A week ago on Feb 9, some of you might have witnessed a spectacular religious festival that probably saw close to a 1.6 million strong crowd in Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur and thousands more at several other places around Malaysia. It was of course Thaipusam, which is celebrated by Hindus all over the world. It is held on the day of the full moon of the Tamil month of Thai. It is observed as the occasion when the Goddess Parvati gave the God Muruguan a vel (spear) to vanquish the demon Soorapadman.
Over the month of February and March this year there are quite a number of important festivals also observed around the world. Here are five festivals to look out for.
1. Carnivale di Venezia
The annual Venice Carnival is from Feb 11 to 28 this year. It apparently started in 1162 to mark the victory of the “Serenissima Repubblica” against the Patriarch of Aquileia. There were celebrations in San Marco Square in Venice. The festival was banned in 1797 but reappeared in its current form in 1979. The centrepiece for all the celebrants is the wearing of the famous Venetian masks. It ends just before the Christian celebration of Lent.
2. Rio Carnaval (Carnival)
Held on Feb 24 to 28 this year at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – is one of the most famous and colourful parade festival in the world. It has a long history having started in 1723. There are huge floats, covered in all manner of decorations and matched by equally colourful and eye-popping samba dancers. It is a fierce competition to be the winning samba school. There are also the King Momo and the Queen of the Carnival and her princesses to look out for. It is also held before Lent.
3. Mardi Gras
Parades and celebrations run from Feb 24 to 28 in New Orleans, Louisiana. This American festival is no relation to the Mardi Gras in Sydney, Australia. Actually the Rio Carnival and many others are variations of the same kind of celebration. In New Orleans, the final night of Christmas (the Epiphany) to the Ash Wednesday period is seen as the actual period. The final day is also called Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday. Expect to see people decked out in all kinds of costumes for the celebrations and the lively parades.
This Hindu festival falls on March 13 this year. This spring festival’s date changes because it follows the full moon day of the month of Falgun in related Hindu calendars. While it is mainly celebrated in India and Nepal, it is also celebrated in regions where there are a significant population of Hindus including here in Malaysia.
While there are significant religious rituals the night before the festival has become well-known internationally (and many non-Hindus partake in the celebrations) because of the morning’s Rangwali Holi. This is where participants splash each other with dry colour powder or water. It’s a total riot of colours that is full of merriment.
5. St Patrick’s Day
While it falls on March 17, celebrations in Dublin, Ireland will be from March 16 to 19. March 17 is supposedly the day the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick died on CE 461. It’s been an official religious and cultural festival for many Christian denominations since the early 17th century. It is a public holiday in Ireland and a few other territories around the world.
But if there’s any substantial Irish presence in any part of the world, there’s a good chance it is being observed in a big way. Green is the “word” and shamrocks and Irish hats play a big role that day especially when there are parades involved. Since Lenten restrictions on eating of certain foods and alcohol are lifted for that day, that makes for a “merrier” festival.