Tuesday, August 13, 2013

From Raya to Ratham to Ramen: A Tale of Three Cultures

Selamat petang!

I'm amazed to tell you that within a span of two days, I went from Malay culture to Indian to Chinese. From Sunday to yesterday, I managed to take part in all three cultures and in observing Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism.

Here's how:

On Sunday, I went through the last bit of Raya celebration and then left my Malay host family around noon to return to my usual host family. Then, around 6, we went to see a Hindu parade called Ratham. In this case, Ratham came after a Hindu festival called Adi Puram, which usually takes place in either July or August.

Anyways, at Ratham, I got to see a chariot carrying an image of a deity. Two cows, with their horns beautifully painted were pulling the chariot around. There were so many priests, helpers, and ordinary people coming out to see the festival. It was incredible! Being a Hindu, I was able to notice certain characteristic aspects of Hinduism at the festival, such as garlands, the cows, clothing, music, food, etc. However, I have never had the chance to celebrate this festival back home, and being so close to the parade was a very awesome experience for me! The beautiful images and colors I saw really captivated me, and I really enjoyed learning about this festival.

Then, yesterday, my host family took me sightseeing around Ipoh. First, we went to Iskandar Polo Club, where one could see more than just playing grounds. We saw rivers and rapids, village houses, mountains, durians, and a bunch more. I got a lot of pictures and videos through the car's sunroof wasn't pretty bad, as I got some really sweet media to post.

After the Polo Club, my host family took me to two Chinese Buddhist-Taoist temples. Being a mountainous city, Ipoh hosts a lot of cave temples or shrines. Both of the temples were built into the mountain, and one of them actually was the inside of the mountain. These temples featured a lot of really amazing artwork. At the first temple, I saw sculptures and models of the Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramid at Giza, and the Great Wall of China. There were countless other sculptures of bridges, mountains, and rivers. After admiring all of the artwork and the golden statues of bodhisattvas and deities, we walked along a cobblestone path with rounded rocks sticking out of the ground (the path was supposed to massage your feet if you walked slow enough, but unfortunately, in Malaysia, the ground is blazing hot outside). Afterwards, we got to see a bunch of huge, colorful fish swimming around in a nearby pond. In the second temple, we got to see painted statues of deities, dragons, and men. There were nice praying places inside the temple with a nice incense smell. There were also a couple monkeys that were trying to finish the leftovers of someone's drink and Ramen noodles (not the brand, the style)... it was pretty hilarious :), and I got a video of it.

My last few days were truly the most culturally enlightening days of my stay so far, as I got to experience the religions of the three main Malaysian cultures. Going from one culture to the next really helped me appreciate how mixed Malaysia is; I've started to realize that it's one of the most diverse countries in Asia. I recall asking an AFS volunteer about a month ago why the saying "Malaysia, Truly Asia" applied. Now, I can see with my own eyes that yes, Malaysia is truly Asia! It brings together cultural, linguistic, and religious aspects from everywhere from the Middle East to the Far East. On one street, you can see a mosque, a Buddhist temple, a Hindu temple, and a church. In the same neighborhood, you can see Chinese alters and Sanskrit symbols in the yards, notice the smell of nasi lemuk and durian, and hear the sounds of the mosque speaker calling Muslims to pray. You can see Malays, Chinese, Indians, and so many foreigners. You will hear Bahasa Melayu, English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tamil, Telegu, Punjabi, and many other dialects and indigenous languages. You will notice Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and other Chinese traditional religions. When I think I about it, this is why I don't feel all the difference: because the diversity here matches that of my own country. I see the different cultures acting both independently and together, and it reminds me of the diversity in the U.S. This is what has caused me to already fall in love with this country. The common tourist attractions and shopping complexes are great, but the diversity is what defines Malaysia. It is what makes Malaysia truly Asia.

Selamat Jalan!


The streets are filled with lights!

The chariot

The musicians, most of which were playing tabla or mridangam (traditional Indian instruments similar to bongos)

A nice video of the music; definitely indicative of a different culture

The deity inside the chariot

A man leading a cow to the chariot

One of the cows heavily decorated pulling the bright chariot

My host family with some relatives

A nice lake at the Polo Club

A Chinese alter in the middle of nowhere, just barred off by a gate

Me in front of the beginning of a small mountain

A nice video of the scenery

My host siblings and cousins at the Buddhist-Taoist cave temple

Nice sculpture of a dragon

Great Pyramid at Giza

Eiffel Tower

Great Wall of China

Me kneeling at the alter

Another dragon sculpture

Me inside a small veranda-like place

Fish in the pond with a statue of Kuan Yin

Hilarious video of my host brother getting scared out of his mind by an angry chicken!!

The Entrance Gate for the first temple

The second temple

Me with a statue of Kuan Yin

Me inside another Chinese veranda-like place

A thirsty monkey drinks what was formerly someone's juice

A sweet painting inside the temple

Me inside the temple

Kneeling pose

Next to an image of Buddha

The temple was built into the wall of the mountain


  1. Hello Anirudh. A great postings about our country. Thank you very much. A thorough view and complete explanation. Being a Malaysian myself, there are still certain fragment that I do not master yet. For me search about the Ratham chariot, I found this entry as being so helpful. Allow me to link my entry with this as my reference in my blog.

    P/S : Are you still in Malaysia?

  2. Thanks, Aziela. I'm happy that you saw this link and learned from it. Feel free to use this as reference.