Melaka: "Datuk Chachar Festival"



26 April 2010

The Jonker Boutique Hotel is very new.  No breakfast is served.  I wander about looking for an open shop.  I never found any breakfast….

I spotted a small group of gold-clad Indians walking up the street in front of the hotel.  Then another small group, a family, carrying pots on their head.  Is there a festival today?  I ran back to my room, grabbed my camera, ran back down to the street and followed along.

And I followed along and followed along and followed along.  The streets became filled with devotees.  The sidewalks were crowded with observers: Chinese residents, Malay residents, other Indian residents. And me, snapping away.

Hundreds and hundreds of devotees were celebrating this Hindu festival.  Is this the local Thaipusam festival here in Melaka?  No. The Thaipusam festival is in January.  I am told by my Malaysian friend Joo Wee that this one is called the Datuk Chachar festival.

For three hours I followed the procession through the streets of Melaka.  Drums and cymbals and flutes and drums and more drums accompanied the marchers.  The final leg of the march was down the lane of a traditional residential neighborhood.  The march ended at the jam-packed plaza of the Hindu Sri Muthu Mariamman Temple where the religious devotion continued. 

Then, we ate.

I met a lovely family. A handsome man - an engineer from Penang - his charming wife, one nephew, a delightful teenage daughter and three clever sons.  We chatted and shared some sweet snacks.

What a morning! 

Devotees dressed in gold carrying milk pots on their head.  Devotees with long skewers through their jaw.  Drums pounding.  Devotees with large fish hooks in their back.  (Hooks not for bass or trout.  Hooks for marlin or sailfish.)  Drums pounding.  Devotees with rows of fish hooks down their back with limes attached to the hooks. 

Devotees with rows of fishhooks down their back with ribbons attached.  The ribbons are held taut by a man walking behind them.  Drums pounding.  Devotees with rows of fishhooks down their back with ribbons attached that are pulling a small shrine.  Devotees with skewers in their mouth.  Devotes in a trance.  Devotees dancing in a trance.  Drums pounding.  I need a drink!

Before he entered the temple, one devotee slipped on a pair of shoes with nails sticking up from the sole. 

On the Hindu temple grounds, devotees circle the main shrine, pulling small wagons with religious images.  All the while, drums are pounding.  Hundreds and hundreds of Malaysian Indian men, women, and children dressed in their finest.  It’s an event!  Joyous.  Colorful.  Sacred. 

It’s been three hours. Continuous marching along with the crowds.  Shocking sights.  Loud music.  Sweet food.  Hot sun.  Loud music.  Hot sun.  Shocking sights.  Hot sun. Hot sun.  Hot sun.  Am I in a trance? 

Food?  No, I need a drink!

What will I do in the afternoon?  Nothing!  What afternoon sightseeing could possibly surpass this morning’s startling, splendid scene? 

Will I return to Malaysia next year for the enormous Thaipusam Festival in Kuala Lumpur?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  After all, at least on a small scale, “been there, done that.”  I still need a drink.

For music and a video:

Datuk Chachar Festival:


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