Flavors of Hinduism in Malaysia

Thaipusam, a colourful annual religious festival Image source: www.telegraph.co.uk

By Annesha Das Gupta

As history progressed, it has brought along with itself the sporadic expansion of Hinduism and its ethnic originals from India. Among the many countries it covered, one of the oldest affiliations has been with the terrains of Malaysia.

A country divided into two-halves, the Malaysian Borneo and the Malaysian Peninsula, with South China Sea filling up the gap, the regions boast of multi-cultural and multi-religious pockets deep within its veins. Though, it is in the western peripheries of the peninsula that one will come across the larger settlements of Hindu and Indian communities.

Consisting an impressive 9% of the total population, the Hindus have instilled themselves in the hustle and bustle of the urban and the rural lives. Exhaustive studies have revealed that the first Indians landed on the shores, sometime back around 1,700 years. The relations further flourished with the heavy trading exchanges that, was taken on by both the countries.

It is also should be known that the city of Negeri Sembilan has the leading Hindu percentage while Sabah has the lowest.


Tracking the history – The Hindu presence

  • As mentioned above, the spread of the Hindu culture initially took place with the development of trading relations. Not only, this, brought the Malays into close contact with the religion but also with its people and the language of Sanskrit. So much so, that the temples were coming into existence in this then foreign land but also surprisingly that the rulers of the Malayan world adopted the title and started recognizing themselves as ‘Rajas’.
  • The second wave of Hindu migration came with the ‘Indenture period’ of the 19th and 20th centuries under the colonialism of the British Empire. Most of the Hindu laborers used to work in the mining or plantation industries. And some of these people who are regarded as trustworthy by the British were ordained to recruit their kin and kith to join them in the labor work under the ‘Kangani’
  • Most of those who came to Malaysia were seeking a permanent residence with a better life and livelihood. Though the truth hit home for them, when the community has to face severe discrimination and alienation. The Indians were not allowed to mix freely with the other ethnicities like that of the Chinese Buddhists and Christians. Nor were they permitted to relocate themselves in the more luxurious European settlements.
  • The majority of those who decided to transfer themselves into Malaysia were the Tamils, along with the Sri Lankans and the masses of North India. It was seen that, there was an upsurge after the introduction of the Tamil Immigration Fund in 1907.
  • When the Malaysians gained their independence in 1957, the political and judicial ambience was unfortunately not favorable to the non-Muslims and decreed the return of the Indians, Chinese and Portuguese to their native lands. Now the total Hindu population rests lower than the 12.8%, which saw it eventually decrease beginning in the decades of the 1950s.


Wary of the law – ‘The Outsiders’

  • The Constitution of Malaysia cites that the official religion of the land is Islam but gives the right to practice the other religions as well. At first, it may be seen as liberal and secular, though one will be hoodwinking themselves then. It is legal for someone belonging to Hinduism or may be Christianity to convert into Islam but it is strictly prohibited for the Muslims to do the same.
  • In 1957, the State refused to acknowledge anyone as the official citizen of the country if that person does not belong to the religion of Islam.
  • Following a riot between the Hindus and the Muslims in Penang, the Malay Government asserted that all ‘unlicensed’ temples and shrines will be scrapped. Fortunately though, no action was taken regarding the matter, any further.
  • In the months of April and May 2006, the Government unprecedentedly ordered out bull-dozers to be sent across the country and pulling down the Hindu temples. Such incidents repeated itself for several days till a number of Hindu organizations and NGOs finally protested against such illicit actions taken by the State.
  • In 2007, HINDRAF took a rally protesting the demolition of the temple in Kuala Lumpur demanding that the world take into out their petition against the Government of United kingdom stating that every Malaysian Indian deserves to receive a total of US $1 million for “withdrawing after granting independence and leaving the Indians unprotected and at the mercy of majority Malay-Muslim government that has violated their rights as minority Indians”. About 20,000 people participated in the rally and over 300 were arrested. Though till now the British government has denied of ever receiving any such petition.


Declaration of Cuisine and Festivals – The Hindu influence

  • In almost all of the nooks and crannies of Malaysia, one will readily come across ‘Mamak’. These are the small makeshift eateries primarily owned by the Indian families. The delicacies will be covering from the appetizers like magi goring to the main course of tandoori chicken and naan to of course the desserts which will please anyone’s sweet-tooth craving for mysore pak or else that of ghee balls. It should be keep in mind though that the cuisine is heavily influenced by the Tamil population as the names of idli, vada and dosa are now common instances in the food menus.
  • The various ramifications of the Hinduism like the cult of Hare Krishna and that of the Shaivite are practiced by many of the Malaysian Indian community. Among the significant festivals there is main attraction of Thaipusm dedicated to Lord Murugan and is most famously celebrated in the Batu Caves of Kuala Lumpur. Among other celebrations include the festival of lights ‘Deepavali’, the Telugu new year Ugadi and that of the Makar Sanskriti.


Annesha Das Gupta is a student of Sociology, pursuing her degree from IGNOU, Kolkata. She has a special interest in the branches of Feminism, Sexuality and Dalit Studies.

Twitter: Dancingbluepen




  • Pragya Jha

    India should be proud of the fact that the religion which we follow have a great influence globally