lectured extensively on both Malaysian politics and society, and on south Indian Hindu traditions, as well as wider religious issues, and has published numerous papers on these topics.  His most recent work, Tragic Orphans: Indians in Malaysia, published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, constitutes a comprehensive general history of the modern Indian presence in Malaysia.


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Mar 01 2017


1:00 pm - 3:00 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2