Cultural Festivals In Malaysia

Cultural Festivals In Malaysia

Did you know that Malaysia hosts a wide array of cultural festivals throughout the year, showcasing its rich cultural heritage and celebrating its multicultural society? From Thaipusam to Chinese New Year, these festivals offer a unique insight into Malaysia’s traditions and customs, attracting visitors from all over the world.

Whether you’re a nature lover, a foodie, or a culture enthusiast, Malaysia’s festivals will leave you captivated and inspired.

Key Takeaways:

  • Malaysia hosts a variety of cultural festivals that showcase its rich cultural diversity and heritage.
  • Thaipusam is an important Tamil festival celebrated in Malaysia, attracting over a million devotees.
  • Chinese New Year is a vibrant celebration of Chinese culture, marked by various traditions and customs.
  • The Malaysia Water Festival is a fun-filled cultural festival reminiscent of Holi in India.
  • The Tadau Ka’amatan Harvest Festival showcases the rich cultural heritage of the Kadazan-Dusun people.

Facts About Cultural Festivals In Malaysia

Festival NameDescriptionDate(s)Location(s)Key Activities
ThaipusamA Tamil festival celebrating Lord Muruga’s victory over evil, featuring grand processions to Batu Caves with devotees carrying ‘kavadis’.Batu Caves and various locationsA grand procession, carrying ‘kavadis’, prayers, and climbing 272 steps to the Batu Caves.
Chinese New YearThe most important Chinese festival, celebrating family reunions, exchange of ‘ang pow’, and vibrant decorations. Lion dance performances are a highlight.Late January to mid-FebruaryNationwideFamily reunion dinners, exchange of ‘ang pow’, lion dance, decorations.
Malaysia Water FestivalCelebrates the joy of water with activities like international fishing tournaments, kayaking challenges, and sandcastle-building competitions.Various locations across MalaysiaInternational fishing tournaments, kayaking challenges, sandcastle building competitions.
Tadau Ka’amatan Harvest FestivalA native festival of the Kadazan-Dusun ethnic group in Sabah, thanking spirits for a bountiful harvest with traditional dances and sports.30th – 31st MaySabahInternational fishing tournament, kayaking challenges, sandcastle building competitions.
Wesak DayA Buddhist festival commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and nirvana of Lord Buddha, with fasting, meditation, and acts of kindness.NationwideFasting, meditation, releasing of doves and tortoises, lighting of oil lamps, offering of flowers and incense, chanting.
Hari Raya Aidil FitriMarks the end of Ramadan with Muslims gathering for special prayers, feasting, and the tradition of open houses.NationwideSpecial prayers, feasting, open houses, forgiveness.
Sarawak Gawai FestivalA harvest festival of the Dayak people in Sarawak with traditional ceremonies, dances, and feasting.Begins 1st JuneSarawakTraditional ceremonies, dances, feasting, drinking of ‘tuak’.
Rainforest World Music FestivalA music festival in Sarawak Cultural Village showcasing international artists and blending modern and traditional performances.Annually (Dates vary)Sarawak Cultural Village, SarawakLive performances, cultural exchanges, workshops.
National DayTraditional dances, traditional sports, and consumption of local rice wines (Tapai and Lihing).31st AugustKuala Lumpur and nationwideGrand parade, fireworks, cultural performances.
Mooncake Festival & Hungry Ghost FestivalCoinciding festivals celebrating Chinese Mid-Autumn traditions with mooncakes and lantern processions for the Mooncake Festival, and offerings to appease spirits for the Hungry Ghost Festival.NationwideLive performances, cultural exchanges, and workshops.

Interesting Facts About The Cultural Festivals In Malaysia

  • ๐ŸŽ‰ Hari Gawai is celebrated by the Dayak people of Sarawak on June 1st every year, marking the end of the rice harvesting season. It’s a time for thanksgiving and seeking blessings for the next planting season.
  • ๐Ÿ‰ The Nine Emperor Gods Festival involves devotees observing a strict vegetarian diet for nine days to cleanse their bodies and spirits, with rituals that include sending off the gods through a water procession, often involving intricately decorated floats.
  • ๐ŸŒ• Thaipusam is a Hindu festival that sees devotees carrying kavadis, which are physical burdens such as decorated steel structures attached to their body through hooks and skewers, as acts of penance or thanksgiving to Lord Murugan.
  • ๐Ÿšฃ The Regatta Lepa in Semporna, Sabah, celebrates the Bajau Laut’s seafaring culture, featuring colourful sailboats called lepa-lepa and various water-based competitions.
  • ๐ŸŽญ The Mak Yong Theatre, recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, is performed during many Malaysian cultural festivals, showcasing a traditional form of dance-drama from Kelantan, influenced by animist, Hindu-Buddhist, and Islamic elements.
  • ๐Ÿฎ The Hungry Ghost Festival sees Malaysian Chinese communities offering food, incense, and opera performances to appease wandering spirits believed to visit the living during the seventh lunar month.
  • ๐Ÿ•บ The Harvest Festival, also known as Pesta Kaamatan, is celebrated by the Kadazandusun and Murut communities in Sabah, featuring the Unduk Ngadau beauty pageant, which is based on the folklore of Huminodun.
  • ๐Ÿš The Pesta Benak (Tidal Bore Festival) in Sri Aman, Sarawak, is one of the few places in the world where spectators can witness the natural phenomenon of tidal bores. The festival includes longboat races, cultural performances, and local cuisine showcases.
  • ๐ŸŒบ The Floria Putrajaya is Malaysiaโ€™s premier outdoor garden and flower showcase, displaying both local and international flowers, with various side events like workshops, gardening competitions, and performances, illuminating Putrajaya with vibrant colours and designs.
  • ๐ŸŽ‡ The Penang International Dragon Boat Festival features teams from around the world competing in traditional dragon boat races, reflecting a tradition that dates back over 2,000 years and is believed to ward off bad spirits and bring rain for the crops.
See also  Mooncake Festival Malaysia


Thaipusam is one of the most important Tamil festivals celebrated in Malaysia. The festival commemorates the victory of Lord Muruga over the evil spirit Soorapadam. It is a time of great devotion and spirituality for the Tamil community.

During Thaipusam, a grand procession takes place at the famous Batu Caves shrine, attracting over a million devotees from all over Malaysia and beyond. The devotees come together to honour Lord Muruga and seek his blessings.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Thaipusam is the carrying of ‘kavadis’ by devotees. These kavadis are large ornate structures, often decorated with flowers and peacock feathers, and they are carried by devotees who have made vows to Lord Muruga. The kavadis are attached to the bodies of the devotees using metal spikes, symbolizing their willingness to endure physical pain in their devotion to the deity.


Thaipusam is not only a visually stunning festival but also a deeply spiritual one. The atmosphere is filled with chants, prayers, and incense as devotees make their way up the 272 steps leading to the Batu Caves. The devotion and faith of the participants are truly awe-inspiring.

This festival is a wonderful opportunity to experience the rich Tamil culture and traditions in Malaysia. The vibrant colours, energetic music, and fervent devotion make Thaipusam an unforgettable experience for both participants and observers alike.

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is a significant festival that is celebrated with great enthusiasm in Malaysia. As the most important Chinese festival, it spans over 15 days and is a time of joy, celebration, and renewal. The festivities are based on the lunar calendar, with the exact date varying each year but usually falling between late January and mid-February.

During Chinese New Year, families come together for reunion dinners to share a sumptuous feast and honour their ancestors. This tradition symbolizes unity, harmony, and the importance of family ties.

One of the most iconic customs of Chinese New Year is the exchange of ‘ang pow,’ red packets filled with money, to bring good luck and blessings. These red envelopes are given by elders to the younger generation, symbolizing good fortune and prosperity for the coming year.

Streets and houses are adorned with vibrant red decorations, as red is believed to ward off evil spirits. Lanterns, banners, and paper cuttings featuring auspicious symbols like dragons, peonies, and Chinese characters are displayed to create an atmosphere of joy and luck.

A highlight of Chinese New Year festivities in Malaysia is the lion dance. The lion, believed to bring good luck and drive away evil spirits, is the star of the show. Dancers, dressed in colourful lion costumes, perform intricate movements to the rhythm of drums, cymbals, and gongs. The lion dance is a captivating spectacle that fills the air with energy and excitement.

Chinese New Year is a time for family and community, where people come together to celebrate, exchange well wishes, and share joy. It is a celebration of Chinese culture and traditions, and a reflection of the harmony and diversity that Malaysia embraces.

Malaysia Water Festival

The Malaysia Water Festival is a vibrant cultural celebration that brings people of all ages together in a joyous gathering. Reminiscent of the colourful Holi festival in India, the Malaysia Water Festival offers a unique twist with its emphasis on water-filled fun instead of dry colours. It is a time when communities come alive with laughter and excitement as they celebrate the joy of water.

See also  Chinese New Year in Malaysia: A Festive Celebration

One of the highlights of the Malaysia Water Festival is the international fishing tournament, where fishing enthusiasts from around the world compete to catch the biggest and most impressive fish. It is a thrilling event that showcases the country’s beautiful waters and diverse marine life.

For those seeking an adrenaline rush, the kayaking challenge is a must-try activity during the festival. Whether you are a seasoned kayaker or a beginner, this thrilling adventure allows you to navigate through crystal-clear waters and experience the breathtaking beauty of Malaysia’s waterways.

The Malaysia Water Festival also offers the opportunity to showcase your creativity with sandcastle-building competitions. Let your imagination run wild as you sculpt intricate masterpieces in the soft sand, creating memories that last a lifetime.

The festival takes place in various locations across Malaysia, allowing people from different regions to come together and celebrate the spirit of camaraderie and togetherness. It provides a platform for cultural exchange, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of Malaysia’s rich heritage.

So, grab your water guns, put on your swimwear, and get ready to immerse yourself in the Malaysia Water Festival. It is a time for laughter, splashes, and creating cherished memories with friends and family.

malaysia water festival
International Fishing TournamentCompete to catch the biggest fishVariety of fishing spots across Malaysia
Kayaking ChallengeThrilling adventure through scenic waterwaysVarious kayaking routes across Malaysia
Sandcastle Building CompetitionsShowcase your creativity in the sandBeaches and waterfront locations

Tadau Ka’amatan Harvest Festival

The Tadau Ka’amatan Harvest Festival is a native festival celebrated by the Kadazan-Dusun ethnic group in Sabah. This festival holds great significance as it is a time for the community to give thanks to the spirits for a bountiful harvest. It is a celebration of gratitude and cultural heritage, showcasing the rich traditions and customs of the Kadazan-Dusun people.

During the Tadau Ka’amatan Harvest Festival, the Kadazan-Dusun community engages in various traditional practices and activities. Colourful traditional dances, such as the Sumazau and Magunatip, are performed with graceful movements and vibrant costumes, reflecting the cultural identity and artistic expression of the Kadazan-Dusun people.

The festival also includes traditional sports like arm wrestling and blowpipe shooting, which showcase the strength and skills of the community. These activities not only entertain but also serve as a way to preserve the cultural heritage and pass down traditions from one generation to another.

To enhance the festive spirit, the Tadau Ka’amatan Harvest Festival is accompanied by the free flow of local rice wines called Tapai and Lihing. These traditional beverages are enjoyed by the community and add to the joyous atmosphere of the celebrations.

The Tadau Ka’amatan Harvest Festival is not only an occasion for the Kadazan-Dusun people to express their gratitude for the harvest but also a time for the community to come together and celebrate their cultural heritage. It is a vibrant and lively festival that showcases the unique traditions, dances, and customs of the Kadazan-Dusun ethnic group, offering visitors a glimpse into their rich cultural tapestry.

Tadau Ka’amatan Harvest Festival30th – 31st MaySabah

Wesak Day

Wesak Day is a significant Buddhist festival celebrated in Malaysia. It holds great spiritual importance as it commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and attainment of the nirvana of Lord Buddha. The festival is observed by Buddhists across the country who engage in various religious activities to honour the teachings and values of Buddhism.

During Wesak Day, Buddhists adhere to fasting and dedicate themselves to meditation. This practice allows individuals to achieve a state of tranquillity and focus, enhancing their connection with the divine path towards enlightenment. In addition to fasting and meditation, Buddhists also engage in acts of kindness by offering food and charity to the poor, promoting compassion and generosity.

A unique feature of Wesak Day is the symbolic act of releasing doves and tortoises. Releasing doves symbolizes the liberation of the soul and the attainment of higher spiritual realms while releasing tortoises signifies the absolution of past life sins. These acts of liberation and forgiveness represent the journey towards spiritual enlightenment and liberation from suffering.

Wesak Day is a serene and spiritually uplifting festival that provides an opportunity for individuals to reflect on the teachings of Lord Buddha and strive towards personal growth and enlightenment. It serves as a reminder to embrace compassion, mindfulness, and the pursuit of inner peace in everyday life.

Wesak Day Rituals and Celebrations

On Wesak Day, Buddhist temples and monasteries are adorned with vibrant decorations, and devotees gather to participate in various religious rituals and ceremonies. These include chanting of sutras (Buddhist scriptures), lighting of oil lamps, and offering of flowers and incense at the altars.

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Buddhists also engage in the practice of “bathing the Buddha,” where a statue of Lord Buddha is ritually cleansed with scented water. This symbolic act represents the purification of the mind, body, and soul, as well as the washing away of impurities and negative karma.

During Wesak Day, devotees also participate in grand processions known as “Buddha Bathing Processions.” These processions involve the carrying of a statue of Lord Buddha through the streets, accompanied by music, chanting, and the recitation of Buddhist scriptures. The procession symbolizes the spreading of blessings, peace, and enlightenment to all beings.

Throughout the day, devotees engage in acts of merit-making, such as making donations to temples, offering alms to monks, and practising generosity towards others. The practice of giving is believed to generate positive karma and create a virtuous cycle of blessings and well-being.

Rituals and CelebrationsSignificance
Bathing the BuddhaPurification of the mind, body, and soul
Buddha Bathing ProcessionsSpreading blessings, peace, and enlightenment
Merit-makingGenerating positive karma and practicing generosity

Hari Raya Aidil Fitri (Eid)

Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, also known as Eid, is one of the most joyous festivals celebrated by Muslims in Malaysia. It marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. Muslims gather at mosques for special prayers, participate in feasting and house visits, and ask for forgiveness from friends and family members.

The Open House tradition is an integral part of Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, where Malaysians open their doors to guests and offer traditional delicacies and desserts. The festival is a time of celebration, forgiveness, and warm hospitality.

Sarawak Gawai Festival

The Sarawak Gawai Festival is a significant harvest festival celebrated by the indigenous Dayak community in Sarawak, Malaysia’s largest state. This month-long celebration begins on June 1st and showcases the rich cultural heritage and traditions of the Dayak people.

The Sarawak Gawai Festival is best experienced in a longhouse, which is a traditional Dayak home. These longhouses serve as a gathering place for the community during the festival, offering visitors a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in Dayak culture.

During the festival, Dayak people don traditional attire and participate in various activities such as making ceremonial offerings, performing traditional dances, and welcoming the New Year with joyous celebrations.

The festival is renowned for its vibrant and energetic traditional dances, which showcase the cultural heritage and creativity of the Dayak community. These dances depict ancient stories, legends, and spirits believed to bring blessings and prosperity for the upcoming year.

Feasting is another important aspect of the Sarawak Gawai Festival, and visitors can indulge in a variety of traditional Dayak dishes and delicacies. One such tradition is the drinking of rice wine known as “tuak,” which symbolizes unity, friendship, and prosperity.

The Sarawak Gawai Festival is a wonderful celebration of the Dayak culture and heritage, offering visitors an immersive experience filled with traditional dances, cultural rituals, culinary delights, and warm hospitality.

Rainforest World Music Festival

The Rainforest World Music Festival is one of the largest music festivals in Southeast Asia and a highlight of Malaysia’s cultural calendar. Held annually in the enchanting Sarawak Cultural Village in Borneo’s Sarawak state, this festival is a must-visit for music lovers seeking a unique blend of modern and traditional performances.

The Rainforest World Music Festival showcases live performances by talented international artists, offering a diverse range of musical genres from around the world. Visitors can immerse themselves in the captivating rhythms and melodies that resonate through the lush rainforest setting, creating an unforgettable experience.

Aside from the exceptional live performances, the festival also provides opportunities for cultural exchanges and workshops. Attendees can engage with artists, learn about different musical traditions, and participate in interactive sessions that deepen their appreciation for global musical diversity.

The Sarawak Cultural Village serves as the perfect backdrop for this extraordinary event, allowing visitors to explore authentic traditional houses and experience the rich cultural heritage of Sarawak. With its traditional longhouses, stunning natural surroundings, and warm hospitality, the Sarawak Cultural Village provides an immersive and enriching environment for festival-goers to fully embrace the spirit of the Rainforest World Music Festival.

What to Expect at the Rainforest World Music Festival

At the Rainforest World Music Festival, you can look forward to:

  • Live performances by acclaimed international artists
  • A unique musical experience amidst the rainforest
  • Cultural exchanges with artists and fellow attendees
  • Workshops and interactive sessions
  • Exploring the Sarawak Cultural Village and its traditional houses

Previous Performances at the Rainforest World Music Festival

YearHeadline Artists
2019Pablo Ziegler Trio, Afro Celt Sound System, Shanren
2018Toko Telo, Narcicyst, Didier Laloy & Kathy Adam
2017Grace Nono, Warsaw Village Band, Dakhabrakha

National Day

National Day, also known as Hari Merdeka, is a significant festival in Malaysia that celebrates the country’s independence from British rule in 1957. The festival is marked by spectacular fireworks, a grand parade at Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur, and concerts and performances throughout the day.

Parades, stage shows, and exhibitions are held across the country, but the celebrations in Kuala Lumpur are particularly vibrant. National Day is a time to reflect on Malaysia’s history, culture, and achievements as a nation.

Festivities on National Day

Kuala LumpurGrand parade, fireworks display, cultural performances
Other cities and townsParades, stage shows, exhibitions, community events

Mooncake Festival & Hungry Ghost Festival

The Mooncake Festival, also known as the Lantern Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival, is a traditional Chinese celebration in Malaysia. This festival holds great significance and is marked by various cultural traditions and activities that bring communities together.

Mooncakes: A Sweet Delight

One of the highlights of the Mooncake Festival is the giving and eating of mooncakes. Mooncakes are round pastries filled with a variety of sweet and savoury fillings, such as lotus seed paste and salted egg yolks. These delicious treats symbolize unity and are often shared among families and friends during the festival.

Lantern Processions: A Spectacle of Light

Colourful lantern processions are an integral part of the Mooncake Festival. People carry lanterns of various shapes and sizes, creating a mesmerizing display of light against the night sky. These processions not only add to the festive atmosphere but also represent the hope for a bright future.

Hungry Ghost Festival: Remembering the Ancestors

The Mooncake Festival also coincides with the Hungry Ghost Festival, which is dedicated to honouring and appeasing the spirits of the deceased. During this time, offerings are made to the ancestors, and special rituals are performed to ensure their well-being and protection. It is believed that during this festival, the gates of the underworld open, allowing the spirits to roam freely among the living.

The Mooncake Festival and Hungry Ghost Festival are times of unity, family gatherings, and community celebrations. They offer a glimpse into the rich Chinese cultural heritage and traditions observed in Malaysia.


Malaysia’s cultural diversity is beautifully reflected in its vibrant festival calendar. The country’s rich heritage comes to life through colourful celebrations that showcase different traditions, customs, and values. From Thaipusam and Chinese New Year to the Sarawak Gawai Festival and Rainforest World Music Festival, each event offers a unique experience that brings communities together and fosters a sense of unity.

These cultural festivals not only provide a glimpse into Malaysia’s cultural heritage but also offer visitors an opportunity to immerse themselves in the country’s vibrant and diverse society. Whether you’re exploring the grandeur of religious processions, indulging in traditional cuisines, or delighting in captivating dance performances, Malaysia’s festivals captivate the senses and leave a lasting impression.

As you plan your visit to Malaysia, be sure to check the festival calendar and mark these cultural celebrations on your itinerary. Experience the magic of Thaipusam, witness the energy of Chinese New Year, or groove to the rhythms of the Rainforest World Music Festival. Discover the cultural tapestry of Malaysia through its festivals, where you’ll be welcomed with open arms and immersed in a world of traditions.

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