In Melaka particularly there used to be a famous Malay festival called “Pesta Mandi Safar”. It is supposedly a very Melakan thing. The bullock cart was the most important mode of transport even up the 50’s and 60’. It was always held on every Tuesday evening in the month of Safar in the Muslim calendar. The Malays say it this way…..” hari Selasa malam Rabu”. The last Tuesday night would be the grandest and finale.
On the first Tuesday night this festival was held all over Melakan villages such as Batu Gajah, Merlimau, Padang Temu and Tanjung Bidara and organized by the locals themselves. The last Tuesday night of Safar was the big one always celebrated in Tanjung Keling which is about 10km from the town. The Malay peasants repaired and decorated their bullock carts colorfully to be used as transport to Tg. Keling for the big day. Even the bulls were washed and had their horns and hoofs polished too. Some folks started out for Tg. Keling even two days before the festival proper and convoyed there in a festive mood by singing the dondang saying complete with drum and gong accompaniment.
At Tg. Keling, mobile stages were constructed for doing the joget and ronggeng dances. Professional female dancers were available for dancing but some payment was required. This was an additional attraction for the event. But no mixed dancing was allowed and only girls danced. Even male musicians were not allowed to dance. The dondang sayang “membalas pantun” was a major attraction. The entertainment went on till late in the night and sometimes till dawn. On Wednesday morning bathing in the sea was a must and part and parcel of the Mandi Safar festival. Needless to say, it was also a time when boys and girls met and even suitable life partners were found at such festivals.
The Mandi Safar is said to have roots in Hinduism which was the religion of the Melaka Malays before the advent of Islam. The ritual bathing of Hindus in The Ganges to cleanse oneself has been linked to Mandi Safar in more recent times. With more venues for entertainment and increasing modernization the Mandi Safar was discontinued and underwent a name change to Pesta Budaya and was held at Pantai Kundur. This turned out to be a even a greater “party” event than the traditional Mandi Safar. The resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism in Malaysia around the same period completely put an end to this great traditional festival which is now almost completely forgotten. Not sure whether it’s taught in schools.