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Culture of Penang

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Title: Culture of Penang  
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Subject: List of Malaysia-related topics
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Culture of Penang

This article is about the culture of the Malaysian state of Penang.


  • Arts and Culture 1
  • Festivals and Carnivals 2
  • Artists 3
  • Nightlife 4
  • See also 5

Arts and Culture

The Penang State Museum house artefacts and cultural exhibits. The present building, which was formerly the Penang Free School, is actually half a building, the other half of the building having been destroyed by aerial bombing during World War II. A bronze cast of Captain Francis Light, used to stand outside the museum building. It has since returned to Fort Cornwallis where it was first unveiled by the colonial administration. A small museum, it has a fine collection of old photographs, maps and historical records charting the growth of Penang from the days of Francis Light.

The Penang State Art Gallery and the Pinang Gallery showcase the works of local artists. A newer gallery, the USM ABN-Amro Arts and Cultural Centre, located at Beach Street, was established in 2002 to promote art awareness among Penang citizens. Sadly the USM ABN-Amro Arts and Cultural Centre closed down in early December 2006 due to lack of patronage. The Universiti Sains Malaysia Museum and Gallery possesses a large ethnographic and performing arts section with a special exhibition on wayang kulit. The art gallery features works by Malaysian artists. Other establishments promoting art awareness include the Alliance française de Penang and Hotel Bellevue.

Penang has a relatively active arts scene. The Penang State Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (Pessoc) is a government-supported youth orchestra and choir. The Penang Symphony Orchestra is another amateur orchestra. The Fingerprints Chamber Choir is a leading chamber choir, with members comprising mainly singing teachers and advanced singing students. It has won prizes at several competitions and performs regularly at various festivals and recitals in the country. Other ensembles include the Penang State Chinese Orchestra (a Chinese instrumental orchestra), ProArt Chinese Orchestra, and many other school-based musical groups.

The Actors’ Studio Greenhall performs stage plays from time to time.

Penang hosts the annual Penang-YTL Arts Festival in December, with theatrical performances, contemporary and traditional dances, art and photography exhibitions, as well as concerts of classical and modern music. The programmes are drawn up by the Penang Arts Council every year and are partly sponsored by the YTL Group of Companies, a corporate patron of the arts scene in Malaysia.

Penang is also home to the indigenous boria, a fading art form with singing and dancing once popular among the local Malay community.

Lion dance is an ancient art form brought from China by early Chinese immigrants, and over time has evolved into a distinctive Malaysian style. The earliest record of lion dancing in Malaysia was the official registration of a Penang lion dance troupe back in 1903 but it is indisputable that the Chinese community had been practising it long before then. The Chinese place special significance to this dazzling form of art, associating it good luck, power, strength, majesty and happiness [1]. Today lion dance remains actively performed especially during Chinese New Year and also during the opening of new businesses.

Festivals and Carnivals

The Penang Buddhist Association on Anson Road, built in 1925

Roysten Abel, "Blinded Mind" by Susanna Leinonen Company, The Philippine Madgrigal Singers, Sbaek Thom - Cambodian Shadow Puppets by Cambodia Living Arts, the Tilak Fernando Dance Troupe from Sri Lanka and the Australian Youth Band. The 2013 Festival promises to be bigger and better. [2]

Chingay is a Penang festival which is held every year as part of the Chinese New Year celebrations and also during the birthdays of Chinese deities. Its history stretched back to 1880. At the turn of the century, Penang became famous for its "Giant Flags Procession". Flag bearers carry and balance giant flag poles (some 10m high) on their shoulders, chins and foreheads then tossing them to the next bearers. Chingay later spread to other states and Singapore.

Penang hosts the annual Penang International Dragon Boat Festival. Established in 1979, this event attracts competitors from as far as the United States, Japan, South Africa and the Netherlands. Dragon boat races can trace their roots back to ancient China and have been going on in Penang waters since 1934 [3]. The current festival is held at the Teluk Bahang Dam.

Pesta Pulau Pinang is a lively and colourful carnival held every year in December.This event were held by Penang State Financial Department under Tapak Pesta and Expo Units and the festivity includes open-air concerts, variety shows, food bazaars, fun fairs, exhibitions, pet shows, a beauty pageant and many more.

Thaipusam is an annual religious event celebrated by Hindus to commemorate the victory of Lord Murugan over the demons. It falls on a full moon day on the Tamil tenth month of Thai. Devotees and penitents can seen bearing kavadis, and piercing their bodies with hooks and spears without seeming to cause any pain or harm as an act of faith and atonement. The centre of the celebration takes place at the Nattukkottai Chettiar Temple Penang at Waterfall Road where the chariot procession ends.

As in other places with a substantial population of Chinese people, Chinese New Year is a grand affair in Penang, celebrated with firecrackers, lion dance, sumptuous feasts and open houses. It is also an occasion for family reunions, visiting friends and relatives, and gift exchanges.

Deepavali, also known as the Festival of Lights, celebrates the triumph of good over evil.

The Hungry Ghost Festival (Phor Tor) is celebrated on a grand scale by the Penang Chinese. The Chinese believe that on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, the gates of hell would open and that the dead souls would be free to roam amongst the living. The Chinese would placate the 'hungry ghosts' by burning incense, making food offerings and performing Chinese opera on makeshift stages. At the end of the month-long festival, a giant effigy of the King of Hell is burned. Throughout the month, it is ill-advised to travel, go out at night, swim or wed.


International Artist Goh Lee Kwang born and live in Penang.


Penang comes alive at night, with many lively night spots such as pubs, bars, bistros, discos, cafes, and even roadside stalls. The most popular places to go to are Upper Penang Road with its many trendy pubs such as Soho Free House, Momo, Fame, Mois, Carmen and Slippery Senoritas; Chulia Street which is awash with many little bars popular with travellers; Pulau Tikus with its Belissa Row and the likes of Orange Bar and Segafredo; and Gurney Drive with its Gurney Walk and Gurney Place. The seaside resort of Batu Ferringhi and Tanjung Bungah also feature many hotel lounges such as Asmara Lounge, The Lounge and Sunset Lounge. Lower-priced eating places like the ubiquitous mamak stalls open till early in the morning, whose signature dishes are roti canai (Indian bread) and teh tarik (milk tea). Also, insatiable Penangites often eat till late at night in places like coffee shops.

See also

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