By Sunil Amrith
This temple is unusual in Malaysia in facing directly out to sea. It was built in the late-nineteenth century by local Tamil fishermen—the story I was told is that many had arrived in Malaya to work on the rubber plantations, but made their way from the mainland to Pangkor to make their living from the sea. It is likely that they originated from coastal districts in Tamil Nadu, quite possibly from fishing communities.
The six-foot trisulam (trident) faces east across the Straits of Melaka; offerings to Kaliamman invoked her blessings for the safety of seafarers, asking her to tame the terrible sea.
One striking feature of the temple’s annual festival, which attracts thousands at Masi Magam, is the number of Chinese devotees who visit, many of them carrying kavadi (physical burdens endured as penance: spears, arrows, palanquins…) Such distinctive cultural mixtures and borrowings can be seen right around the Bay of Bengal’s coastal frontiers.