BANDA ACEH, Indonesia Ė The size of the Hindu community in Indonesiaís northwest Aceh province is small, but Sunday devotees made a big impression with their Thaipusam festival, an epa journalist reported.
About 500 people from the Tamil community joined Thaipusam celebrations since Friday for the three-day festival, which culminated Sunday with a procession of singing, dancing and praying through the city of Banda Aceh.
For the previous two days, festival goers went to the local Hindu temple where they prayed, enjoyed fellowship, burned incense and made offerings to Hindu gods.
One of the most recognizable practices of Thaipusam is when devotees pierce their faces with spikes or even walk on knives, both of which happened Sunday.
However, unlike larger Thaipusam celebrations in Malaysia or Singapore, only three people were reported to have pierced themselves Sunday, including one woman.
Thaipusam, celebrated by Tamil people in countries of South and Southeast Asia, commemorates the mythical occasion when the goddess Parvati gave Murugan, the god of war, a spear to defeat the demon Soorapadman.
For the celebrations in Aceh, most of the devotees traveled northwest from Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province on Sumatra Island, where the Hindu community is larger than in Aceh.
Until the devastating tsunami of December, 2004, the Hindu community had been larger in Aceh province, but the disaster, which destroyed the local Hindu temple, saw many of them move to Medan to start new lives.
Only about Hindu 12 households, comprising less than 100 people, reportedly remain in Banda Aceh, and this weekendís festival was only the third time the community has celebrated Thaipusam since their temple was rebuilt following the 2004 disaster.
A rare event for Muslim-majority Aceh, Thaipusam was the object of criticism on social media, where some users questioned why such a festival is allowed in Aceh, which is subject to Islamic Sharia Law.
But other users defended the local Hindu rituals, saying that Indonesia is a multicultural country that protects religious freedom.