“Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” These iconic words were shouted by the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia (back then known as Malaya) on August 31, 1957. Dubbed as the country’s Father of Independence, this prominent figure ended a centuries’ long fight for the country’s independence from the British, and on that day, declared Malaya as an independent nation. ‘Merdeka’ means ‘independent’ and while Malaysia has been free from colonization for more than 50 years ago, the Merdeka celebration is still a glorious annual event with different themes and programmes held during the auspicious month.
The Merdeka Day Parade is one of the most prominent events of the country, and is held on the morning of August 31 to mark and celebrate the country’s developments. Various government and private sectors march in front of the country’s leaders, such as Yang Di-Pertuan Agong (the King) and the Prime Minister, and citizens from all corners of the country. This is one of the finest times to witness the unity of the Malaysian society, as people of all races and religions come together at Dataran Merdeka – the venue for the parade – to witness the harmonious event.
We suggest getting there pretty early, around 07:00, if you’re planning to grab a spot during the widely-photographed event. Dataran Merdeka, which is situated just right across the iconic Sultan Abdul Samad building, can be reached via the nearest public transportation which is LRT Masjid Jamek. Be warned also of Malaysia’s unpredictable weather: bring an umbrella or a rain poncho in case of a sudden downfall.
The eighth month of the year also sees other Merdeka-related events, such as nationwide photography and video competitions and flag-waving ceremonies at several districts in the country. The Eve of Merdeka celebration will be held on August 30th, consisting of exciting activities such as firework displays and performances by various artistes. Located at Lake Putrajaya, the Eve of Merdeka event marks the first day of a six-day fireworks and a musical extravaganza called ‘Pyrobeat’, which comprises concerts, international fireworks competitions and games, as well as a food bazaar.
Other interesting sights prior to the pinnacle parade are the barrage of Malaysian flags erected in various places in the city. Jalur Gemilang, which is the name for the national flag, can be seen flying on private cars, restaurants, public schools and high-rise buildings. Companies such as Petronas and Tenaga Nasional Berhad are also known for their interesting yet touching National Day television advertisements, which usually tie in to the Independence Day themes with everyday morals and ethics, so watch out for these ads if you happen to be in the country during the month of August.