Indian Diaspora in Malaysia

Malaysian Indians account 7.3% of the total population of Malaysia

Sri Mahamariamman Temple Malaysia , Wikimedia Commons

By Akanksha Sharma

Malaysia is a country in Southeast Asia, cleaved into two lands by the South China Sea. One part is located on a peninsula of Asian mainland which flaunts bustling cities, colonial architecture, tea- plantations and islands. Another part is located on the northern third island of Borneo which comprises of wild jungles orangutans, granite peaks and remote tribes.

India Malaysia locator. Wikimedia Commons
India Malaysia locator. Wikimedia Commons

Indian migration towards Malaysia

  • First Wave: Indians firstly arrived at Malaysia during the pre-colonial period, when Rajaraja Chola launched an attack via naval expedition conquering several Malay kingdoms.
  • Second Wave: In the second half 19th century, mainly Tamil and Telugu Indians were brought to Malaysia to work as laborers on plantation, ports, railway lines and ports.
  • Third Wave: After the 1990s, many Indians migrated to work as professionals mainly in IT sector and unskilled labor. There are also foreign spouses from the Indian subcontinent who married local Indians.

Today, Indian community consists of mostly Tamils (80%), followed by Keralites, Andhrites, Bengalis, Punjabis, Sindhis and Gujaratis. Malaysian Indians account 7.3% of the total population of Malaysia. A major portion of Indian community is engaged in rubber and palm plantation and a smaller section works in services like railways, police and food business.

Malaysian India Congress is the largest and oldest Indian political party in Malaysia. According to, at present, it has got 14 seats in Malaysian parliament which include one Cabinet Post, two Deputy Minister’s post and two Parliamentary secretary’s post.

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Indian community has contributed enormously towards Malaysian cuisine

  • Indian Muslim restaurants and stalls are referred to as ‘Mamak’. The word ‘Mamak’ is a Tamil term for maternal uncle or ‘Maa-ma’. These restaurants are popular for dishes like Roti Canai (flattened bread) , Nasi kendar (steamed rice) and Posembur (Malaysian Salad).

    Roti Canai , Wikimedia Commons
  • Indian cuisine in Malaysia is mostly based on South Indian cuisine. Dishes like Idli, Vada and Dosa are very common for breakfast.
  • Snacks like Murrukku and Banana chips are made to mark on Deepavali.
  • Sweets like pasayum, halva and ghee balls are also very popular.

 Indian Malaysian Festivals

  • Thaipusam– the biggest Hindu festival is celebrated every year. It falls in the Tamil month of Thai ( January-February). It is devoted to Lord ‘Murugan’ and ‘Kartikeya’, the son of Shiva and Paravati. The celebration takes place on a huge scale at the Batu Caves. Devotees carry Kavadi , a wooden arc , as an act of atonement on this festival.
Devotes celebrating Thaipusam at Batu Caves, Malaysia. Wikimedia Commons
  • The popular Hindu festival ‘Festival of Lights’ – Deepavali is also celebrated by Hindu communities.
  • Pongal the Harvest festival is celebrated among Tamils and Onam is most popular among  the Malayalee community.
  • Other festivals like Makar Sankranti and Lohri are also celebrated.
  • Indian Muslims celebrate Ramadan.

Akanksha is a student of journalism in New Delhi. Twitter @Akanksha4117