Thaipusam Festival is a Hindu festival celebrated by the Tamil community. It is a very strong celebration for the purification of mind and body. Harsh body piercing, shaving heads of the whole family and carrying  ’paal kudam’ offerings to temples are taking place whilst techno music is giving the beat and endurance to walk around the whole city of Penang in the shape of number 8 and free food is offered everywhere.

This is how I explain Thaipusam but to truly understand it you need to be there and experience the weird mixture of religious dedication and techno party together! Thaipusam festivals are happening yearly in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, India with millions to participate. In Penang, it was a smaller Hindu community celebration and therefore I was actually able to film it all so closely! I had been volunteering in Langkawi island, Malaysia for 1 month, making videos for a health project/sailing tourism there. One day Gitti told me that you might like something called Thaipusam which is actually happening next weekend. Just take a boat over there and take your camera with you!

After googling we decided to go there with Sarah, another volunteer, even though she was unsure of being able to handle all the pain and suffering she was going to see.


As we walked through the old streets of Penang with small fires burning in the streets outside Chinese homes as offerings, I already fell in love with the city. The next morning we were early in the field where the ritual procession was to start. Later I heard that we should have been there already in the night when groups and families arrived and the excitement started to grow.

There brave men were lying on the ground, being harshly pierced with big hooks, mainly in the back! Drums were beating, friends were encouraging with shouts and small altars were placed everywhere. Some women were also sacrificing their pain to pray for family health and wealth but mainly it was men.


Later I learned that the strongest ones take part and they learn to go to trance for weeks before to be able to endure the pain. The reason for this is usually that someone in the family is sick or poverty has struck. Slowly the piercing was done and also in the face and sometimes on the chest too where small containers of milk were hung. The procession was about to start. This is very difficult to explain but you will see it in the video. A pierced person has long ropes attached to the hooks and a group of men pull ropes like trying to decelerate the pierced one trying to walk forward.

Suddenly the music gets louder and the whole group starts to dance to techno music like crazy! There are lots of viewers, lots of children too! We get by many food stalls delivering free food and drinks. This is a whole community event, organised by people themselves.

What I find interesting is that the ritual is walked around the city in the shape of the number 8, meaning eternity. At some point, people start crashing coconuts to the streets. This has a meaning of breaking the hard shell of a person to find inner purity. We pass many big piles of broken coconuts!

Soon we come to a new area where there are barbers everywhere! Women with long hairs are shaved as well as men and little kids. After that, their heads are painted with the color okra. Finally, we come to the first temple and I can see why people are carrying milk containers with them. They are offerings too.

I just keep filming. Sarah has forgotten that this is scary and shines bright when she gets blessed in temples. There is a very magical atmosphere all day long. We climb up hills to visit more temples and descend again with the procession. It is getting dark and now shrines are lit. Big carriages move along the route and most of them carry huge statues dedicated to Hindu gods. Some are platforms for religious leaders to bless food offerings. Music gets louder and partying more intense.

Filmed in Thaipusam Festival in Penang, Malaysia as part of my travel documentaries.
Camera, audio, editing: Seija Hirstiö / Heartwaves Design

Seija Hirstiö
I have expressed myself visually since early youth, with film, photography, online videos, graphic design, web design and performance art. I am open to collaboration! Please, contact.


I have expressed myself visually since early youth, with film, photography, online videos, graphic design, web design and performance art. I am open to collaboration! Please, contact.


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