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Flavors of Hinduism in Malaysia

Thaipusam, a colourful annual religious festival Image source:

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




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Malaysian Authorities Destroys Four Metric Tons of Seized Elephant Tusks and Ivory Products

“These were seizures from 15 cases and from the total, 3,692.4 kg were complete and incomplete tusks while the remaining 228.89 kg were incomplete ivory products”

elephant tusks, ivory products
Staff at a government-run waste management facility outside Seremban, Malaysia arrange seized ivory tusks before destroying them, April 30, 2019. RFA

Malaysian authorities on Tuesday destroyed around four metric tons of seized elephant tusks and ivory products thought to have been destined for China, Hong Kong and Vietnam, in trying to stop the illegal wildlife trade via Malaysia, officials said.

The ivory pieces with an estimated total value of 13.3 million ringgit (U.S. $3.2 million) were items of contraband confiscated at Malaysian ports and airports from 2011 to 2017, said Xavier Jayakumar, minister for Water, Land and Natural Resources.

“We will incinerate these case exhibits, the proscribed method for such cases, to ensure the exhibits stay off the black market,” he told reporters at a government-run waste disposal and management facility in Negeri Sembilan state, about an hour’s drive from the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

“These were seizures from 15 cases and from the total, 3,692.4 kg were complete and incomplete tusks while the remaining 228.89 kg were incomplete ivory products,” he added.

ivory products, elephant tusks
The ivory pieces with an estimated total value of 13.3 million ringgit (U.S. $3.2 million) were items of contraband confiscated at Malaysian ports and airports from 2011 to 2017. Wikimedia

Authorities believe the contraband was being smuggled from Africa to China, Hong Kong and Vietnam when they intercepted the various shipments at the Malaysian ports, Xavier said.

“It’s quite hard to find the syndicate involved in the cases because the suspects arrested are usually not syndicate members but those involved in the shipment of the contraband,” he said. “Therefore, a special team was formed to investigate and identify the syndicates involved in the cases.”

Since 1978, Malaysia has been a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, Xavier said, adding that the country was committed “to this international responsibility to curb illegal ivory trading.”

Apart from working to combat the illegal trade in elephant tusks, Malaysia last August seized 50 rhinoceros horns bound for Vietnam. Their estimated value was almost U.S. $12 million.

And in February this year, authorities in the Malaysian Borneo state of Sabah made a record haul when they seized 30 metric tons (66,139 pounds) in pangolin parts and products, according to Traffic, a Britain-based wildlife trafficking monitoring group.

elephants tusks, ivory products
Sabah made a record haul when they seized 30 metric tons (66,139 pounds) in pangolin parts and products. Wikimedia

Regional hub

Malaysia’s proximity to the world’s major ivory consumers, China and Thailand, as well as its efficient and well-developed port network, are factors behind why the country is used as a Southeast Asian transit hub for ivory smuggling, Traffic reported.

The NGO would like to see Malaysia implement a National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP) to fight the problem, said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Traffic’s regional director. Traffic has also urged Malaysia to intensify its collaboration and communication with ivory source and consumer countries.

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“Collaborative action, including risk profiling and targeting, as well as timely communication between source and consumer countries have already resulted in a number of successful seizures globally, and indeed forms part of Malaysia’s National Ivory Action Plan that was submitted to CITES pursuant to the recommendations of the CITES Standing Committee,” Krishnasamy told BenarNews.

“Such measures must continue, conducted in tandem with other essential actions, without which Malaysia will continue to be a prominent player in the illegal ivory trade.” (RFA)

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.