Tabuik Festival in Pariaman

Just over an hour of easy driving, some 56 kilometers north of Padang, lies the harbour town of Pariaman, located along  a beautiful 7-mile coastline. Once known as a thriving seaport, it is now better known for its Tabuik celebrations, the reenactment of the Battle of Karbala and the martyrdom of the grandchildren of the Prophet Muhammad, Hasan and Husyein along with their family members, which day is better known as the day of Ashura. Therefore, a visit to Pariaman would be best during the first ten days of the month of Muharram, or the first month in the Moslem lunar calendar, when the Tabuik tower is ritually prepared, watched over, and the day massively celebrated.

In its heydays the port of Pariaman was crowded with local and international merchants. Centuries ago, this was the port where traders from the Minangkabau interior of West Sumatra brought gold, pepper, honey, and candlenuts and other local produce to sell and exchange at Pariaman. In the 15th Century, Pariaman became known as an important trading center for Camphor and pepper.  While, during the early 17th century, the Sultanate of Aceh came to rule the area.  However, with the arrival of the Dutch Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), which came to dominate the Indonesian archipelago’s strategic trading ports, Pariaman also fell under the control of the VOC. Historical records recount that the people were unhappy under the Dutch and launched continuous revolts for near to a century, forcing the VOC to finally abandon this port.

Tabuik festival in Pariaman
Tabuik festival in Pariaman (Source :

Pariaman’s history, in fact, started much earlier. Since long time, traders from China, India and other parts of the Indonesian islands called on this port. The oldest record was written by a Portuguese official in Asia, called Tome Pires (1446 – 1524) who mentioned that people from India came to develop successful commerce here, especially with the people of Tiku and Barus (now in the province of North Sumatra), who traded in the camphor tree crystal compounds, locally known as Kamper or Kapur Barus. Camphor was popular in China to make wooden chests to keep textiles from being damaged by weather and insects. Pires also noted that there was horse trading between the Batak from North Sumatra and merchants from Tanah Sunda on Java.

Tabuik, Traders, and Raffles British Raj Army

In 1527, two trading ships from France with two brothers on board, Jean and Raoul Parmentier, visited Pariaman. The story has it that the ship anchored here because of the sick crew, and the brothers landed at Tiku and Indrapura. However, they left no significant records on the territory. On November 21st, 1600, the first Dutch ship anchored at Pariaman and Tiku under the command of Paulus Van Cardeen, which was sailing southward from Aceh and Pasaman. Later, Cornelis de Houtman was also one of Dutch sailors to visit Pariaman and sailed further south to Sunda Kelapa, today known as Jakarta.

In 1686, as recorded by W. Marsden, the ‘Pryaman’, or people of Pariaman, started to develop contact with the British. At that time, the Indian Sepoy army under the British Raj, were stationed at Pariaman by order of British Governor Sir Stamford Raffles. These Indians introduced many of their traditions and teachings to the Moslem population in this area. Although contact between the Indians and the local population was not very intensive, yet some traces flourished to become one of the important cultural heritage of the region such as we know today.

Parading the Tabuik

The Indian Army and traders introduced their tradition called Muharram, known locally as Tabuik. The term tabuik, is derived from Bahasa Indonesia, tabut, which has been practiced here since 1831. The port Pariaman is steeped in this tradition and it became one of the places in the world where the remembrance of the martyrdom of Hasan bin Ali and Husyain bin Ali is celebrated.

On the tenth day of Muharram, people in Pariaman traditionally gather to see the tall handsomely decorated tower, symbolizing a funeral structure where the coffin of Al-Husyain would be rested on the day of mourning. Visually, the procession and tower closely resemble the Balinese bade tower at a royal cremation, however, the concept behind tabuik is completely different, and no fire is involved. Besides meant as the day of mourning, tabuik also refers to the decorated tower, which will eventually be floated in the sea at the Gondoriah Beach. Here followers will swim and pluck a ‘souvenir’ from the sinking tabuik.


Nasi Sek is one of the specific meals from Pariaman. It used to be a wrapped nasi padang, plain rice with minimal Padang food. Now, Nasi Sek is wrapped in banana leaves with a large portion along with stacks of small plates full of savory Padang food served on the table.

Pariaman is said to be economically challenged when it turned to become quiet since the development the Padang railroad that bypasses this town.  And as it lies close to city of Padang, day trippers usually will stay in Padang as it offers more comprehensive facilities for travelers. However, if you decide to stay in Pariaman, there are several hotels here easily found. One of the places you can choose in Pariaman and dubbed as the best is :

Nan Tongga Beach Hotel, Tugu Perjuangan Street, no. 45 , Pariaman.

Glorious Celebrations of Tabuik

Come and learn the essence of tabuik during the month of Muharram, the first month in the Moslem lunar calendar. The pinnacle of the event falls on the tenth day of Muharram. If you wish to follow all the preparations and processions, arrive here on the first day of the month for Tabuik.

In other countries, tabuik manifests itself in other names, like Muharram, Hosay or Tadjah, derived from the focal characters in the event, which is the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, Al-Husyain, also spelled Hosayn or Hussein who was  killed in the month of Muharram in Karbala. Tabuik has travelled far away to the other side of the globe, such as to Tobago, Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname, and Jamaica, where Shia Moslems from India and around were sent during colonial days. Pariaman, which means ‘safe area’, is now a center point for tabuik, hosay, Muharram, or Tadjah, in Indonesia.

On the first day of Muharram, officials gather red soil, symbolizing the bloody soil of Karbala. Many places in Indonesia bear the name of ‘tana merah’, ‘tanah abang’, or ‘lemah abang’ referring to this particular event in the Battle of Karbala, which concept was brought by the Shia Moslems. Two groups of Tabuik – the Tabuik Pasar and the Tabuik Seberang – initiate the process. Tabuik Pasar usually gather the soil at Alai Gelombang Village, whereas the Tabuik Seberang take this at Pauh Village, each assigning a man wearing white costume.

The soil will then be placed in a daraga, or container found inside each tabuik tower. At the same time, another group demonstrates the banana-tree slicing ceremony, symbolizing the pain that Husyain suffered when he was mutilated by his betraying friend. On the 7th day of Muharram, a rite called ma’atam is conducted, symbolizing the mutilated hands of Husyain, which brings all beholders to tears. The two groups of tabuik will then meet at the crossroad depicting the Battle of Karbala.

On the 8th day, the replica of Husyain’s scarf is paraded around the village to show that he was the true guardian of the weak, the legitimate steward of direction, and a successor of the righteous model, his grandfather, Prophet Muhammad. The pinnacle of the event takes place on the 10th day, right at 04.00 o’clock early in the morning, when two tabuik towers are joined to become a single tall structure of around 21 to 24 feet tall, with an effigy of buraq, the symbol of the celestial ‘vehicle’ who accompanies Husyain to heaven.

Follow the crowd to the Gondoriah Beach as the tall tabuik is released to the open sea, and swim if you wish to bring home an item from the sanctified tabuik as a souvenir from your stay of over a week in Pariaman. On other days, the beach is a place for the locals to hang out, and there are several places along the coastline that you can visit, such as at the Cermin Beach and Teluk Belibis Beach. Fishermen live peacefully around these beaches and you can rent boats to go to a deserted island.

Pariaman is also home for local painters as the natural characteristics are a source of inspiration for the artists. Ask around and people will tell you where to find some of the talented painters, including Nasar, Nurdin, Muslim Saleh, Zaini, who have painted for over 50 years, and studied from a renowned painter, Ernest Dezentjé (1954).


It is best to find a hotel in Padang before you proceed to Pariaman, unless you wish to intentionally stay in the quiet and peaceful town.

Drive your motorbike or rented car from Padang to the north, following the road to Lake Maninjau. The town is only an hour’s drive at a safe speed. If you take a public transportation, the trip will cost you around IDR 10,000 or less.

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