One of the unique aspects of India’s Cultural Heritage is that we have persevered with our traditions and customs throughout the evolutionary cycle, battling the innumerable odds and yet emerging stronger every single time. The unbroken thread of our ancient civilization and its preservation has also startled scholars from far and wide.
We, Indians have always felt a sense of pride in our rich cultural heritage but somewhere in our march towards adopting the glittering aspects of Western ethos we have somewhat lost touch with the actual glory of our past.
Due to which do not give due regard to the cultural identity, historical continuity and significance to many of our long-standing cultural traditions and the lasting impressions they left on faraway lands.
The Early Historical Period saw India forge transoceanic trade relations with Thailand, Malaysia, and the islands of Java and Bali (Indonesia). Suvarnabhumi and Suvarnadvipa have many references in our ancient Indian literature and scriptures which refers to present day “South East Asia” and “Indonesia”, respectively.
Hinduism came to Malaysia much earlier than Islam
After exploring Hinduism on the island of Bali in the previous edition of this series, we are now focusing on Malaysia.
Malaysia is predominantly a Muslim country with around 61.3 per cent of the population practising Islam. Unlike other ‘secular’ nations, Malaysia has designated Islam as the official religion of the land.
However, one would be surprised to know that Hinduism came to the South-East Asian country, much before Islam. Indian Hindu culture reigned in the Malay world between the seventh and fourteenth centuries.
During the tenth century, however, the arrival of Islam supplanted a Hindu empire and led to the conversion of most of the Malay-Indonesian world. Indians form only 6.3 per cent of the population, much less than other ethnic groups.
Out of the 6.3 per cent, over 89 per cent are Hindus. Akin to other foreign nations with a sizeable Hindu populace, Malaysia was introduced to Indians and the Hindu faith by the colonists.
The Britishers wanted cheap and skilled labourers to work on the rubber plantations and Indians, acclimatized to the warm climate, fit the bill to the tee.
Most labourers came from Tamil Nadu while a much smaller number migrated from northern India. Thus, much of Malaysia’s Hindu population also identify as ethnically Malaysian Indian.
Despite being on the lighter side in numbers in the country, Malay-Hindus have managed to preserve their Sanatan belief and customs. The history and diverse origins of Hindu migrant workers have led the practice of religion in Malaysia to be influenced by various local images, deities, and customs.
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Similar iteration of Ramayan in Malaysia and the famous temples
Apart from India, various versions of Ramayana are found across the world. Malaysia is no different as its iteration of Ramayana is called Hikayat Seri Rama. The story is more or less the same but slight modifications are made to tailor it to the local audience.
While many of Malaysia’s Hindu population follow the Shaivite (worshiping Shiva) tradition, worshiping other deities and their incarnations is also prevalent in Malaysia.
There are also many festivals celebrated throughout the country dedicated to the many Hindu narratives and deities such as Thaipusam, Navaratri and Diwali.
Temples like the Batu Caves Temple, Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Sri Poyatha Moorthi Temple, Tebrau Glass Temple and the Maran Murugan Temple attract the Indian-Hindus from across the world for pilgrimage.
Hinduism is under threat from Islam
However, given the status of Islam as the official religion of Malaysia, much of the government’s attention is oriented towards the Muslim majority. Ethnic Indians continued to face economic and social marginalization due to the persistence of Bumiputra (sons of the soil) policies favouring the majority Malaysian Muslim community.
Over the years, a series of hate crimes taken out on temples and sacred idols have left Hindus in Malaysia much concerned about their safety. According to a Hindu American Foundation report, the last few years has seen ethnic and religious divides increase in the country. Meanwhile, the government has expanded restrictions on religious freedom, speech, and civil liberties.
The Islamic religious department, for instance, has increased its budget to $300 million with thousands of employees regulating economic activity and tracking social behaviour.
Religious education in public schools has similarly increased, causing challenges for both Muslim and non-Muslim students, while Islamic religious schools have proliferated. Moreover, about one in every 12 Indian children does not even attend primary school.
Also Read: Hinduism by Country and Region
The rise of fundamentalism
In the aftermath of the 1969 riots, the New Economic Plan (NEP) of the 1970s gave Muslim Malays easier access to housing, jobs, medical care, and education. According to Yayasan Pemulihan Social (YPS). About 54 per cent of Malaysian Indians work on plantations or as urban labourers, and their wages have not kept up with the times. Nearly half of the 2.6 million Indians in Malaysia are at the bottom of the income ladder,
Several Hindu deities and temples have been desecrated over the years in Malaysia. From Muthu Mariamman temple to Sri Madurai Veeran to Kuil Sri Muniswarar – nearly every big temple in the country has faced some kind of attack.
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Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed espoused vitriol in large quantities against the Hindu diaspora and targeted Indian throughout his tenure. Mahathir is infamously known for toeing Pakistan’s Kashmir agenda at the UNGA in 2019.
Afterwards, India was forced to take retaliatory actions as it reduced the import of Malaysian Palm oil which severely hurt the country’s economy. India Hindus and Malay Hindus are culturally alike and while the rise of fundamentalism has hurled few curve balls towards the Hindu inhabitants of the country, they are still standing strong, much more devout in their faith.