Hinduism in Malaysia
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Most Malaysian Hindus are settled in western parts of Peninsular Malaysia. The Malaysian state with highest percentage of state's population as Hindus, according to 2010 Census, is Negeri Sembilan (13.4%), followed by Selangor (11.6%), Perak (10.9%) and Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur (8.5%). The state with least percentage of Hindu population is Sabah (0.1%).
Indians, along with other ethnic groups such as Chinese, began arriving in Malaysia in ancient and medieval era. In 2010, Malaysian Census reported there were 1.91 million citizens of Indian ethnic origin. About 1.64 million of Indian ethnic group Malaysians (86%) are Hindus. About 0.14 million non-Indian ethnic group Malaysian people also profess being Hindus.
Malaysia gained its independence from British colonial empire in 1957, thereafter declared its official state religion as Islam, and adopted a constitution that is mixed. On one hand, it protects freedom of religion (such as practice of Hinduism), but on the other hand Malaysian constitution also restricts religious freedom. In recent decades, there have been increasing reports of religious persecution of Hindus, along with other minority religions, by various state governments of Malaysia and its Sharia courts. Hindu temples built on private property, and built long before Malaysian independence, have been demolished by Malaysian government officials in recent years.
It is unclear when the first Indian voyages across the bay of Bengal occurred. Conservative estimates place the earliest arrivals to Malay shores at least 1,700 years ago. The growth of trade with India brought coastal people in much of the Malay world into contact with Hinduism. Thus, Hinduism, Indian cultural traditions and the Sanskrit language began to spread across the land. Temples were built in the Indian style and local kings began referring to themselves as Raja and more desirable aspects of Indian government were adopted.
Subsequently, small Hindu Malay states started to appear in the coastal areas of Malay peninsular notably the Gangga Negara (2nd century), Langkasuka (2nd century), and Kedah (4th century). Between 7th and 13th centuries many of these small, often prosperous peninsular maritime trading states came under the loose control of Srivijaya empire, a great Hindu Malay kingdom centred in Palembang, Sumatra.
- Colonial era
Many Indian settlers came to Malaya from South India during the British colonial rule from early 19th through mid 20th century. Many came to escape poverty and famines in British India, and work as indentured labourers in initially tin mining operations and coffee, sugar plantations, and later rubber plantations; they worked with immigrant Chinese laborers on these sites. Some English-educated Indians were appointed to more professional positions. Most were hired through British colonial labor offices in Nagapattinam or Madras (now Chennai).
In early years, the retention rates of Hindus in Malaysia were low and with time, fewer Hindus volunteered to live in Malaysia. The colonial rule adopted a Kangani system of recruitment, where the trusted Hindu worker was encouraged and rewarded for recruiting friends and family from India to work in British operations in Malaysia. The family and friends peer pressure reduced labor turnover and increased permanent migration into Malaysia. The kangani system led to vast majority of Hindus coming from certain parts of South Indian Hindu community. So concentrated was the immigration from South India, that the British colonial Malayan Administration named laws to highlight the focussed group, and enacted the Tamil Immigration Fund Ordinance in 1907. A minority of Indian immigrants to Malaysia during this period came from Northern India and Sri Lanka.
The Malaysian Hindu workers during the British era were among the most marginalised. They were forced to live in closed plantation societies in frontier zones and the plantation symbolised the boundary of their existence. Racial segregation was enforced, and British anti-vagrancy laws made it illegal for Indian Hindus (and Chinese Buddhists) to enter the more developed European zoned regions. The Hindus spoke neither English nor Malay languages, and remained confined to interacting within their own community.
After Malaysia gained independence in 1957, the local governments favored Bumiputera who were ethnic Muslims, and refused citizenship to Indians and Chinese ethnic groups who had been living in Malaysia for decades during British colonial era. They were declared illegal aliens and they could not apply for government jobs or own land. Racial and communal riots followed that targeted Hindus (Indians), Buddhists (Chinese) and Christians (Euroasians), such as the 1957 Chingay riot in Penang, 1964 Malaysian racial riots, the 1967 Hartal riots, and 13 May 1969 riots. Singapore, which in early 1960s was part of Malaysia, seceded from the union and became an independent city state. The Malaysian government passed a 1970 constitutional amendment and then the 1971 Sedition law that made it illegal to publicly discuss Malaysian citizenship methodology, national language, native population that Malaysian constitution declares as automatically Muslim, and the right to power of Sultans in each Malaysian state. It also formalized the discrimination against non-natives and denied citizenship to non-Muslim residents who were originally from different ethnicities. Many Malay Hindus emigrated, quite many to India (while Chinese returned to China, and Christians to Europe). The Hindu population of 12.8% of total Malay population in 1950s, began its decline thereafter.
To safeguard the interest of the Hindu organisations and Hindu temples, the Malaysia Hindu Sangam (MHS) was formed on 23 January 1965. The formation of MHS was greatly due to the ingenuity of the late Shri K. Paramalingam KMN., a barrister at law and was then the Director General of Public Trustee Department, assisted by the late Shri K. Ramanathan, Shri. G. V. Thevar, Shri Hari Chand Saradha, Shri. S. Palanivel Pillai, and Shri S. Dhuraiappah. Shri K. Ramanathan also was the president of Malaysian Indian Congress from 1950 - 1951 and the founder of Malaysian Arulneri Thirukkuttam.
Malaysia Hindu Sangam is the only Hindu organization that the government of Malaysia consults on matters affecting the Hindu community in Malaysia. It is also a member of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) since 1984. MCCBCHST is composed primarily of officials from the main non-Muslim communities in Malaysia and acts as a consultative and liaison body towards more open dialogue and co-operation.
Malaysia Hindu Sangam has organised many national Hindu conferences, seminars, Antharyogams and religious discussions and created a strong religious awareness among the Malaysian Hindus. Among the great contribution of MHS towards the upliftment of Hindus in Malaysia was the Gurukal training programme in the 1980s to train local young men as temple priests.
Samadhis of Siddhas
Siddhas have traveled to then Malaya and performed austerities and eventually went into Jeeva Samadhi. Jeganatha Swamigal, a disciple of Ramalinga Adigal, is foremost among a handful of saints who ventured to the then Malaya. Jeganatha Swamigal's Samadhi is located at Tapah, Perak. Presently, the Jeganatha Swamigal's Samadhi and the land adjacent to its temple is owned by Malaysia Hindu Sangam. Other popular Samadhi is of Sannasi Andavar in Cheng, Malacca and Mauna Swamigal in the vicinity of Lord Saturn's temple at Batu Caves.
Malaysian Hinduism is diverse, with large urban temples dedicated to specific deities, and smaller temples located on estates. The estate temples generally follow the tradition of the Indian region from which the temples' worshippers originate. Many people follow the Shaivite, or Saivite, tradition (worship of Shiva), of Southern India. However, there are also some Vaishnava Hindus in Malaysia as well, many of them of North Indian extraction, and these Hindus worship in temples such as the Geeta Ashram in Seksyen 52, Petaling Jaya, or the Lakshmi-Narayan Temple in Kampung Kasipillay, Kuala Lumpur. Services in these temples are usually conducted in Hindi and English.
Folk Hinduism is the most prevalent variety, including spiritualism and worship of village deities.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness also has a number of followers in Malaysia, and maintains temples in Kuala Lumpur and also all over Malaysia. The Ratha-Yatra festival is held once a year in every temple throughout Malaysia approximately 10 to 12 Ratha Yatra which will be held usually end of the Year, when the Deities of Lord Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra are placed on a chariot which is pulled through the streets by devotees, accompanied by a party chanting the Hare Krishna Mahamantra. There also another group of Hare Krishna such as (The follower of Ritvik, follower of Hansa Duta). There is also Gaudiya math and Saraswath Math.
There are also few devotees of Sri Vaishnavism of Ramanujacharya and the Madhvacharya Sampradaya.
Malaysia also has large followers of several Vedantic traditions and groups such as Ramakrishna Mission. Ramakrishna Mission in Petaling Jaya has been in existence since the 1940s and was officially affiliated to the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, India in 2001. In 2015, the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi visited the Ramakrishna Mission and unveiled a statue of Swami Vivekananda. Another important centre, closely connected with the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda movement is the Ramakrishna Ashramam, Penang which came into existence in 1938. The Vivekananda Ashrama, Kuala Lumpur is an institution started by the Jaffna (Sri Lankan) Tamil immigrants in 1904 in honour of Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). The building, constructed in 1908, is dedicated to his work in providing education and spiritual development for the youth and community. The Vivekananda Ashram with a bronze statue of Swami Vivekananda has been declared as a heritage site in 2016.
Other popular Vedanta based organisations in Malaysia are Divine Life Society (also called Shivananda Ashram) with its headquarters at Batu Caves and Arsha Vijnana Gurukulam.
Hindu religious festivals
Some of the major Hindu festivals celebrated every year include Deepavali (festival of lights), Thaipusam (Lord Murugan festival), Pongal (harvest festival) and Navaratri (Durga festival).
Deepavali is the primary Hindu festival in Malaysia. The Malaysian Hindus traditionally hold open houses over Deepavali, where people of different ethnic groups and religion are welcomed in Hindu homes to share the festival of light as well as taste Indian food and sweets.
Distribution of Hindus
According to the 2010 Census, there were 1,777,694 people self-identifying as Hindus (6.27% of the population). Of the Hindus, 1,644,072 were Indian, 111,329 were non-citizens, 14,878 were Chinese, 4,474 Others, and 2,941 Tribals (Including 554 Iban in Sarawak). 86.18% of all the Indian Malaysians were Hindu. Information collected in the census based on respondent's answer and did not refer to any official document.
By gender and ethnic group
|Gender||Total Hindus Population
|Malaysian Hindus Citizens||Non-Malaysian Hindus Citizens|
|Bumiputera Hindus||Non-Bumiputera Hindus|
|Malay Hindus||Other Bumiputera Hindus||Chinese Hindus||Indian Hindus||Others Hindus|
|State||Total Hindus population
|% of State Population|
|F. T. Kuala Lumpur||142,130||8.5%|
|F. T. Labuan||357||0.4%|
|F. T. Putrajaya||708||1.0%|
Persecution of Hindus
Islam is the official religion of Malaysia. The constitution of Malaysia declares that Islam is the only religion of true Malay people and that natives are required to be Muslims. Conversion from Islam to Hinduism (or another religion) is against the law, but the conversion of Hindus, Buddhists and Christians to Islam is welcomed. The government actively promotes the spread of Islam in the country. The law requires that any Hindu (or Buddhist or Christian) who marries a Muslim must first convert to Islam, otherwise the marriage is illegal and void. If one of the Hindu parents adopts Islam, the children automatically become Muslim without the consent of the second parent.
There are numerous cases in Malaysian courts relating to official persecution of Hindus. For example, in August 2010, a Malaysian woman named Siti Hasnah Banggarma was denied the right to convert to Hinduism by a Malaysian court. Banggarma, who was born a Hindu, but was forcibly converted to Islam at age 7, desired to reconvert back to Hinduism and appealed to the courts to recognise her reconversion. The appeal was denied.
Destruction of Hindu temples
After a violent conflict in Penang between Hindus and Muslims in March 1998, the government announced a nationwide review of unlicensed Hindu temples and shrines. However, implementation was not vigorous and the program was not a subject of public debate.
Between April to May 2006, several Hindu temples were demolished by city hall authorities in the country, accompanied by violence against Hindus. On 21 April 2006, the Malaimel Sri Selva Kaliamman Temple in Kuala Lumpur was reduced to rubble after the city hall sent in bulldozers. The authorities' excuse was that these temples were unlicensed and squatting on government land.
The president of the Consumers Association of Subang and Shah Alam in Selangor had been helping to organise efforts to stop the local authorities in the Muslim dominated city of Shah Alam from demolishing a 107-year-old Hindu temple. The growing Islamization in Malaysia is a cause for concern to many Malaysians who follow minority religions such as Hinduism.
On 11 May 2006, armed city hall officers from Kuala Lumpur forcefully demolished part of a 90-year-old suburban temple that serves more than 3,000 Hindus. The "Hindu Rights Action Force", a coalition of several NGO's, have protested these demolitions by lodging complaints with the Malaysian Prime Minister.
...These state atrocities are committed against the most underprivileged and powerless sector of the Hindu society in Malaysia. We appeal that this Hindu temple and all other Hindu temples in Malaysia are not indiscriminately and unlawfully demolished
Many Hindu advocacy groups have protested what they allege is a systematic plan of temple cleansing in Malaysia. The official reason given by the Malaysian government has been that the temples were built "illegally". However, several of the temples are centuries old.
In 2007, Malaysian Hindu organisations protested the destruction of Hindu temples by the Malaysian regime. On 30 October 2007 the 100-year-old Maha Mariamman Temple in Padang Jawa was demolished by Malaysian authorities. Following that demolition, Works Minister and head of the Malaysian Indian Congress Samy Vellu, who is of Indian origin, said that Hindu temples built on government land were still being demolished despite his appeals to the various state chief ministers.
HAF notes that the Government of Malaysia Restricts Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association contrary to Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and Article 10 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution, and that the application filed by Malaysian Hindus to hold gatherings have been arbitrarily denied by the police. The Government has also tried to suppress a campaign launched by an NGO, the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) to obtain 100,000 signatures in support of a civil suit against the Government of United Kingdom. HINDRAF has accused the Malaysian government of intimidating and instilling fear in the Indian community.
The Hindraf rally prompted the Malaysian government to open dialogue with various Indian and Hindu organisations like the Malaysia Hindu Council, Malaysia Hindudharma Mamandram, and Malaysian Indian Youth Council (MIYC) to address the misgivings of the Indian community. HINDRAF itself has been excluded from these talks and no significant changes have resulted from the discussions.
Cow head debacle
The Cow head protests was a protest that was held in front of the Selangor state government headquarters at the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Building, Shah Alam, Malaysia on 28 August 2009. The protest was called so because the act of a few participants who brought along a cow head, which they later "stomped on the head and spat on it before leaving the site". The cow is considered a sacred animal to Hindus.
The protest was held due to Selangor state government's intention to relocate a Hindu temple from Section 19 residential area of Shah Alam to Section 23. The protesters were mainly Muslim extremists who opposed the relocation due to the fact that Section 23 was a Muslim majority area.
The protest leaders were also recorded saying there would be blood if a temple was constructed in Shah Alam. The protest was caught on video by the popular Malaysian online news portal Malaysiakini.
- Hinduism by country
- List of Hindu temples in Malaysia
- Jainism in Southeast Asia
- Hinduism in Southeast Asia
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