Penang, one of the northern states in Malaysia, is home to a diverse group of people. Here you can see predominantly Chinese population mingling with the Malays and Indians, creating a beautiful mixture of cultures waiting for you to explore as you visit Penang. Penang celebrates many different festivals due to its multicultural environment. Let us have a look at the top 7 Penang festivals that you can encounter here.
The Chinese community in Penang celebrates Chinese New Year to mark the beginning of the lunar new year. During this time families get together, some even coming back from further afield, to renew ties and catch up with one another while hoping for a prosperous year ahead. Family reunion dinners are held on the eve of Chinese New Year. You can see lion dances and firecrackers being played all over Penang during this time of year. If you get to know people here you will be invited to their open houses. These exciting activities are all part of the Chinese New Year traditions in Penang. Due to its large Chinese population, this festival comes alive in Penang with various parades and parties held throughout the island during this season.
In Penang, the Chingay festival is held as part of the Chinese New celebration. This unique Penang festival has been celebrated here since the 1880s. During this festival, you can see the famous giant flags procession throughout the streets of Penang. During the procession you will see flag bearers carrying and balancing giant flag poles before tossing them to their partners.
Another interesting Penang festival you can see is the annual Nine Emperor Gods Festival that is held from the first until the ninth day of the 9th lunar year. During this festival adherents will undergo a vegetarian fast and abstain from meat. Normally there will be open air opera shows performed as tribute to these nine gods. You will have a chance to see the various vegetarian food stalls selling cakes and dishes being set up to cater for those who are doing the fast. And you can even see the spectacular fire walking and spear skewing ceremony performed around compounds of several Chinese temples scattered throughout Penang.
Another unique Penang festival is the International Dragon Boat Festival that has been held here since 1979. This popular annual race event was originally held to pay tribute to the celestial dragon that holds a central significance in Chinese culture. This festival in past years would include up to 4000 participants. During the festival you could see boats decorated with colourful dragon heads racing across the water along side the sound of thumping drums.
The Malay and Mamak community in Penang celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri every year to signify the end of the one month long fasting season. Prior to Hari Raya itself, the shopping malls and bazaar begin to offer a lot of clothing, household decorations, and food for customers to get in preparation for this festive season. During Hari Raya you can see homes throughout Penang being decorated with sparkling lights and children playing fireworks. You will have a chance to sample delicious varieties of cakes, ketupat and lemang that are traditionally served during this time. On the morning of the first day of Hari Raya, the Muslim community in Georgetown would congregate at the 200 year old historic Kapitan Keling Mosque for Raya prayer.
The Hindu community in Penang celebrates Deepavali or the Festival of Light. This festival signifies the triumph of Lord Krishna’s forces of good over evil demons. This festival also celebrates Lord Rama’s reunion with Sita Dewi, his wife after over a decade period of exile. Hindu homes would be lit with oil lamps and each household would make decorative floor motives, called kolam, with coloured rice. As it is with all the other cultural festivals throughout Penang and Malaysia, there are also open houses for friends and visitors to join in the celebration.
Apart from Deepavali, The Hindu community also celebrates Thaipusam, where on that day they would hold a procession bearing a statue of Muruga starting from the Penang Little India district and stopping at the famous Nattukotai Chettiar Temple. Adherents would perform feats of physical endurance on this day by skewering and piercing the front and back of their bodies with metal hooks. They see it as a spiritually transforming act of faith. Watching the procession and the act of devotion will indeed be a uniquely surreal experience.
These 7 interesting festivals are just but a few of the many that the inhabitants here observe. There are countless more Penang festivals waiting for you to discover during your visit to this beautiful island state. So why don’t you experience their wonderful sights and sounds yourself?