– JANUARY 23-29, 2015
We have arrived back in Kuala Lumpur to attend the annual celebration named Thaipusam. Over a million Hindus gather every year at various temples in Malaysia to celebrate Thaipusam. The exact date of this important Hindu event is based on the full moon day in the month of Thai (January/February) in the Hindu calendar. Thaipusam is a celebration dedicated to the Hindu deity Lord Murugan (youngest son of Shiva and his wife Parvati). The celebrations take place on a grand scale at the Batu Caves just outside of Kuala Lumpur.
Thaipusam is observed as a day of thanksgiving and paying penance. In many states in Malaysia, Thaipusam is a public holiday. Devotees prepare themselves for the occasion by cleansing their bodies through fasting and abstinence, and usually observe a vegetarian diet for a certain period of time. Many devotees began paying penance a few days before the actual festival, with the carrying of the kavadi (a decorated structure bearing the image of several deities including Lord Murugan) on their shoulders and pal kodum (milk pots) carried above their heads.
Celebrations at Batu Caves can be an amazing experience for outsiders, as annually over 10.000 tourists visit the celebrations at the caves. The night before Thaipusam, Hindus gather at the Sri Mahamariaman Temple along Jalan Tun HS Lee (Chinatown/Petaling Street area). From there they will leave around midnight on a 15 kilometer (approximately 8 hour) walk towards the Batu Caves where they will arrive the next morning. The long trip culminates in the flight of 272 steps to the cave entrance. It is said that well over a million people visit the Batu Caves during Thaipusam.
When you arrive at the Batu Caves on the day of Thaipusam don’t be surprised (or rather shocked) to see many people in trance. Some are being carried by their siblings, wives, husbands or other relatives. Many men (and also the occasional woman) have themselves shaved at one of the many barbers, which explains why you see many devotees walking around with bald heads on this day. One of the aspects that make Thaipusam so interesting is the way that devotees pay penance to Lord Murugan. Some pierce their skin, tongue or cheeks with Vel skewers. Men even hang on multiple hooks while being pushed forward or pulled backwards. Some had many small hooks in their backs with small decorations. You will even notice some people being blessed by others; which led to great excitement with the devotee expressed by dancing uncontrollably and waving arms wildly.
Devotees carry pal kavadi offerings at Thaipusam festival.
Devotees, tourists and locals all are allowed to go up the stairs to the actual caves. There the Hindus will pray and also say thanks at numerous altars. The area around the Batu Caves is filled with small stalls where food, snacks, drinks and also many religious items are sold. There is also a small children’s amusement park. Walking through the small stalls can be a bit crowded; same goes for the stairs up to the caves. Foreigners can get real close to the action as there is a special area where actual press (and tourists) are allowed to take close-up photographs and videos of the devotees that are waiting to start their climb up the stairs that lead into the Batu Caves.
We then spent a few more days in Kuala Lumpur after the celebration, which included some great food at the restaurant LOKL.
This last picture from Kuala Lumpur isn’t food related, but this display caught Jill’s eyes when she read the name brand as “Placenta” hair products. Yup…
That’s it for Malaysia…on to the Philippines for our final country on this 365 day adventure!
For more photos of our adventure go to our flickr account here.