Recently, I went to watch a performance of Mavin Khoo’s dance show ‘I am with you Muruga’, an extraordinary dance of devotion to the fearsome id of Lord Murugan. Not much is known of Lord Murugan. He is the enigmatic younger brother of the popular elephant-headed god Ganesha, who is well known for his role as the scribe of Vyasa’s Mahabharata as well as his love of laddhus, the Indian sweet. Muruga on the other hand has a few stories. He is the child of Shiva and Parvati. He rides his peacock and carries a terrifying trident. Malaysia is dotted with small temples and shrines in his name and he stands outside, three-pronged weapon in hand, waiting for his disciples to throw themselves into his stern and jealous embrace. Every year Indians in Malaysia celebrate Thaipusam, going into trances, piercing their bodies with hooks and spears and carrying their kavadis or offerings for miles in the hot sun to his temples. This very Indian celebration is only found in Malaysia.
The show was held at City Hall, in what used to be a premier cultural centre, now a little shabby and used mostly for cultural performances of a rather sleepy kind. In its heyday City Hall had dance and Western musicals as well as a smattering of more contemporary work. In 2012 a directive was issued that government buildings would no longer give permits to Indian classical dance or Church choirs on the basis that it could not promote work of a religious nature. The decision made few waves in a country used to more vociferous contestations over, for example, the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims and calls by religious leaders to boycott Valentine’s Day. To this one could add the ad hoc decisions by the government to ban both Eryka Badhu and the ballet. In the controversy over the use of the word Allah, even the current Sultan of the state of Selangor and the Regent of Perak weighed in strongly that the word was strictly for Muslims.