Festivals and Events

Penangites are among the most hospitable people in the world – there is always an excuse for a smile, time for a welcome, and willingness to lend a helping hand. Enriched by various ethnic communities co-existing in harmony, Penang is blessed with a multi-faceted culture brought about by the integration of the many races which form its population, with each community making its unique contribution.



It has been said that the true character of a place is defined by its people. If that is true, then Penang's myriad cultural identity must be her most fascinating aspect. Despite the growing pains that accompany modern development, Penang's multi-ethnic communities have managed to preserve to a remarkable degree their traditional way of life, particularly with respect to the observance of cultural and religious festivities, among other things.

With religion being a major part of the lifestyle of Penangites, it is no small wonder that the main festivals of Penang are naturally religious in origin. Within each community, cultural identity is popularly and conspicuously asserted through religious festivals and cultural shows – Bangsawan, Boria, flag processions, the Chingay Parade, the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, the Hungry Ghosts Festival, Thaipusam and so forth. Although some of the festivals have largely departed from the versions in their source country, much of their 19th century rituals have been retained, while developing uniquely Malaysian elements.

Penang's multi-cultural composition ensures a succession of colourful, exciting festivals and celebrations that are unrivalled anywhere else in the world. Considering the number of special events, festivals, celebrations, gods and deities' birthdays and religious occasions among the three main race groups (Malays, Chinese and Indians) when one big celebration is finished, another is just about to begin. Penangites are always game for an excuse to celebrate and feast, and there is much enthusiasm, painstaking preparation and merry-making all year round. Thus, Penang sees a kaleidoscope of festivals and celebrations which seems to last the entire year.

Many festivals take place according to the lunar calendar and, as a result, these festivals are celebrated at different times in different years, unlike the fixed dates of holidays like Christmas and Halloween for example. The lunar calendar which most of Asia uses is based on the movement of the moon, whereas the Gregorian calendar used by the rest of the world is based on the movement of the sun.

Possibly nowhere else in the world is there an open-door policy like Malaysia's for religious festivals. Friends of other faiths, whether they be from across the street or across the world, are welcomed into the homes and cultures of celebrants for a short time as their respective religious event is observed. As these festivals are religious in nature, visitors should always remember to accord them the proper respect, in terms of dressing and behaviour.

Despite the distinct ethnic and cultural differences among the various communities, Penangites have developed a sensitivity for, and an understanding of each other. Born of mutual respect for traditions, the high level of culutral and religious tolerance which abounds, never fails to astound visitors. In many ways, the cultural wealth of Penang can be found in the rich festivals of its people.


Hari Raya Open House

Hari Raya © Adrian Cheah

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language describes an open house as "a social event in which hospitality is extended to all." This could be taken to mean that the diplomacy of inviting one and all to your house to celebrate an event is not an unfamiliar practice. But one could conjecture that no where else in the world would you find an open house event as big and as merry as the ones held in Malaysia.

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Celebrating Vesak Day in Penang

Vesak Day © Adrian Cheah

"Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared." – Buddha

Vesak day falls on full moon in May. Also known as Buddha Purnima, it is considered as a holy celebration for the Buddhists as the day commemorates with Gautama Buddha's birth, enlightenment (nirvāna), and death (Parinirvāna).

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Pausing for Reflection on Holy Vesak Day

As 21st century Malaysia hurtles deeper into the recesses of globalisation, an urban rat-race and the 'kiasu' syndrome, does Buddhist culture still bear relevance in preserving traditional values?

Vesak Day © Adrian Cheah

The beggar readily sees a bare floor as place for a good sleep. The rich man, on the other hand, will have nothing else but the softest bed in a 5-star hotel.

Both men, poor and rich, have one similar need - to sleep. But they have completely different levels of craving, different heights of desire.

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Madam Hong and Cheng Beng Festival

Cheng Beng © Adrian Cheah

There are some who believe that traditionally, the task of performing Cheng Beng rituals fall on the family of the eldest son, followed by the next in seniority and so on. The eldest son is thus entirely responsible in ensuring that the rituals of ancestral offerings are carried out properly.

Madam Hong's mother passed away recently after a long illness. Being a new convert to the Roman Catholic faith, Hong was understandably hesitant initially to perform Cheng Beng rites for her mother. She was torn between filial piety and being a good Christian. After some soul searching, she realised that the rituals of Cheng Beng could be carried out in such a way as not to transgress on her Christian values. She promptly went ahead and performed the necessary rituals.

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Cheng Beng - the Festival of the Tombs

Cheng Beng © Adrian Cheah

History

The history and practice of Chinese religious and cultural festivals go back a long way, some even beyond the span of written history.

Over the years, the traditions associated with these festivals are handed down from generation to generation within communities, with very little changes introduced. The only difference found in a festival celebrated in two different countries would be cultural ones.

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Remembering loved ones on All Souls Day

All Souls Day © Adrian Cheah

The feast of All Souls is a reminder to pray for the faithfully departed, to help them on their journey to heaven. Therefore we say prayers not just for those we knew and loved and also for the 'neglected souls'. These are regarded as acts of charities.

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Bak Chang Festival in Penang

Bak Chang Festival © Adrian Cheah

Bak Chang is steamed pulut (glutinous rice) seasoned with dark soya sauce wrapped in bamboo leaves and stuffed with pork belly, shiitake mushroom, dried prawns, salted egg yolk and chestnuts or just white beans. This rich and high cholesterol delight which is a specialty during the Bak Chang Festival is available all year round in Penang.

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St. Patrick’s Ball 2017 through the lens of a Nikon D750

St Patrick's Ball in Penang

Yes, I am a Nikon D750 and would like to invite you to stop, pause and discover wonderful things I see through my lens. I am a brilliant engineering wonder that has evolved through the passage of photography. Having said that, the man who decides how much light goes through me, how fast the shutter speed is and when to capture that magical moment makes all the difference in the outcome of a photograph.

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The Spring Festival - an insight into the festivities of the Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year © Adrian Cheah

The Chinese observe many festivals, some religious and some secular. The most important celebration however is the Spring Festival, more commonly known today as the Chinese New Year or the Lunar New Year.

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Chap Goh Meh – the Night of Romance

Chap Goh Meh © Adrian Cheah

A fascinating Chap Goh Meh legend tells the story of a lonely young man who, during an outing on this very significant night, was suddenly enraptured by the most beautiful sight he ever laid eyes on. Who was this exquisitely delicate beauty driving by in all her finery, he wondered. Despite the excitement pounding in his heart, the hopeful young gentleman quickly jotted down the number of her car, lest he forgot.

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On The Crest Of Prayer - The Thaipusam Story

Thaipusam © Adrian Cheah

From the top of the green hill, the endless string of devotees dotting its way up the concrete steps seemed like a sacred procession of silence.

Carrying milk-pots of brass and silver, and harnessed in colourful kavadis, the worshippers inched their way to the great temple overhead with sweet hypnotic resolve. The children, the elders, even the disabled ones, scaled slowly with their ceremonial burdens, ascending with a mission to the call of the good Lord Muruga above.

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Hungry Ghosts roam the Streets of George Town

Hungry Ghosts © Adrian Cheah

Hungry Ghost also known as Phor Thor festival is an annual month-long celebration observed by the Chinese enclaves not only in Penang but also throughout Malaysia, Singapore and Phuket.

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Ramadhan – a time for reflection

Ramadhan © Adrian Cheah

Once again, Ramadhan, the holiest of months for Muslims, is almost upon us. The ninth month of the Muslim year is strictly observed by all Muslims as a month of fasting (and abstinence) during which they would abstain from the pleasures of eating, drinking and carnal desires and actions from sunrise to sunset. Ramadhan usually lasts from 29 to 30 days, after which Muslims celebrate Id-al-Fitr (Hari Raya Puasa in local language). Fasting is one of the five basic duties of Islam.

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Deepavali – Celebrating the Light

Deepavali  © Adrian Cheah

Squatting at a corner of King Street amid the human bustle of Penang's Little India, Manickam P. sorts through a giant pile of fresh green banana leaves.

Clad in baggy khaki shorts and a sweat-soaked singlet, he seems to take no notice of either the automobiles that incessantly purr past or the hundreds of human apparitions that mill by him. The elderly odd-job worker certainly has his work cut out for him nowadays.

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Of lanterns and mooncakes

lanterns and mooncakes © Adrian Cheah

"The Chinese people have never demanded a clear separation of the worlds of myth and reality – indeed, they are so closely bound up that it is hard to say where one begins and the other ends." – An Introduction to Oriental Mythology, Clio Whittaker et al

"The moon, along with fine wine and beautiful women, is a favourite topic for the Chinese poets." – Chinese proverb

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Plan to breathe new life into market

The Star, Friday, 4 August 2017
BY CHONG KAH YUAN

THE state government is working on a solution to keep the Little Penang Street Market going.

The market held at Upper Penang Road has just marked its 11th anniversary but its future is now uncertain after the organising committee members expressed their wish to retire.

State Local Government Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said he was open to new ideas on how to use the space.

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Fate of Little Penang Street Market uncertain after tomorrow

The Star, Saturday, 29 July 2017

BY AFTER 11 LONG YEARS BEING A VIBRANT, INTERESTING BAZAAR, AND THE FINAL CURTAIN WILL FALL ON THE LITTLE PENANG STREET MARKET (LPSM).

Little Penang Street Market comittee

(From right) LPSM committee members Khoo, Cheah, Ong and MBPP assistant administrative officer Amir Ali showing the press release on the last Little Penang Street Market and its 11th anniversary celebration.

For all the stakeholders, tomorrow will surely be a special occasion as the LPSM will also be celebrating its 11th anniversary.

“This will be the last Little Penang Street Market for us. We do not know what will happen next.

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Little Penang Street Market - more than meets the eye

Little Penang Street Market

To call the Little Penang Street Market a microcosm of Penang and Malaysian cultures is no empty boast. Its multi-faceted makeup has little parallels elsewhere. But it is also an incomplete description. The Street Market isn't merely another weekend shopping spot. Penang already has plenty of those, both traditional and modern, elaborate and simple, for every day of the week. In fact, Penang is such a shopper's paradise that some have been 'moved' to say, in local language "tengok pun dah kenyang" (a Malay phrase meaning that one is sated merely by looking).

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National Day of Malaysia

Merdeka

In 1956, the then Prime Minister of Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj led a delegation to London to hold talks with the British Government concerning independence for Malaya.

The Malayan delegation, comprising of four representatives of the Malay Rulers and four Alliance representatives, convinced the British Government to set a date for independence: 31st August 1957.

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Penang Dragon Boat Festival – race of the ancients

About 100 years ago, large clans of sea-faring migrants from China settled along the foreshores of Penang island, building pier houses on the fringes of George Town.

Many of these humble coastal plank settlements, like the old Bang Liaw jetty in Weld Quay, still exist till today, housing scores of fisher-folk families just as they did many decades before.

During the early period, every year on the fifth day of the fifth moon of the lunar calendar, the settlers would push out to sea lengthy specially built boats for a passionate day of racing. It was one of the great traditions they had proudly brought along from China.

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