28 Feb 2017: Thaipusam in Malaysia – A Hindu Festival in the Tamil Diaspora

This is an important book which argues that Hinduism and its manifestations in the diaspora have important significance in binding not only the Hindus but also encourages others to revisit Hinduism, especially in a multicultural society like Malaysia which is dominated by communally infused discourses structured upon race and religion. – Ajaya K. Sahoo, Editor, Journal of South Asian Diaspora

thaipusam_cvrDr Carl Vadivella Belle may not be a familiar name (yet) among Malaysian readers, but his writings and talks are slowly but surely gaining traction, particularly in the country’s Indian community. His first book, Tragic Orphans, was a frank and compassionate discourse on the plight of the Indian community in Malaysia ― a prickly issue that the multiracial government often glosses over or disingenuously ignores. The title of the book was inspired by activist K.A. Neelakanda Ayer from a description of the fates of Indians in Malaya, “whom India has forgotten and Malaya looks down upon with contempt.”

His second book, Thaipusam in Malaysia: A Hindu Festival in the Tamil Diaspora, closely examines the popular festival from the “inside” and attempts to trace the layers of meaning and the recondite vocabularies of this multifaceted and complex celebration in terms of its continuing relevance to Malaysian Hindus. Dr Belle contends that many scholars who have written about Thaipusam in Malaysia have constructed interpretations of the festival and the associated forms of worship (especially the kavadi ritual) ― not based on sound academic research but on individual rationales. Although each of these analyses was superficially convincing, but when subject to close examination, these scholars failed to situate either the festival or the kavadi ritual within a sufficiently broad cultural or comparative framework.

He concludes that far from being a cultural aberration, Thaipusam is a product of time, place and the peculiar circumstances of Hindu Malaysians. Constructed from deep-rooted elements of South Indian culture, Thaipusam can only be fully comprehended by locating it within Tamil history, philosophies and belief structures, in particular those associated with the Tamil deity Murugan.

433 pages, illustrated | 22.9cm x 15.3cm, Softcover | ISBN: 9789814695756 | 
2017, ISEAS Publishing | RM130

Dr Belle gave a talk about his latest book at The Star Pitt St. (lst floor) on Saturday, March 4, 2017, from 2.30pm to 4.00pm. The talk included a Q&A session which was moderated by Dato’ Dr. K. Anbalakan from Universiti Sains Malaysia.

About the speaker: Dr Belle served in the Australian High Commission, Kuala Lumpur (1976-1979) and has maintained a long-term interest in Malaysian social, political and religious issues. His doctoral dissertation, “Thaipusam in Malaysia: A Hindu Festival Misunderstood?” was accepted by Deakin University in 2004. Dr Belle was appointed Inaugural Hindu Chaplain at the Flinders University, South Australia in 2005. During Thaipusam 2017, he provided expert advice to a BBC television team.