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Attending Thaipusam in Batu Caves

Written By: jipp - Feb• 09•12

So, I attended Thaipusam at Batu Caves for the second time in a row after daring the crowd for the first time last year. As usual, the challenges began at the train station when I had to push my way in with all my might and let myself be sandwiched in the super-crowded train at least until it reached the intended destination – the world renown Batu Caves on the outskirt of Kuala Lumpur.I wouldn’t have wanted to go through all the rough experiences if it wasn’t for Thaipusam – a festival that for me the only ‘real festival’ here in Malaysia. Drawing hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world to commemorate the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel “spear” so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadam, it was certainly a celebration worth getting sandwiched for. 😀People have been piling up since morning so I joined the crowds with the same level of excitement that I had had last year.  The sun was blazing hot and the heat was potentially perilous but it didn’t stop the people from joining what was always considered one of the greatest festivals in the region.

I went to Batu Caves and brought with me a promise that I made last year, that I’d be joining the procession up to the cave instead of just watching it from the sideline like I did back then. With that promise tightly wrapped around my waist, I promptly got myself into the line and joined thousands of Hindu devotees to climb up the flights of stairs – all 272 steps of it – and witness the offering of Milk and Kavadi to the Lord Muruga up at the temple.

Oh well, climbing up the famous stairway at Batu Caves might be physically challenging at any time of the day but on the hindsight it actually offered an escape from the scorching sun which was what I needed most. Besides, with only a light sling back and a camera to contribute to the weight that I carried with me, it was nothing compared to those carried by kavadi bearers.

The view as seen from the stairway was already breath-taking on its own but the view of the sea of people that comes with it was simply amazing. It is there that you’d see how big and important the celebration is to the people. I could see kavadis of all sizes and decorations and women dressed in beautiful costumes with flowers neatly tucked in their hair and devotees carrying all kinds of ‘burdens’ on their backs – all contributing to such a colorful and visually captivating celebration.

The continuous chanting of ‘Vel Vel!’ from the marchers and the sound of gendang that comes with it brought an air of hilarity into the celebration. I was actually enjoying my moment there.Of course, Thaipusam at Batu Caves is most notably known for its extreme acts of devotion among the pilgrims and it came as a no surprise that they are the ones that draw most of the attention (and curiosity) from the tourists who are there to see the actions LIVE for themselves.

If witnessing the devotees carrying those heavy kavadis against flights of stairs up to the temple in the cave is already visually painful, wait until you see they do the piercing of flesh as part of their act of penance.

You’d see all kinds of things hooked to their flesh and skin and I have to tell that they are not the nicest things to see. I winced at the sight of somebody being pierced with a skewer right through the cheek. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!

Marching up to the temple at the cave had proved to be so worthwhile. There were definitely a lot of interesting things to see as I looked around from a high standing point. I saw people getting blessed and (some) fainted right after that they had to be laid down to the ground until they regain consciousness.

A man went into a fit of tantrum and shrieked at the top of her lungs after receiving a blessing from one of the religious men. The air of spirituality was highly felt that for a moment I could feel a wave of goose bumps flowing on the back of my neck. I finally got to see how they do the offering and the pouring of milk to end their procession with.

Thaipusam at the Batu Caves really is an amazing event that it is a no surprise that people from all around the globe come to see it and be part of the celebration itself.

Although it is more of a religious festival, there are certainly a lot of cultural elements in it and even more interesting is the fact that it is celebrated at such a big scale right here in Malaysia, a country of religious and cultural diversity.

I am glad was there to bear witness and be a part of it. 🙂

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8 Comments

  1. ken says:

    it’s nice of you to have the interest in experiencing the festival..
    thank you for sharing 🙂

  2. chegu carol says:

    to quote my colleague, “patut sabah swak pun dapat cuti thaipusam bah supaya kita buli pi berkunjung ke batu caves tingu org yg kena cucuk2 besi tajam” …hehehe

  3. Aud says:

    It’s a great experience, kan?

    The thing that struck me most when I saw with my own eyes was when they removed the hooks from the person’s back and rubbed some powder on it and it looked alright; no bleeding etc. Magic? Miracle? Faith?

    Oh, I see “spiritual pants”! 😉

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