Songkran Festival in Thailand

The start of the traditional Thai New Year – otherwise known as Songkran – is a riotous event enjoyed by young and old, rich and poor and Royalty and commoners alike all over the Kingdom of Thailand. Today if you mention ‘Thai New Year’ to someone who isn’t Thai, chances are they’ll say “Oh yes – the water throwing festival, right?” and whilst it’s true that Songkran these days is a lot of fun which involves buckets full of water and beauty queen parades, its origins lie way back in agricultural history.

So, before we get to the fun, splashy part, let’s take a look at where, why and how Songkran came to be the water festival that we know and love today.

The word Songkran comes from the Sanskrit word, Sankranti, which means movement or change, although in this situation it refers to the transmigration of the Sun from one Rāshi (a constellation of the zodiac in Indian astronomy) to the next. Therefore, there are 12 Sankrantis in a year and each Sankranti denotes the beginning of a month.

Back in ancient times the day that Songkran fell on was set on the day that the sun migrated into the sign of Aries which was seen as the beginning of the year, however these days, Songkran is always celebrated on the 13th of April – the official beginning of the Thai New Year. It is also celebrated in the other Theravada Buddhist countries of Cambodia, Lao and Burma/Myanmar and in the Thai homeland of Sipsong Panna in the South West Chinese province of Yunnan where the Dai minority live.

Another point to note is that in Thailand, the Buddhist calendar is used as opposed to the Western Gregorian one, so now, as I write this in 2013 here in Thailand it is actually 2556. Officially New Year in Thailand was changed to the 1st of January in 1940 to align with the West and to increase business and trade opportunities but Songkran is still the most beloved of Thai national holidays and is quite rightly still celebrated as Thai New Year.

Unlike Western New Year, Songkran lasts for 4 days, with each day given a name and defined by a meaning and actions. The first day is Maha Songkran which signifies the end of the old year. The following day, April the 14th, is Wan Nao and this is an in-between day stuck in a kind of calendar limbo between the old year and the new year which is yet to begin. This day is traditionally spent preparing offerings of food for the monks who reside in the local temples.

Day three is Wan Thaloeng Sok – the 15th of April and the actual start of the New Year whilst the final day of the celebrations, Wan Parg-bpee, is spent honouring one’s ancestors and elders.

Songkran falls at a similar time as Holi which is an ancient festival celebrated in India, and they do in fact share some similar customs, such as the releasing of small captured fish into streams and rivers. In Thailand birds may be released from their cages too. Similarly, Holi is celebrated by throwing coloured water, and as we already know, this is something that the Thai people enthusiastically embrace during their Songkran festivities too!

So where does all this water throwing come from, what’s it all about and has Songkran always been so wild?! Well, originally throwing water was a Spring Festival ritual that even pre-dates the Buddha. It was seen as a symbol of good luck and of hope for rain for the crops that had been planted that year. After Buddhism was introduced to the Thai Kingdom, its meaning morphed somewhat into a religious act and the water was instead used in an annual cleansing of statues of the Buddha.

The water is considered blessed after the statues have been washed and is then used to convey respect to ones elders by pouring a small amount of it over their shoulder and down their back, on the 4th day of Wan Parg-bpee. This water will be scented, often with Jasmine flowers, although these days, leaving the religious reasons aside, water will often be filled with talcum powder too so it leaves a sticky white paste all over the ‘victim’.

Whether the water is being sprinkled over a statue of the Buddha, gently poured over the shoulder of a respected elder or tipped over your head in a bucket filled with ice, it symbolizes purity and cleansing and the desire to rid oneself of any bad thoughts and deeds of the past year.

Water is the main thing that springs to mind when thinking about Thai New Year but there are other rituals attached to the holiday period too. In the past many Thais would take sand to their local temple to symbolically replace all the sand that they’ve ‘carried away’ on the soles of their shoes throughout the year. This sand would then be built into sand pagodas – known in Thai as Phrachedi Sai. Prachedi meaning pagoda and sai meaning sand.

These days Phrachedi Sai are still created in some places although the sand is more likely to be provided by the temple. Nowadays it is a family activity and it is mainly women and children who build the pagodas. Dressed in their best clothes they’ll gather at the temple, buy incense sticks, flowers, flags, banners and candles from the stalls set up and prepared by the monks and then, using silver bowls that they have brought with them, collect some sand from the piles also prepared by the monks.

A prachedi sai can be any size, big or small, and is created by mixing water with the sand. Inside, a coin and a fig leaf will be placed (the fig is a religious tree) and once finished the pagoda will be sprinkled with scented water. Then the decoration can begin, with flags and banners being placed in the pagoda’s ‘walls’. After that, the base will be covered with a small yellow or red cloth, candles and incense sticks are placed in the sand as offerings and a short prayer will be said. In many temples prachedi sai building has turned into a competition, with the builders of the most beautiful pagoda being awarded a prize.

Like most countries, this being New Year, Thailand also has a whole host more of rituals and traditions. Most of them a lot more symbolic than the Western ideal of just getting as drunk as possible on New Year’s Eve – although that’s not to say that the Thai’s don’t like to party because they do! In fact Thai people have a word sanuk which means fun, and they believe that everything in life should be done with a sense of sanuk, even if you’re at work. This must be why Thailand is known as ‘The Land of Smiles’.

If you’re in Thailand for Songkran and somebody wants to tie a string around your wrist, you should be very honoured. You should hold out your arm with your palm facing upwards and let them tie the string. Whilst doing so they will be reciting a short prayer or blessing to wish you good fortune throughout the coming year. You may see very fortunate (or popular!) people with as many as 30 strings on their wrists. One word of warning though, you should not untie the string but wait until it falls apart and drops off of its own accord.

At New Year, as is traditional in many cultures, the home will be thoroughly spring cleaned – again signifying a desire to enter the coming year cleansed of all one’s ‘dirt’ or ills and it is also important to make offerings to your local temple or wat, as it is called in Thai, and the monks that live there. It is customary to offer preserved food stuffs and cooked meals as well as new saffron robes for the monks.

Parades are also a big part of Songkran and if you’re in The Kingdom at this time of year, you’ll see brightly coloured floats festooned with flowers and carrying statues of the Buddha. Don’t be shocked if you see people throwing water at the images – this is all part of the cleansing ritual – albeit one that is a little more rigorous than the sprinkling of water that takes place in the temples!

Beauty pageants are also popular, with girls in every town or district vying to be crowned the Miss Songkran of their area. But just because they’re beautifully made-up and wearing traditional dress, it doesn’t exclude these beauties from getting a soaking too and it’s not unusual to see floats of pretty girls cowering behind their parasols in an attempt to dodge the buckets of water that are being enthusiastically hurled at them!

Which brings us nicely to the really fun part: the crazy water fights and the slippery sidewalks. As we’ve seen, water plays a huge part in the Songkran celebrations and if you’re in Thailand, unless you want to shut yourself in your hotel room for four days, chances are, you’re going to get wet. Very wet. Early in the morning open backed trucks will start doing the rounds, with music blaring and huge vats of water (usually icy!) in the back. People will set up tables with their weapons of choice – be it super soaker water gun or your common or garden bucket – or even, if they’re lucky enough to have an outside tap, a garden hose pipe.

As the day progresses things get wilder and chances of seeing someone in dry clothing are very small indeed! As a farang – a foreigner – you may venture out of your house or hotel only to find you remain fairly dry for the first little while; perhaps someone will dab some scented water on your face as a mark of respect and you’ll think you’ve got away with it, but once somebody takes a shine to you or decides you’re too dry, your number is up!

From morning to night the streets are packed with people shouting “Suk san wan Songkran!” – “Happy New Year “or “Happy Songkran”, tipping water over each other or shooting each other with water pistols. People line the roadsides waiting for trucks to pass so that they can embark upon a frenzy of bucket throwing and water shooting, with the truck eventually moving off in search of a new set of victims and the roadside crowd eagerly awaiting their next open-backed vehicle or motorcycle!

You may also bump into someone – usually an older person – carrying a small silver bowl filled with white powder or paste. This is one of the oldest Songkran traditions and the paste is actually to ward off evil and offer protection. The person with the bowl will gently dab some of the paste onto the receiver’s face, neck or other part of the body. Tradition dictates that you should leave the paste on until it naturally washes off itself – which let’s face it probably won’t be before too long! Just like the tying of the strings, you should feel honoured if someone approaches you and wants to dab paste on your face; it is an act of kindness and don’t worry as the paste is water soluble and won’t damage your clothes or skin.

Of course, just as the water pouring has turned into water throwing, the traditional paste dabbing has taken on a new life in this fun loving country and some of those buckets will also contain talc, which passers-by will delight in throwing over you if you look even remotely damp. Sticky!

It can’t be denied that Songkran is great fun and typically embodies the Thai people’s love of laughter and fun, however one thing to take extreme care of is if you’re riding a motorbike or scooter. Traffic accidents go through the roof at Songkran due to all the water being flung around and drivers being temporarily blinded or skidding on wet roads, and the emergency services and hospitals are inundated with casualties – and worse – at this time of year. If at all possible stick to foot power during the festivities and be extra careful when crossing Thailand’s already busy roads.

Another thing to note is that although Songkran lasts for four days, the length of celebrations differ around the country. For example in Hua Hin, the coastal town three hours south of Bangkok where the King has his summer palace, the water throwing only lasts for one day – the 13th – however in the Northern city of Chiang Mai, celebrations last for the whole four day period. If you’re thinking of visiting Thailand for Songkran, therefore, work out where you want to be and how much of the action you can take! Another word of warning; some parts of Bangkok are reputed to get extremely crazy and the water fights can take on battles of epic proportions and may not be suitable for children, the elderly or the faint of heart!

If you do want to see some of the most manic Bangkok action, head for the backpacker haven of Khao San Road in Banglampoo district, which will be insanely crowded, or hit the downtown areas of Sukhumvit Soi 4, Soi Cowboy and Silom as they should also be good, i.e. crazy, places to head for.

Another tip is to make sure everything, and I mean EVERYTHING – is made waterproof before you leave the safety of indoors. Trust me, you WILL get wet and I’m talking about taking a shower with your clothes on proportions of wetness. It’s so tempting to take a camera out to capture the action but ask yourself if it’s really worth ending up with an expensive casualty on your hands. If you do want to take photos, get yourself onto a balcony just above street level to get some good shots, otherwise don’t risk it if you’re heading into the thick of things. And even if you’re not, you never know when you might get a soaking!

On a similar note, stock up on plastic bags or even zip lock bags and ensure wallets, purses and phones are safely wrapped up and stored away, either in a pocket, or better still a waterproof backpack or shoulder bag.

One other thing to point out is that most shops and services will be closed for the four day period (apart from good old Seven Eleven) and transport is very likely to be booked up way in advance as migrant workers and students in the big cities head home to the countryside for the holidays.

From its humble beginnings as a way for farmers to ask for rain, by way of a sedate religious ceremony and all the way to an wild celebration that sees most of the population covered in water and talcum powder or flour, Songkran has come a long way. Come, enjoy it, have lots of sanuk and take it in the spirit that it’s intended and is famous for. And if you don’t like the sound of being drenched in water by complete strangers, I’ll be willing to bet that you’ll actually be glad of that icy cold bucket of water being thrown over you – it’s certainly a respite from the scorching temperatures that bake Thailand and her inhabitants in steamy, sweaty, sultry April!

Suk san wan Songkran!

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National Day – Malaysia

National Day is celebrated every year in Malaysia on the 31st of August to commemorate the momentous occasion when the Federation of Malaya achieved independence from British rule in 1957. On the 30th of August, Malaysia’s then Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman took to the Royal Selangor Club Padang, now known as the Merdeka square at 11.58pm and observed two minutes of darkness. At the stroke of midnight, the Union Jack was lowered and raised with the Flag of Malaya. The morning after, Tunku Abdul Rahman read aloud the Proclaimation of Independence, followed by seven chants of Merdeka, with the crown at the square joining following each chant. The moment is considered to be one of Malaysia’s most memorable and significant points in history.

National Day shouldn’t be confused with Malaysia Day, which is celebrated on September 16 and declared an official public holiday since 2010. Malaysia Day marks the day where Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore and Malaya had joined together to form the federation of Malaysia, although Singapore has since become its own country.

This year would be the 55th year that Malaysia celebrates her independence from British rule. However, times have changed Malaysia into a newer, more politically aware and conscious young nation. It can certainly be argued that the patriotic spirit has dwindled especially in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, partly due to increased dissatisfaction and racial discrimination felt by a growing number of young Malaysian Chinese and Indians. Unity among races and a greater patriotic spirit among Malaysians are certainly stronger now than two decades or three decades ago. Nevertheless, Malaysian citizens would be quick to proclaim their love for their country, despite their misgivings for the country’s current administration.

Government buildings and corporations would start decorating the buildings with the colours of the national flag in the weeks before National Day. Decorations with themes of red, blue, yellow and white along with the national and state flags would hang off almost every window and building in the city. Malaysia’s national flag is proudly known as the “Jalur Gemilang” and the flag is usually the central theme and pride of the nation and her people. Old and torn flags are frowned upon and will usually be replaced by newer and brightly coloured flags. Vehicles are not to be missed out, and during the month leading to the celebrations, it will not be unusual to see vehicles decked out as colourful as buildings in the colours of the Jalur Gemilang.

In the past decade or so, to young urban Malaysians, National Day usually means looking forward to commercials from Petronas, an oil and gas company which is solely owned by the Government of Malaysia. Around this time, Petronas-commissioned commercials with themes centralized around unity and love among the three biggest races in Malaysia are aired. These commercials were originally the brainchild of the late Yasmin Ahmad, a very much loved and veered figure in the entertainment industry, until her untimely death in 2009.

Public schools usually have class-decorating, essay writing and poetry competitions, all with National Day themes. The more creative classes would be completely decked out in red, blue, yellow and white decorations and poems and essays about unity and tolerance are usually written. There will also be nationwide competitions held by many corporate and government bodies to commemorate the glorious event.

On the eve of National Day, fireworks will light up the sky at the stroke of midnight, usually set off in Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur. In recent years, the fireworks have been moved to Putrajaya where they are equally, and if not more beautiful, dazzling the crowd who would stop their cars on the highway and people who would gather at the parks in Putrajaya to witness this few minutes of splendor. It is truly a sight to behold. In 2008, the fireworks were moved to Titiwangsa lake in Kuala Lumpur, where a giant ferris wheel named the Eye of Malaysia had been set up a year before. The fireworks and the lights from the city and the ferris wheel added a touch of scenic splendor to the entire patriotic affair.

The National Day Parade

The highlight of National Day is the National Day parade organized every year. Every year, there will be an official theme and slogan for National Day and this year will be no different. The slogans usually resonate with the country’s current prime minister and his policies. Since Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is known for his policies to transform and change the country ever since he took office in 2008, the themes for National Day have been about transformation and the catchphrase “1 Malaysia” signifying unity and tolerance among different races. In 2011, the theme was “1 Malaysia, Transformasi Berjaya, dan Rakyat Sejahtera” (1 Malaysia, A Successful Transformation, Peace among the People). This year’s theme is yet to be announced but there is no doubt it will again be centered on transformation. One of the more famous slogans and themes was the recurrent theme from 2000-2006 which was “Keranamu Malaysia” or “Because of you, Malaysia”. The inaugural guest of honour presiding over the National Day parade will be the Yang di Pertuan Agong (King) of Malaysia along with government dignitaries and other VIPs.

The parade is slightly different every year depending on the circumstances and decisions made by the federal government. The parade is usually held in the streets of the city culminating in Merdeka Square, where it all began in 1957. However, since 1985, the celebrations have been moved to other states in the country so that citizens all around the country have a chance to participate and revel in the celebrations as well. In the year 2009, it was a smaller scale celebration limited to only 4000 people as there was the H1N1 flu pandemic at the time. In 2010, the parade only lasted for 40 minutes as it was in the midst of Ramadan month where Muslims have to observe fasting rites during the day. Of recent years, the national parade has been held in Putrajaya three times seeing that it was the main administrative capital of the country.

Every year, a human graphic display of the Jalur Gemilang will be readied by members of Soka Gakkai Malaysia, and will usually be formed on the parade grounds or on the streets where the celebrations are held. The Royal Malay Regiment or another military unit of the three services of the Malaysian Armed Forces will form the Guard of Honor Company, usually joined with a military band. When the Yang di Pertuan Agong and the Raja Permaisuri Agong (Queen) arrives at the venue, the Guards of Honor render the Royal Salute to His Majesty and Her Majesty, and the national anthem, Negaraku is played by the military band. Immediately after this, the Guards of Honor order arms, readying for inspection by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

The Royal Inspection

When the inspection starts, the military band plays “Menungjung Duli March”. After the inspection, the national anthem is played again, and the human graphic display will then arrange itself to show the words, “Daulat Tuanku” (Long Live the King). The Guards of Honor will then perform a march past after the display.

A 21-gun salute will also be performed by members of the Royal Artillery Regiment after the flag has been raised to the national anthem. The Rukunegara (National Principles) will then be recited by the emcee and is usually started with a pledge, Maka Kami (translated into ‘And therefore, we…’), the left hand at shoulder level. Following the reciting of the Rukunegara, seven shouts of Merdeka! (translated into ‘Independence!’) will follow with the left hand raised.

The Rukunegara

The Rukunegara was proclaimed in the year 1970, a year after the deathly riots between the races that make up Malaysia’s population on May 13, 1969. The government of Malaysia at the time sought to resolve the tension and instill unity among the races in the aftermath of the riots. As a result of these efforts, the Rukunegara is a declaration of national philosophy for the people to follow and live by these principles. The pledge is recited at every official function and weekly at assemblies in schools around the country.

The literal Malay verse of the Rukunegara is as follows:

BAHAWASANYA NEGARA KITA MALAYSIA mendukung cita-cita hendak:

  • mencapai perpaduan yang lebih erat di kalangan seluruh masyarakatnya;
  • memelihara satu cara hidup demokratik;
  • mencipta satu masyarakat adil di mana kemakmuran Negara akan dapat dinikmati bersama secara adil dan saksama;
  • menjamin satu cara liberal terhadap tradisi-tradisi kebudayaannya yang kaya dan berbagai corak; dan
  • membina satu masyarakat progresif yang akan menggunakan sains dan teknologi moden.

MAKA KAMI, rakyat Malaysia, berikrar akan menumpukan seluruh tenaga dan usaha kami untuk mencapai cita-cita tersebut berdasarkan atas prinsip-prinsip yang berikut:


And when translated into English, it is as follows:

Our nation, Malaysia, is being dedicated to:

  • Achieving a greater unity of all her people;
  • Maintaining a democratic way of life;
  • Creating a just society in which the wealth of the nation shall be equitably shared;
  • Ensuring a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural tradition;
  • Building a progressive society which shall be oriented to modern science and technology.

We, the people of Malaysia, pledge our united efforts to attain these ends, guided by these principles:


The Rukunegara has become an important and integral part of the nation as it is beyond politics. It talks about a democratic nation founded on a steadfast faith in God, honor and love for the King and Country, and a wholly just and democratic society which upholds the Constitution and the Rule of Law.

The parade

The fun starts after the formal and solemn proceedings have ended. Patriotic songs accompanied by members of the ethnic percussion group will be sung, and the stage will be filled with young dancers dressed in the many colourful costumes that make up the various races and ethnic groups of the country. Every year, there will be a new theme song and this song will be sung as well.

The skies would not be missed out in the celebrations as well, and planes of the Royal Malaysian Air Force, the Malaysian Army Air Force and the Royal Malaysian Navy will take to the skies in a salute to the nation. The fleet is led by military helicopters flying the Malaysian flag, the flags of the Armed Forces and the flags of the 13 states of Malaysia and the flags of its 3 federal territories, with the rest of the military aircraft following behind.

The march past then begins with the three divisions of the Armed Forces, the Royal Malaysian Police, civilian and business organizations. Each contingent will march past the parade stage where the Royal Highnesses preside over the celebrations and give a royal salute. There will also be floats, representing their organization and is decorated with intricate designs and decorations which symbolizes the heart of their organization.

Where to be and what to do

Tourists should be sure not to miss out the exciting parade every year and join the crowd at Dataran Merdeka to watch the parade on the morning of National Day and partake in the festivities. The roads in and around Dataran Merdeka will usually be closed in preparation for the festivities but due to the prominence of the location, Dataran Merdeka is easily accessible via public transport as it is in the vicinity of KTM stations and LRT stations nearby as well as a bus station. In other states such as Penang and Sabah which are also known as tourist hotspots in Malaysia, other Merdeka Day festivities will be held as well. An annual regatta organized by the Kinabalu Yacht Club will take place in Sabah from the 31st August until 2nd of September to commemorate the occasion. In Penang, a parade will usually also be held in the city centre with a considerably higher number of tourist turn out due to the island being a popular holiday destination.

For every patriotic Malaysian, no matter how they celebrate, each year brings a special meaning to National Day. This year will surely be no different and perhaps even more important and relevant to the people as the country’s national elections will be declared this year as well.

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Celebrating Mahal na Araw – “Holy Week” in the Philippines

The Philippines is known to be the only predominantly Christian country in the whole of Asia, with its roots of the religion tracing back from circa. 1500. It was the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan who, by mistake, landed on the island of Cebu during his travels along the spice route. In search of trade materials and foreign lands to colonize, he bargained with Chief Humabon, leader of Cebu, which ended with around 800 newly-baptized Filipino Christians.

The story now lives on in the Philippine’s version of the Holy Week celebration, wherein the foundations of Christianity, namely the life and passion of Jesus Christ, is re-lived and celebrated in one of the grandest, holiest, and most spiritual time in the Philippine calendar.

The Philippine Holy Week celebration is a period of wherein devotees reenact the significant moments of Jesus Christ’s life, from the time of his preaching, going through the time of his death, and until his resurrection. Christians all over the Philippines also use this opportune time in the calendar to reflect what it really means to become a Christian, and to grasp a deeper understanding of one’s significance in the saving from sins done by Christ himself.

Practices done in the Philippines

Despite being called the holy week, the celebration is not just encompassed within 7 days, rather it goes back 40 days prior the first week of April, which starts exactly on Ash Wednesday. This day is the signal of the start of the Lenten Season, wherein Christians devote their time and effort to fasting, abstinence, contemplation, and repentance. This is the time when most Filipinos, including tourists who wish to join in the celebration of Holy Week, reflect on their lives the past years and try to live the upcoming days with a renewed since of gratitude to God, and a self-made promise to revert their sinful lives.

Ash Wednesday is usually celebrated with hearing the Holy Mass for the day, with millions of people going to churches to receive black ashes on their foreheads. These marks are in the shape of a crucifix, and remind devotees that from dust we were made, and to dust we shall return. The ashes used on the foreheads of the devotees are made up of no ordinary ashes; the ashes come from the burnt palm leaves used during the prior year’s Palm Sunday celebration. This is to mark the contemplation of last year’s life and assess whether life was a life full of sin, or a life full of God’s grace.

The next 40 days will now be the official start of the Lenten Season, wherein Filipinos and tourists alike will start the journey of preparation for the coming rebirth of Jesus Christ. The weeks following Ash Wednesday will be devoted for fasting and abstinence, although the fasting is now commonly observed by just the absolute devotees to the religion, where only minimal food and water intake is to be allowed. Now in contemporary Philippine culture, most Christians do not observe the fasting ritual as much anymore. This is because a lot of the devotees are also part of the working-class people, and not working for a couple of days due to hunger and thirst brought about by the fasting could result to huge financial losses for themselves and for their families. Nowadays, Filipino Christians observe their own “personal” fasting; this kind of fasting involves selecting one habit/object that the person is willing to give up as a sign of Lenten sacrifice. The common fasts of the today’s Christian youth involve giving up certain bad habits during the Lenten season like smoking or drinking alcohol, while others give up eating or drinking their favorite food items like hamburgers or soft drinks, all for the sake of sacrificing for the celebration of Christ’s rebirth. Abstinence though, is still very much observed by a lot of people. It is the habit of not eating meat during Fridays of the Lenten season.

One of the more common practices of Filipino Christians is the panata or strictly translating, the vow. It is the process by which a devotee would increase his or her efforts in achieving a particular goal or mission that of which constitutes their panata. Most people who are not that religious tend to make their panata more career-oriented, like increasing the effort they exert on their jobs, or personal vows like being a good friend to someone, and also civic duties which include community service. Still, there are still true-blooded Christians who make sure that their panata remain religion-oriented, like going to various churches all around the country, praying set-prayers at set times of the day, and so on and so forth. These are the kinds of religious sacrifices that a true Christian undergoes, not just for the celebration of Christ’s life, but also for the improvement, reflection, and reformation of one’s own life in a kind that befits the word “Christian”.

Days of Holy Week

The official start of the Holy Week is the 6th Sunday, which is Palm Sunday. It is a festive event within the churches all over the Philippines, contrary to the Lenten sacrifices celebrated before the 6th Sunday. This celebration commemorates Jesus’ re-entry into Jerusalem, albeit knowing that the Jewish officials at the time were already scheming against His downfall from grace. The people welcomed Jesus and His disciples into Jerusalem by means of waving large palm leaves as he entered the town proper. The bigger the church being visited, the more spectacular the display gets, as hundreds or even thousands of palm leaves get raised into the air, waiting to be blessed by the presiding priest. After the mass, the people take their newly-blessed palm leaves and attach them onto window sills and roofs, with the Filipino belief that the blessed palm would bring good luck to the family and household, as well as removing any negativity that might accumulate within the house.

The next days that would come would be Holy Monday and Tuesday, where these days are just reserved for people to relax, de-stress, and reflect for the coming important days of Holy Week. Usually the business establishments and government offices remain open during these days. Wednesday is known as Spy Wednesday, which is to commemorate the time when Judas Iscariot spied on Jesus while he was praying at the garden of Gethsemane, just before Judas decided to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Thursday would then be known as Maundy Thursday, which is to commemorate the celebration of the Last Supper Jesus had with His disciples, on the day before he died. The Last Supper is also recognized as the point when Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, which was when he decided to impart onto His disciples his own body and blood in the form of the bread and wine.

The day that most business establishments and government offices give a holiday is when Good Friday comes. This is the day when Jesus was tortured, made to walk up to Golgotha, which was the place where He was crucified and where He died at approximately 3pm. This is a time of mourning for the entire Roman Catholic Church, where the statues of saints, of Mary, and of Jesus in churches are covered with cloth as a sign of grief. This lasts until after the following day, Black Saturday, where Jesus is already laid inside his tomb and is still considered dead.

The highlight of Holy Week would definitely be Easter Sunday, where we celebrate the rebirth of Jesus Christ and his triumph against sin. Filipinos celebrate the time when the disciples came to visit the tomb of Jesus, only to find out that the big boulder that was used to cover the tomb’s entrance was moved aside by a powerful force. The disciples then just see torn up sheets of cloth, with an angel sitting where Jesus was supposed to be lying down.

There is a buzz all over the country, especially the most Catholic parts of the archipelago. There is a joyful celebration after the mass, and all the cloths covering the statues are all lifted. The priest also wears bright colored robes to signify that the time of mourning and repentance is done, and the time of rejoicing and the starting of a life anew have come. The various malls in the Metro also cook up a lot of activities for people come Easter Sunday, like Easter egg hunts, egg paintings, and various performances. Fasting and abstinence practices also come to a close, thereby permitting people to make merry by eating again the food that they could not eat during Lent.

The next days that would come would be Holy Monday and Tuesday, where these days are just reserved for people to relax, de-stress, and reflect for the coming important days of Holy Week. Usually the business establishments and government offices remain open during these days. Wednesday is known as Spy Wednesday, which is to commemorate the time when Judas Iscariot spied on Jesus while he was praying at the garden of Gethsemane, just before Judas decided to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Thursday would then be known as Maundy Thursday, which is to commemorate the celebration of the Last Supper Jesus had with His disciples, on the day before he died. The Last Supper is also recognized as the point when Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, which was when he decided to impart onto His disciples his own body and blood in the form of the bread and wine.

The day that most business establishments and government offices give a holiday is when Good Friday comes. This is the day when Jesus was tortured, made to walk up to Golgotha, which was the place where He was crucified and where He died at approximately 3pm. This is a time of mourning for the entire Roman Catholic Church, where the statues of saints, of Mary, and of Jesus in churches are covered with cloth as a sign of grief. This lasts until after the following day, Black Saturday, where Jesus is already laid inside his tomb and is still considered dead.

The highlight of Holy Week would definitely be Easter Sunday, where we celebrate the rebirth of Jesus Christ and his triumph against sin. Filipinos celebrate the time when the disciples came to visit the tomb of Jesus, only to find out that the big boulder that was used to cover the tomb’s entrance was moved aside by a powerful force. The disciples then just see torn up sheets of cloth, with an angel sitting where Jesus was supposed to be lying down.

There is a buzz all over the country, especially the most Catholic parts of the archipelago. There is a joyful celebration after the mass, and all the cloths covering the statues are all lifted. The priest also wears bright colored robes to signify that the time of mourning and repentance is done, and the time of rejoicing and the starting of a life anew have come. The various malls in the Metro also cook up a lot of activities for people come Easter Sunday, like Easter egg hunts, egg paintings, and various performances. Fasting and abstinence practices also come to a close, thereby permitting people to make merry by eating again the food that they could not eat during Lent.

Philippine Holy Week Traditions

The pabasa is the recitation of the life and sufferings of Jesus Christ by ways of verse, which comes directly from the Roman Catholic Bible. A group of people are designated to sing parts of the verse, while being accompanied by music in the background. This is a family-style tradition, wherein most families of a particular community or barangay participate in the singing. If a particular family is not yet designated to be the ones to host the singing, they would help contribute in the fixing of food for the guests or will help in the cleaning of the image/statue of Jesus Christ which they would worship upon. The most loyal of devotees would even start their pabasa at Thursday and do not stop up until Friday.

Senakulo is another well-known tradition of Filipino Christians during Holy Week. If the pabasa was the recital of Jesus Christ’s life and suffering in verse, then the Senakulo is the dramatization of his life and sufferings. These plays are most commonly performed in the streets of the barangays or at the compound of the churches themselves. Back in the olden days, people would really dress-up in well-made costumes depicting roman soldiers and officials complete with body armor and robes. Nowadays, with the advent of technology and communication, the presentation of the Senakulo can now be prepared digitally, with LCD projectors being used to present the scenes on a large white screen so that more people can see the performances of the actors.

In the provinces of Pampanga and Rizal, they take Senakulo performances to a whole new level. The true devotees in these provinces would resort to publicly lashing themselves with nails and letting themselves get crucified in public, to show the world their penance and resentment towards a sinful life. These people allow themselves to get whipped repeatedly in the back until they start bleeding, all the while wearing just jeans and a mask around their head. The locals also say that they do this as part of their panata, or their vow to God as a way of thanking Him for the countless blessings He has given them.

The Bisita Iglesia is also another tradition that most Christians observe, since a lot of devotees who are in the younger generation find this tradition fun and exciting. This is also one of the easiest rituals that one can perform. From the name itself, this involves visiting numerous churches all around the neighboring area. This is the time when there is not much traffic on the road, and the staff of the churches just leave minimal lighting turned on to accommodate visitors even at late hours of the night. It is said that if you complete the Bisita Iglesia rounds will have a lucky year ahead of him/her.

Along with the Bisita Iglesia, the practice of the Stations of the Cross accompanies the visiting of the various churches. This is the scene-by-scene reenactment of the events leading up to the crucifixion and ultimately, the rebirth of Jesus Christ. This is done with literal stations, with each one having a picture of the scene being depicted. A short narrative is then said, followed afterwards by short prayers or praying of the rosary. Sometimes, the various stations are found just within the same complex, like a church compound. Other instances involve stations that are far away from each other, sometimes totaling a couple of kilometers worth of walking from the first station to the last station. During these kinds of rituals, the holy rosary is recited along the way onto the next station.

Another modern tradition that Filipino Christians now observe is the showing of religious movies on television. Television networks have taken it up upon themselves to make sure that all people, even those who do not have the time or effort to go out of the house, can at least still manage to watch various television shows and movies depicting the life of Jesus Christ.

A solemn time for everyone

Amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life, a lot of people tend to become burned out with the things that they are doing and sometimes ask God if they are doing the right thing or if there really is a plan for their existence. Ang Mahal Na Araw is an event not just in the Filipino calendar, but in the Roman Catholic calendar as well, that provides people with the breather that they rightfully deserve.

The Philippine celebration of Holy Week is a time of contemplation and self-assessment, where introspection plays a vital part of the process of changing one’s sinful past. Remembering the life and suffering of Jesus Christ is something that both Filipinos and tourists alike can agree on, that the trials and hardships of one man can serve as an example to a kind of life that leads to personal salvation and redemption. The solemnity of the Filipino Holy Week is something unique—since a lot of the country’s population has its roots deeply set in its religion. This only strengthens the fact that a lot of tourists come to the Philippines for Holy Week; it is here that they can truly appreciate what is good, what is the meaning of suffering, and what is the meaning of salvation. Changing society always demands a change of oneself first, and the kind of atmosphere that Holy Week brings is enough to induce that change within people.

The Mahal na Araw is definitely an event worth celebrating, along with the hospitality that comes along with being Filipino and being a Christian, this time of the year marks the start of change for people—change that is both beneficial to themselves and to the people around them.

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Visually Mesmerizing Festival of Loi Krathong in Thailand

The festival of Loi Krathong (also sometimes spelt as Loy Krathong) is arguably the most beautiful festival in Thailand – and Thailand has a lot of festivals! Taking place once a year on the evening of the full moon in the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar, or known to you and me as November in the Western calendar, Loi Krathong is a picturesque celebration that is celebrated across the whole of Thailand as well as in parts of the neighbouring countries of Burma (Myanmar) and Laos.

But what is Loi Krathong and what does it mean? Loi is the literal spelling in the Western alphabet of the Thai word ‘to float’ and a krathong is a word used only for the floating rafts or containers that are used for this festival; it is not used to refer to anything else in the Thai language. The main part of the Loi Krathong festival involves floating these rafts, or krathongs, down rivers and canals, on ponds and lakes and even in the ocean.

A krathong is normally around 20cm in diameter and was traditionally made from spider lily plants or from layers taken from the trunk of a banana tree. Nowadays, to make it easier to create a krathong, they are either made from bread, which of course is eco-friendly and will disintegrate in the water and be eaten by fish, or from Styrofoam, which is often banned as it takes years to decompose leaving the rivers and canals polluted and clogged. Coconut can also be used. The krathong will be beautifully decorated with folded banana leaves, a candle, flowers and sticks of incense. Some people also place a coin on their krathong as a monetary offering to the river spirits.

There are a number of reasons behind the festival and for launching a krathong. Letting go of the raft symbolizes letting go of negative thoughts, grudges and anger and some people also place nail clippings or a lock their hair on the float to further symbolize this feeling of ‘letting go’ of the past. When launching their krathong, people will also make a wish for good fortune, good luck or some other personal reason or aim. Loi krathong is also about paying respect and giving thanks to the goddess of water, Phra Mae Khongkha , who is the Thai version of Ganga the Hindu goddess of the holy River Ganges. The candle on the krathong is lit to offer respect to and honour the Buddha.So when did Loi Krathong originate and who is responsible for coming up with the idea of creating these beautiful floats ? Well, this is where it gets tricky because there are two different theories as to the whys and whens of how Loi Krathong came to be celebrated. One version believes that it is an ancient Brahmanic or Indic ceremony which was originally held for people to pay their respects to three gods: Phra I-Suan (Shiva), Phra Narai (Vishnu) and Phra Phrom (Brahma). Thai civilians would make paper lanterns which were lit by candles and then given to the royal family, high-ranking government officials and other wealthy people to display in their homes (or palaces!) Since Thailand is now a deeply Buddhist country, one hundred and fifty years ago the ruling king at the time, King Mongkut (Rama IV), urged the people of the Thai Kingdom to change Loi Krathong into a Buddhist ceremony and to pay their respects to the Buddha instead.In this later Buddhist version of the festival, paper lanterns were still created but this time they would be distributed to the local temples and given to the monks instead of to the rich and powerful.

In the second version of how Loi Krathong came to be it used to be claimed that the festival originated from the period of the ancient Sukhothai Kingdom, which lasted from 1238 to 1438. A lady of the court named Nang Nopphamat, who was a consort of King Loethai, was said to have created the very first Krathong from banana leaves which she made in the shape of a lotus flower and presented to the king. However in more recent times it has emerged that this was a novel written sometime during the first half of the 19th century, in around 1850, and Nang Nopphamat (sometimes also spelt Noppamas) was actually the main character and was created as a means of offering behavioural guidelines to women who wanted to become civil servants. To further discredit this version of events, in 1863 His Majesty King Rama IV wrote that Loi Krathong was a Brahmanical festival that had been subsequently adapted by Buddhists in Thailand as a ceremony to honour the Buddha.

Nopphamat has leant her name to some of the festivities however, and these days, as with many Thai festivals and celebrations, beauty pageants are a big part of Loi Krathong day. Known as a ‘Nopphamat Queen Contest’, local beauties (or locals who think they’re beautiful!) will compete whilst wearing stunning traditional Thai dresses, to be crowned the most beautiful of that year’s festival.

In many cities the local government, large business corporations and other organizations or clubs construct much bigger krathongs that can actually hold people. These spectacularly sized krathongs can be admired floating down the mighty Chao Phraya River which runs through Bangkok. All over the Kingdom, town and cities and even villages will also set up stages where local performers will showcase traditional Thai dancing, as well as holding the beauty contests.

Harking back to the days when Loi Krathong first began as a paper lantern festival, these days it is also common practice to release paper sky lanterns. These lanterns, known as khoom fay, or khoom loi (floating lanterns), are made from thin paper with a bamboo frame and have a small candle or fuel cell inside. When the candle is lit the hot air trapped inside the paper casing creates lift which rises inside the lantern and lifts it into the air.

One reason why khoom fay lanterns are so widely synonymous with Loi Krathing now is because the Northern Thai people, the Lanna, light khoom fay lanterns all the year round when celebrating a festival or special event. In the North of the country a festival called Yi Peng is celebrated on the full moon of the second month in the traditional Lanna calendar. The Lanna calendar and the traditional Thai lunar calendar are different and Yi Peng actually falls on the same date as Loi Krathong, therefore in the North, particularly in the city of Chiang Mai, Yi Peng celebrations and Loi Krathong traditions have somewhat merged into one. Khoom fay lanterns have also grown in popularity in the rest of the country and are now an integral part of Loi Krathong.

Releasing a khoom fay sky lantern is a symbol of good luck – and again, just like setting your krathong afloat on a river or canal is to rid oneself of misfortune and past ills – releasing a khoom fay lantern into the night skies also means you’re letting go of your woes and anger. Of course, don’t forget to make a wish too!

So what exactly can you expect if you book a holiday to Thailand at this time of year? Firstly, the weather in late November is great for a vacation. The rainy season has finished and the hot months of March, April and May have yet to begin. In fact November through February is considered to be the ‘cool’ season, although for anyone visiting from Europe or anywhere that has a cold winter will still find the weather delightfully warm. In fact in general the best time to visit the Kingdom is during these four months. In Bangkok the temperature can be anything from 18ºC to 32ºC though it normally hovers around the late 20’s. If you’re heading to the North or Northeast you can expect a cooler climate with temperatures going as low as 8ºC to 12ºC first thing in the morning and the days sometimes being around the 20ºC mark. In this part of the country nights can be quite chilly and up in the mountains the temperature can even drop below freezing. In the Southwest, for examples on the islands of Koh Samui and Phuket temperatures will be warm – usually around 26ºC or 27ºC, although in some parts of the Southwest, November can be rather wet and rainy too. Further up the Gulf of Thailand, coastal towns such as Hua Hin and Cha-am will be both warm and dry with no rainfall and temperatures somewhere around the late 20’s or even 31ºC or 32ºC.

So, taking into account the weather in different parts of the country may have a bearing on where you want to go to experience Loi Krathong. Another thing to keep in mind is that it is celebrated slightly differently in different areas. In 2013 the festival officially falls on the 27th of November, the night of the full moon, but in some places, for example in the Northern city of Chiang Mai, the celebrations last for 3 full days and run from the 26th to the 28th of the month.

If you’re in Bangkok not only will the weather be warm and dry but If you want to experience a neighbourhood style Loi Krathong head to one of the local districts where the canals (called ‘Khlong in Thai’) meander through and watch the festivities there. Or if you want to join in with the crowds and see the most spectacular celebrations, head for a spot along the Chao Phraya River.

A good place to enjoy Loi Krathong in Bangkok is the river front in the Banglamphu (also spelt Banglampoo) district, not far from the backpacker area of Khao San Road. Head for the small, green Santichaiprakan Park which sits on the corner of Phra Sumen and Phra Athit and runs right down to the water’s edge. You can’t miss the park – look for the white 18th century Phra Sumen fort which is one of the last two stone watchtowers remaining in the city: there used to be 14 of the forts all placed at strategic points along the old city wall, acting as look out towers to guard against foreign invaders arriving by river.

During the Loi Krathong festival crowds of locals (and quite a few tourists) flock to this pleasant little park. Stalls selling krathongs will be set up along the pavements and the stall owners will be making more krathongs as fast as they can sell them! One nice thing is that even though this is an ancient Thai tradition and one that honours not only the Buddha but the Thai water goddess, the Thai people are friendly and don’t mind in the least if you purchase a krathong and join in.

Take your krathong through the park and down to the water’s edge and here you’ll find a small sectioned off area of the river where ancient trees are partially submerged in the water. Dropping your krathong directly over the edge into the Chao Phraya will most likely end in it sinking or being swept away by the current or in the wake of a boat, but placing it here gives it chance to float safely away, taking your bad memories of the year and any grudges you might be harbouring with it. Don’t forget to light your candle and incense first though.

Be careful when placing your krathong into the water here as it will be dark and can be muddy and slippery. If you don’t want to risk it find one of the entrepreneurial youngsters – local boys of around 10 years old – who’ll be standing knee deep in the water as they will be more than happy to float your krathong for you for a small fee of around 10 baht!

After you’ve made your wish and watched your krathong jostle for space among the hundreds of others, wander down to the main river edge to admire the passing giant krathongs and colourfully lit boats. Also in the immediate area will be a stage for traditional dance performances and perhaps a Nopphamat Queen Contest too if you’re lucky. The park itself is also nice to wander around on Loi Krathong evening as it’s decorated with lanterns and fairy lights, adding to the festive atmosphere. This is also a good opportunity to people watch and mingle with the Thai people on their special evening. After you’re finished soaking up the atmosphere here, leave the park and turn left onto Phra Athit Road. Walk along it for about 5 minutes untill you reach the end of the street and a cross roads. Turn left onto the bridge that crosses the river and you’ll be amongst more people lighting and releasing their khoom fay sky lanterns. As they lift off into the air the lanterns make a beautiful sight and a look up into the night sky will reveal hundreds of tiny points of light getting further and further away as people all across Banglamphu (and indeed the rest of the city) let their woes and their wishes fly away.

There are plenty of restaurants and quirky bars where the local cool Thais hang out along Phra Athit and Phra Sumen roads too and you’ll be spoiled for choice if you want to go and grab a bite to eat or a cold drink afterwards. And if you want to party, head towards Khao San Road where the music pumps until the small hours and tourists and locals alike will be spilling out of the bars and into the streets, drinks in hand.

If you choose to come to Thailand at this time of the year and get to witness Loi Krathong, you won’t be disappointed. Not only is it the prettiest of celebrations but it encompasses the best of Thai culture and the Thai people’s love of fun and enjoyment too. You’re sure to have an unforgettable time and some wonderful memories of your Thai Loi Krathong.

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Thaipusam Festival – Batu Caves, Malaysia

Thaipusam is celebrated every year by the Hindu Tamil community on the full month in the Thai month (February) of the Hindu lunar calendar. As Malaysia has a sizeable Hindu Tamil population, the festival is celebrated on a large scale among the Tamil community, the main location of which culminates in Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, and in Balathanda-yuthapani temple which is located on a hill in Penang.

The word Thaipusam refers to the Pusam star which is believed to be at its highest point in the Thai month. In the spirit of the Malaysian unity and also their frequently crossed religious cultures, Thaipusam is also celebrated by a growing number of ethnic Chinese in the country as well as those of the Sikh faith.

The celebration starts as early as 1am on the day of the festival. In Kuala Lumpur, devotees would start to gather at the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in Bandar Road to witness the ceremonial bath of Lord Muruga. The deity would be adorned with colorful flowers, precious stones and elaborate ornaments before being placed on a ceremonial silver chariot which would be drawn by two oxen. The entire chariot weighs about 5 tonnes in total. A pilgrimage would then proceed on foot from the Sri Maha Mariamman temple on a 15km journey to the shrine at the Batu Caves Hindu temple. The final journey culminates in a 272-step ascent to the temple which is in the caves. The journey would start at 4am and last for about 8 hours to Batu Caves. Hundreds of devotees will accompany the chariot on the long journey, many carrying kavadi as self-inflicted penance.

Similarly in Penang, a grand procession starts from Little India and goes on a 18km journey to Nattukottai Chettiar Thandayuthapani Kovil and Waterfall temple (Balathanda-yuthapani) in Jalan Air Terjun Waterfall Road) during Thaipusam Penang.

The legend

There are a few legends associated with how the celebration of Thaipusam came about. In one of the legends, the Great Saint Agasthya had instructed his student Idumban to uproot two hills from the earth which belonged to Lord Murugan and to bring the hills back to the Great Saint. When Lord Murugan heard about this, he wanted to test Idumban’s loyalty and devotion to his master. He reduced his size to that of a small child and stood on top one of the hills. To Idumban’s great surprise, he was unable to uproot any of the hills and when he checked, he saw a small child standing haughtily on the top of the hill. Idumban humbly requested for the child to step down from the hill, but when the child refused, Idumban flew into a great rage and tried to attack the child. This failed, for the child was Lord Murugan in disguise, and Idumban found himself on a heap on the ground like an injured little bird. Lord Murugan then reverted back into his original form and stood before Idumban and told him that he was pleased with Idumban’s show of faith, loyalty and devotion to his master. Lord Murugan also bestowed Idumban the honour of being his guardian and made a declaration that from then on, whoever who brought forth kavadis to him would receive his blessings. The kavadis that you see at Thaipusam festivals today symbolizes the hills of burden that Idumban had borne. This is why most temples chosen for the festival are usually on top of hills.

There were other legends surrounding the origin of Thaipusam. In another version, a demon by the name of Tharakasuran was troubling the Rishis and the Saints. Lord Murugan was called forth by his parents Lord Shiva and Parvati and was instructed to destroy the demon. He was given 12 weapons, the twelfth being a ‘vel’, a spear like weapon with an arrowhead tip, given to him by his mother Parvati. Lord Murugan destroyed Tharakasuran on the Pusam Nakshatra day in the Thai month of the Tamil calendar. In yet another version of how Thaipusam came about, on that legendary day, Shiva and Parvati were engaged in a beautiful dance as the other gods watched.

Thaipusam is also believed to originate from a war between the celestial beings Devas and Asuras, the evil forces. This war torn the world apart, and the Devas paid homage to Lord Shiva, asking for His protection. Lord Shiva agreed to help them, and He opened the central eye on His forehead, radiating six sparks of fire, which convered into his son, the Lord Murugan. Armed with a golden spear, called the Nyanya Vel, Lord Murugan went to battle, and after a long and fierce battle, Lord Murugan slain Soorapadme in one stroke. One portion of the slain Soorapadme was converted into a peacock as the Lord Murugan’s vehicle and the other portion into a rooster adorning his banner. This is why the vel (spear) and peacock feathers are frequently incorporated into the festivities of Thaipusam.

Similar themes run through all the legends. They involve Lord Murugan eradicating negative and evil forces that eradicate us and it is this theme that runs through the entire Thaipusam festival. On this day, devotees make offerings to Lord Murugan to thank him for banishing evil forces from their lives, and the kavadi or burden that the devotee bears for Lord Murugan has benefits that are a million fold greater than the little pain that the devotee would inflict upon him or herself.

The Kavadi

The kavadi concept comes in many forms. Generally, devotees take up a vow to offer the Lord a kavadi as a tiding over a great calamity or as an oath to ask for help from the Lord Murugan. For example, a parent whose son is sick would pray for his son’s recovery in return for which the devotee would dedicate a kavadi to the lord.

A kavadi has many shapes and sizes. The most spectacular forms of kavadi are the vel kavadis where the structures are in the shapes of metal frames adorned with colourful decorations, peacock feathers, flowers and golden chains. Others are much simpler in structure, in the form of a wooden stick with two baskets at the end. The simplest form of a kavadi would be to carry a jug of milk. Brass bells are most often adorned on the kavadi, ringing as the kavadi bearer walks, announcing his presence.

These kavadi structures are often attached to the kavadi bearers’ bodies. The most memorable and focal point of the festival would be to witness these kavadi bearers and the self-torture they inflict upon themselves as an act of devotion towards Lord Murugan. Some pierce a sharp spear through their tongue, and others through their cheeks. Piercing the vel through the tongue is said to prevent free speech so that the devotee can focus his entire concentration on the Lord Murugan. Some pierce steel hooks into flesh off of their backs. Some of these hooks are connected to a person pulling a rope, or connected to small bells and fruits, or limes in particular. A single lime may not weigh much, but when the hooks are connected to 50 limes down a devotee’s back, the feat involved a great wealth of devotion and tolerance. We call it self-torture but the kavadi-bearer is often in a state of trance and claims to feel no pain. A first time kavadi bearer however, may be a little apprehensive when the vel hooks are pierced through the skin and the metal straps of the kavadi structures are tightened. This usually goes away once the priest arrives to give a blessing, sometimes putting the kavadi bearer into a trance, allowing the family members and friends to continue on with the piercing.

For the others, there are often no signs of blood or pain on the bearers’ faces or signs of any scarring after the hooks have been taken out. They are said to be in the highest form of religious fervor and sometimes are even possessed by Lord Muruga himself. These kavadi bearers are also often accompanied by friends and family for support and in the long and tortuous journey up to the temple, it is the support by fellow devotees and surrounding friends and family that the kavadi bearer relies on to keep going. The kavadis may seem weightless like feathers as the kavadi bearers dance and swing all the way to the temple. Yet, the journey is not easy and the structures weigh as much as 70kg, sometimes more. As the procession nears the temple, the sun would have risen by this time and the large crowds would have added to the sweltering heat that the kavadi bearers have to tolerate as well. The bearers are usually barefoot and would have to walk on the burning hot tarmac once the sun rises. The hardest part of the journey is often not the journey on the road but once they reach the foot of the hill as 272 steps stand between them and the temple. The encouragement of family members and other devotees are crucial to climb up all 272 steps.

The procession is not a quiet affair, and the stream of devotees is always accompanied by a band of percussionists and a leader singing religious songs, called the urumee. The tasks of these musicians are to encourage and give support to the kavadi bearers to continue in their journey of faith. The music is encouraging, as those carrying the vel kavadi are more prone to fatigue, and they frequently have to stop throughout the journey to rest.

The kavadi bearer usually observes strict customs and “regulations” prior to carrying the kavadi on the day of the festival. Kavadi bearers usually observe strict celibacy from sex, drugs and alcohol. They will also meditate and pray and practice vegetarianism before the start of the festival. These acts of devotion and holiness are also observed by other devotees, not just the kavadi bearers. The bearers are also frequently dressed in a saffron-colored cloth, a conical scarlet cap and a cane which is silver capped at both ends. As mentioned, the devotees also frequently take part in the procession on barefoot. It is also not unusual to see devotees of other faiths and religion take part in this unique festival. Among the ethnic Chinese community, especially the Buddhists who share many of the same beliefs as Hindus, it is not unusual to see Chinese people among the devotees with a jug of milk atop their heads as they march along with the procession to the temple. The grand affair will also be attended by hundreds of tourists and photographers as they scramble to get the spot that will attain the best view of the procession. This spirit of kindred unity and combined faith is even more prominent in the state of Penang, where the population is predominantly Chinese. The lines between faiths blur as the festival is more about upholding and showing one’s faith, courage and devotion to his or her God regardless of religion.


There are other ways for devotees to fulfill their religious obligations other than carrying kavadis. Some provide support for the kavadi bearers and massage their sore arms and legs or provide stools for the bearers to sit whenever they stop to rest. Some devotees shave their head and facial hair while some prepare food so that the other devotees would not have to go hungry. In fact, on Thaipusam there will usually be a congregation of Indian barbers at the foot of the hill with thousands of eager customers, each waiting to shave his or her hair. Each devotee has his or her own reasons for doing penance. As mentioned earlier, some seek to overcome bad luck or karma, others to honour a vow made, and some as penance for their sins. It is believed that once a vow has been fulfilled and if the devotee does not carry a kavadi as promised, he or she will receive misfortune in return.

The atmosphere on the day of Thaipusam is electric and has a festive air filled with the beating of drums, chanting, and singing. The crowd will be massive, almost a million strong, full of eager devotees and tourists alike to witness the arrival of the procession and the deity and to participate in the festivities. A path laden with smashed coconuts would greet the chariot the entire journey, believed to signify the triumph of good over evil. Once ascended up the steep stairs of the cave and into the shrine, the devotees are blessed by the Hindu priests and the hooks and spears can then be removed. The vow is finally said to be fulfilled.

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Public Holidays in Philippines in 2014

Philippines is a place of dreams to many foreign visitors. A variety of festivals and celebrations will allow you to experience a different culture and way of life.

There are more than fifty public holidays and festivals celebrated in Philippines every year. If you are planning to visit this country of islands, a good idea will be to do it at the time of festivities.

The expected dates for public holidays and festivals in Philippines in 2014 are shown in the list below.

Sto. Niño Festival

Date 2014: Tuesday, 1 January (27 January in Bulacan)
Occasion: This festival is held on different days in different provinces of Philippines. In Bulacan this festival is help during the last Sunday of January. In some other provinces it’s held during the first Sunday of January. The festivities are somehow different in some regions but basically the local and foreign tourists have an opportunity to see very well-made Catholic images and statues of the Child Jesus, known locally as the Sto. Niño in various manifestations.
States applicable to: National

Pista ng Tatlong Hari (Feast of the Three Kings)

Date 2014: Sunday, 5 January
Occasion: During the feast of the Three Kings, also known as the Epiphany, in Philippines people usually pray and prepare gifts for Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar. This feast usually marks the official end of the liturgical Christmas in Philippines.
States applicable to: National

Pista ng Mahal na Nazareno (Feast of the Black Nazarene)

Date 2014: Thursday, 9 January
Occasion: Catholics and devotees of the Black Nazarene come together in what has always been an all-day intense procession carrying the huge cart where the Black Nazarene lies. Every year thousands of pilgrims from all over the world come to Philippines (Manila) to be a part of the procession of the Black Nazarene.
States applicable to: Quiapo, Manila only

Araw ng Koronadal “Hinugyaw Festival”

Date 2014: Thursday, 10 January
Occasion: During this feast, people of Koronadal City in Mindanao celebrate various cultural facades that have settled in the city over the years.
States applicable to: Mindanao only

Ati-Atihan Festival

Date 2014:  From Sunday to Sunday, 19-26 January
Occasion: One of the grandest street parties in the Philippines, this feast celebrates the Sto. Niño. It is held on every third week of January in Aklan, and is more popularly known around the world as Ati-Atihan. During this event, the locals of Aklan and tourists put marks on their faces similar to masks. They are supposed to resemble Negritos who are dancing to vibrant ethnic music produced mostly by drums and other local instruments.
States applicable to: Aklan only

Sinulog Festival

Date 2014: Sunday, 19 January
Occasion: Locals of Kabankalan, Negros Occidental come together in unique mostly handmade costumes while their bodies are painted in black. They are celebrating the feast of El Señor Sto. Niño.
States applicable to: National


Date 2014: Sunday, 19 January
Occasion: During this feast, people of Koronadal City in Mindanao celebrate various cultural facades that have settled in the city over the years.
States applicable to: Zamboanga del Sur only

Pasungay Festival in San Joaquin (Bull Fighting Festival)

Date 2014: Every 21st day of January
Occasion: Pasungay is an annual festival held in the town of San Joaquin, Iloilo. Local people say that the Pasungay begun when two furious bulls were set loose by the cow keepers and the fighting bulls in the hillside was witnessed by the resting farmers. During this festival, spectators cheer as they watch bulls from the town and nearby areas fight. There’s also another annual festival held in the town of San Joaquin on the same day. It’s called Pahibag – the annual horse fight festival.
States applicable to: Iloilo only

Dinagyang Festival

Date 2014: Sunday, 26 January
Occasion: Dinagyang is a religious and cultural festival held in the city of Iloilo. Anyone attending the Dinagyang Festival must shout the words “Hala Bira” as they dance to the vivacious music along the populated streets. Just like most of the festivals in Philippines, this one is also very colorful and joyful.
States applicable to: Iloilo only

Chinese New Year

Date 2014: Friday, 31 January
Occasion: As far as I’m aware, Filipinos do respect the Chinese community. During the last few years, the Chinese New Year has been considered a national holiday. I think this fact speaks for itself. I bet you know the Dragon dance because it symbolizes the start of a Chinese new year not only in Chine but in Philippines as well.
States applicable to: National

Pista ng Mahal na Patron ng Kandila (Feast of Our Lady of Candles)

Date 2014: Saturday, 2 February
Occasion: Thousands of devotees gather at the Jaro Cathedral in Iloilo to celebrate the feast of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria. It is one of the most lavish religious spectacles in the country. The feast starts with the blessing of the candle and continues with a procession of Nuestra Senora de Candelaria, the patroness of the festivity.
States applicable to: Iloilo only

Kaamulan in Bukidnon (Ethnic Cultural Festival of Bukidnon)

Date 2014: Saturday, 22 February
Occasion: The Kaamulan Festival in Bukidnon is yet another proof of rich culture of Mindanao island. It’s held on the first week of March. The streets of Malaybalay become live and colorful, the locals and tourists are partying all week. Great music, ethnic food fest, and native dancing until the end of the week – this is what Kaamulan is all about.
States applicable to: Bukidnon only

Panagbenga (Flower Festival)

Date 2014: Sunday, 23 February
Occasion: As far as I’m aware, Filipinos do respect the Chinese community. During the last few years, the Chinese New Year has been considered a national holiday. I think this fact speaks for itself. I bet you know the Dragon dance because it symbolizes the start of a Chinese new year not only in Chine but in Philippines as well.
States applicable to: Baguio city only

Sibug-Sibug Festival

Date 2014: Tuesday, 26 February
Occasion: This festival is celebrated during the foundation day of the Sibugay province. Sibug-Sibug festival is another colorful parade of cultural treasures. Experience street dancing, ethnic rituals illustrating good harvest, wedding and healing rituals. It usually lasts for two weeks. Have you ever tasted the world-famous oysters of Sibugay? No, then this is your chance.
States applicable to: Sibugay only

Paraw Regatta

Date 2014: Sunday, 2 March
Occasion: This is an absolutely amazing event for all sailing enthusiasts. It’s one of the most exciting races of colorful sailboats called Paraws. The festival is held annually in the straits between Guimaras Island and the city of Iloilo. It’s also a perfect time to show off stunning Paraw design.
States applicable to: Iloilo only

Sandugo Festival (Blood Compact Commemoration)

Date 2014: Saturday, 15 March
Occasion: Sandugo means “one blood”. The Blood Compact happened between Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Sikatuna, chief of Bool (now Bohol), as a sign of friendship and end of hostility. Today, the city of Tagbilaran, Bohol commemorates this event through a feast and some series of interesting local events.
States applicable to: Bohol only

Mahal na Araw (Holy Week)

Date 2014: From Sunday, 23-31 March
Occasion: The Philippine Holy Week celebration is a period of wherein devotees reenact the significant moments of Jesus Christ’s life, from the time of his preaching, going through the time of his death, and until his resurrection.
States applicable to: National

Via Crusis (Way of the Cross)

Date 2014: From Monday to Sunday, 24-31 March
Occasion: Via Crusis or Via Dolorosa is a religious devotion that takes place in Cebu City and commemorates 14 key events on day of Christ’s crucifixion during the season of Lent. It’s attended mostly by Cebuano devotees and other devotees who voluntarily join the penitential procession to 12 Stations of the Cross found in 12 hectares of rolling hills.
States applicable to: Cebu City

Turumba (Our Lady of Sorrows of Turumba)

Date 2014: Friday, 28 March
Occasion: This procession is held during the Good Friday. Devotees usually carry the ancient image of the Virgin Mary on the streets of Pakil, Laguna. They dance and sing in the streets making religious procession even more enjoyable.
States applicable to: Pakil, Laguna

Ang Pagtaltal sa Guimaras

Date 2014: Friday, 28 March
Occasion: It’s held during the Good Friday in the city of Jordan. Locals come together to reenact the Crucifixion of Christ. Devotees start the penitential procession to the “Balaan Bukid” or the Holy Mountain where a cross stands towering at the chapel overlooking the Guimaras Straight and Iloilo City.
States applicable to: Jordan, Guimaras

Pak’kaat Kallo

Date 2014: From Monday to Sunday, 1-7 April
Occasion: During this festivity, the tribe of Manobo in Magpet, Cotabato celebrates their bountiful harvests through rituals, dances and songs during the holy week.
States applicable to: Magpet, Cotabato

Manaoag Pilgrimages

Date 2014: From Monday to Sunday, 7-14 April
Occasion: Our Lady of Manaoag is visited by both local and foreign devotees. Most Catholics believe that Our Lady of Manaoag has miraculous powers. Manaoag, becomes one of the Philippines’ pilgrimage centers because of the miraculous image. On Saturday, vehicles that transport pilgrims are blessed.
States applicable to: Pangasinan only

Cutud Lenten Rites

Date 2014: Wednesday, 16 April
Occasion: Cutud, Pampanga region is known all around the world for probably the most realistic reenactment of the Passion of the Christ including the actual nailing of three flagellants. They are nailed on a wooden cross in San Pedro.
States applicable to: San Pedro, Cutud, Pampanga

Moriones Festival

Date 2014: Monday, 14 April
Occasion: In Marinduque, locals take part in the traditional reenactment of the Crucifixion of Christ with the soldiers or “Moriones” wearing colorful masks and costumes. The Moriones refer to the heartless Roman soldiers. The festival’s highlight is the reenactment of the conversion of Longguinus, the one who stabbed Jesus and was eventually beheaded.
States applicable to: Boac, Magpoc, Marinduque

Lamilamihan Festival

Date 2014: Sunday, 13 or 20 April
Occasion: This annual event showcases the rich culture of Yakan – indigenous tribes in Mindanao. Yakan music, dances and handmade crafts are absolutely amazing.
States applicable to: Lamitan, Basilan

Pista’y Dayat (Sea Festival)

Date 2014: Thursday, 1 May
Occasion: A day of Lingayen, Pangasinan thanksgiving for bountiful harvests and abundant fishing observed all over Pangasinan traditional with mass offering on beautiful beaches and fluvial parade.
States applicable to: Lingayen, Pangasinan

Viva Vigan Festival

Date 2014: From Thursday to Monday, 1-5 May
Occasion: Viva Vigan Festival is the main event in the city of Vigan that showcases the cultural richness of this northern tourist destination. Unique and amazing art of the Bigueños is definitely the highlight of this festival.
States applicable to: Vigan, Ilocos Sur

Flores de Mayo/Santacruzan (Flowers of May)

Date 2014: During May
Occasion: Santacruzan is a very popular event in Philippines. During this event people celebrate the finding of the True Cross by Santa Elena. Prior to Santacruzan, a nine-day novena is held honoring the Holy Cross. It is followed by a procession wherein Reina Elena is represented by a beautiful girl accompanied by a boy who shall represent King Constantine. Other girls and boys in the parade represent biblical characters. Well-decorated arches are the highlights of this event. It’s a month-long national festival.
States applicable to: National

Antipolo Pilgrimage

Date 2014: During May
Occasion: During the month of May, pilgrims walk from their homes to the Antipolo Church in Rizal province to visit the miraculous image of the Virgin of Antipolo.
States applicable to: Antipolo Rizal

Pahiyas Festival

Date 2014: Thursday, 15 May
Occasion: Houses are decorated in amazingly colorful fruits, vegetables and flowers. A noodle called “habhab” and the transparent rice tortilla called “kiping” are served during Pahiyas Festival.
States applicable to: Lucban, Quezon

Mudpack Festival

Date 2014: Saturday and Sunday, 14-14 June
Occasion: The Mudpack Festival in Negros Occidental is a symbolic celebration of “primitive people”, opposite to people of the so-called modern world. They respect nature and everything sorounding them. It celebrates the harmony of man and nature and encourages environmentalism among young people.
States applicable to: Mambkal Murcia, Negros Occidental

Parada ng Lechon

Date 2014: Tuesday, 24 June
Occasion: Parada ng Lechon means “roasted pork. During this annual event, several roasted porks are decorated and showcased in Balayan. People also pour water during this event. It’s highly recommended to bring some extra clothes when visiting the Parada ng Lechon in June 
States applicable to: Mambkal Murcia, Balayan, Batangas

Pintados/Kasadyaan Festival

Date 2014: Sunday, 29 June
Occasion: Local people of Tacloban who had tattoos during the Spanish years were highly regarded as courageous. During the Pintados Festival, local and foreign tourists decorate themselves to imitate brave warriors while dancing to vibrant beats of drums.
States applicable to: Tacloban City

Bocaue River Festival

Date 2014: Sunday, 6 July
Occasion: The Bocaue River Festival commemorates the discovery of the miraculous cross floating and landmark called “Wawa.” What is unique about festival however is the procession down the river with a huge ornately decorated pagoda float when people get soaked in the river water.
States applicable to: Bocaue

Kinabayo Festival

Date 2014: Thursday, 24 July
Occasion: The annual Kinabayo Festival features a re-enactment of the Spanish-Moors wars especially the Battle of Covadonga, the historic last stand of Spanish soldiers under General Pelagio versus Saracan.
States applicable to: Dapitan City

Paaway sa Kabayo (Horse Fighting Festival)

Date 2014: Friday, 25 July
Occasion: Male horses fight over female horses – this is what the Paaway sa Kabayo is all about. More than 100 horses have been trained solely for this twice a year event.
States applicable to: Tanjay, Negros Oriental

Rajah Baguinda Festival

Date 2014: Sunday, 10 August
Occasion: Rajah Baguinda festival is highly respected for spreading Islam and establishing the power of the Sultanate Government in the archipelago of Sulu. The Rajah Baguinda Festival showcases a rich culture of Sulu. It’s a three-day festival.
States applicable to: Jolo, Sulu

Eid-El FITR Muslim Festival

Date 2014: Thursday, 7 August
Occasion: This Muslim festival that signifies the end of Ramadan, or the holy month of fasting, has been declared a national holiday to give further respect to the Islamic religion in the Philippines.
States applicable to: National

Kadayawan sa Dabaw

Date 2014: Saturday and Sunday, 23-24 August
Occasion: Kadayawan sa Dabaw – the king of all festivals in Philippines. Held at the third week of August, Kadayawan celebrates the bountiful harvest of Davao’s flowers, fruits and other produce as well as the wealth of the city’s culture.
States applicable to: Davao City


Date 2014: All week, 1-8 September
Occasion: Sarakiki celebrates cockfighting as a hobby among many Filipinos. During this festival people dance in costumes that make them look like the brave fighting roosters.
States applicable to: National

Bonok-Bonok Maradjao Karadjao Festival

Date 2014: Tuesday, 9 September
Occasion: A colorful festival showcasing the Surigaonon’s Tribal Culture through street dancing celebrated every 9th of September.
States applicable to: Surigao City

Peñafrancia Viva La Virgen

Date 2014: Saturday, 20 September
Occasion: Peñafrancia Viva La Virgen is one of the most important religious celebrations in Naga city. It’s celebrated in honor of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, the patroness of Bicol. The festival is characterized by a nine-day procession along the Bicol river, and ends with Our Lady of Peñafrancia crossing the river whilst surrounded by glowing candles.
States applicable to: Naga City, Camarines Sur

Lemlunay (T’Boli Tribal Festival)

Date 2014: From Tuesday to Thursday, 16-18 September
Occasion: Lemlunay is an annual festival held at the beautiful lake Sebu. It features original T’boli’s tribal rituals which commence with the sound of gongs and native music. The event is culminated at the Town Plaza where cultural street dancing and ethnic sports, like horse fighting, are held.
States applicable to: Lake Sebu, South Cotabato

Zamboanga La Hermosa Festival

Date 2014: From Wednesday to Sunday, 1-12 October
Occasion: The miraculous image of Our Lady of the Pilar at Fort Pila is celebrated during the Zamboanga La Hermosa festival.
States applicable to: National

Lanzones Festival

Date 2014: Saturday, 18 October
Occasion: The harvest of small round yellow fruit called lanzones is celebrated during the Lanzones Festival. Streets are filled with local dancers and tourists. Cultural shows, parties, parades and beauty pageant are also held. One of the aims of the festival is to show the rich cultural products of Camiguin.
States applicable to: Mambajao, Camiguin

Masskara Festival

Date 2014: Saturday and Sunday, 18-19 October
Occasion: Also known as the Mardi Gras of Philippines. Bacolod City air is filled with cheerful and outrageous spirits during the Masskara Festival. Young and old participants wear masks and magnificent costumes while dancing around the main streets of the city. The city of Bacolod is also called the City of Smiles.
States applicable to: Bacolod City, Negros Occidental

La Naval De Manila (Procession of the Blessed Virgin Mary of La Naval)

Date 2014: Sunday, 12 October
Occasion: The harvest of small round yellow fruit called lanzones is celebrated during the Lanzones Festival. Streets are filled with local dancers and tourists. Cultural shows, parties, parades and beauty pageant are also held. One of the aims of the festival is to show the rich cultural products of Camiguin.
States applicable to: Sto. Domingo, Q. C.

Pinta Flores Festival

Date 2014: From Monday to Wednesday 3-5 November
Occasion: It’s one of the most popular and definitely the most colorful street dancing festival/contest in San Carlos City. This festival is all about flowers and dances, amazing costumes, and the triumph of good against evil. PintaFlores Festival is attended by local and foreign tourists who join the locals in a city-wide celebration.
States applicable to: Negros Occidental, San Carlos City.

Higantes Festival (Feast of San Clemente)

Date 2014: Sunday, 23 November
Occasion: The image of San Clemente is carried by male devotees in a procession during this festival. The devotees wear fishermen clothes and carry fishermen equipment with themselves. The highlight of the festival are the dancing higantes which are paper mache puppets, usually 12 ft. high and about 5 ft. diameter. They are huge and very often shown in different forms and personalities. The procession ends at Laguna de Bay.
States applicable to: Angono, Rizal.

Grand Cordillera Festival

Date 2014: Sunday, 23 November
Occasion: Tribes and ethnic groups of the Cordillera region come together every year to celebrate life and revive ancient traditions on the last Sunday in November. This region is rich in arts and culture. If you want to see unique street dances, ritual performances or listen to great songs, Grand Cordillera Festival is definitely for you. Besides, it’s a week-long event.
States applicable to: Baguio City, Cordillera region.


Date 2014: Monday, 8 December
Occasion: Native people of Tagbanua or Palawan celebrate through ritual dances and food offerings to the souls of their departed kin and to their deities. The thanksgiving celebration is held in Puerto Princesa City, the capital of Palawan.
States applicable to: Puerto Princesa City, Palawan

Immaculate Conception

Date 2014: Monday, 8 December
Occasion: La Immaculada is the patroness of Intramuros, Manila. During this annual event, a procession is held with more than fifty images of the Virgin Mary from provinces and countries around the world being carried by devotees around the historic place of Intramuros.
States applicable to: Intramuros, Manila

Bikol Pastores

Date 2014: Thursday, 18 December
Occasion: This extraordinary Christmas tradition takes place in the Bicol City of Legazpi in Albay. During this event, young men and women dressed in their unique colorful shepherd costumes roam around the city, dancing and singing to the tune of “Pastores a Belen”.
States applicable to: Legazpi City, Albay

Giant Lantern Festival

Date 2014: Saturday, 20 December (held every third Saturday of December)
Occasion: San Fernando, Pampanga is known for producing the most colorful, magnificent, creative and attractive Christmas lanterns in Philippines. To celebrate the art of lantern-making, an annual festival and competition among lantern-makers is held on the Saturday before Christmas Eve. The contest features giant lanterns that are as big as forty feet in diameter and have many (usually more than thousand) light bulbs.
States applicable to: San Fernando, Pampanga

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