Thursday, March 02, 2006

more thaipusam madness

Last night I just couldn't get to sleep, so rather than watching one of 4 channels that comes in on my dorm room TV, I headed up to the library. There I took out a movie entitled "Floating in the Air, Followed by the Wind," a film that one of my professors had recommended. It's an informative documentary on the Thaipusam festival in Kuala Lumpur that I discussed in an earlier post, and I was eager to check it out.
Although I had already read loads of articles and explored a plethora of pictures from Thaipusam, not until I saw this film did I feel that I had a full understanding of the extent to which the festival holds importance for its devotees. The director interviewed a number of devotees and tracked their preparation for and participation in the festival. The resulting documentary reveals the real-life reasons that many Hindus take part in Thaipusam, and how their acts of worship are related to the Hindu belief system. There is also a focus on the deep trances that are induced before a participant receives any piercings or kavadis, and how this technique must be learned and practiced long before the festival begins.
kavadiMan bearing a kavadi at Thaipusam
From the moment I popped the tape into the VCR (yesss it's old) all the way until the film ended, there was an enchanting melody playing in the background. This tune set the mood for the rest of the film, giving it a trance-like feel which contributed to my finally being able to understand the missing piece of Thaipusam that I couldn't have attained through pictures or written descriptions of the festival. I now see that the deeply spiritual nature of the festival gives it an almost supernatural air, which is added to by the melange of metal mouthguards held in place by pieced cheeks, and 60 pound kavadis on the backs of 65 year old men.

Mouthguard supported by dual cheek piercings at Thaipusam

Although this film was a bit outdated, it was quite effective in conveying the shockingly different cultural behaviors of some non-Western societies. Many Westerners might be disturbed upon seeing a film like "Floating in the Air, Followed by the Wind," but why? Well if there was a screening of Doctor 90210 or The Swan at Thaipusam next year, I think that the reaction would be quite comparable. Ahhh, cultural differences.

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