Thaipusam at Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur

Posted by Lakshmi

This year the Hindu holy day of Thaipusam falls on 30 January which also happens to be my other half's birthday .   Thaipusam is actually a holy festival which is uniquely celebrated by the Hindus in Malaysia   It is celebrated on a grand scale  at Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, Port Klang in Selangor  and in Penang

Many would have seen devotees carrying wooden or metal 'kavadis' with spears in varying sizes pierced to their back.   Some of the more awe inspiring ones pull chariots with their hooks also pierced to their back.. It's simply an out-of-this-world experience, just watching them go through the requirements and rituals which culminates and ends on Thaipusam Day. 

By way of a brief explanation - those devotees who carry the various 'kavadis' are in actual fact doing their penance for the fulfilment of their vow by Lord Muruga, the presiding deity for Thaipusam. The   vows taken could range  anything from solving difficult problems, a childless couple wanting a child, overcoming  a serious deathbed illness, praying for continued good health and prosperity or just starting a new venture or beginning.  The devotee who undertakes the vow has to stick to a vegetarian diet for a minimum of 1 month.  It doesn't mean license to eat  24 hours a day !.  After their early morning sunrise bath and prayers, breakfast is a  glass of milk, lunch is glass of milk and dinner at sunset is  minimal  and simple vegetarian meal of fruits and cooked dhall/lentils. Spiritual hymns and songs are sung to honour  Lord Muruga.  On the last day, which is Thaipusam itself, the devotee would go early in the morning to the temple, have a ritual cleansing , offer prayers and have their body pierced.  This only applies to the males.  Female devotees only carry simple pots of milk or charred pots of  smoldering coal embers.  All this is done at a fair distance from the main temple, after which the gruelling bare-foot walk in the hot sun begins.  The uniqueness of  the Batu Caves temple is that not only  have they to walk bare foot for a distance of 3 - 5 kilometres with the weight of the heavy metal kavadis and spears, but also walk up the steep 272 steps to reach the temple. 

I don't know how they accomplish this mind-boggling feat but the beauty is, they don't feel the pain, nor the heavy weight of the chariot and kavadis that they pull with their back, nor a single drop of blood drips despite the sharp hooks used to pierce the flesh.  And the hands holding the pot of  burning coal embers doesn't get scorched! It also goes without saying that whatever they had asked for is fulfilled .  Thus the penance.  This is, in fact, akin  to the Muslims ' sembayang hajat' prayers. 

Numerous westerners, from  the Swedes, Germans, Americans, British, Chinese and others have taken part in the prayers to have their wishes fulfilled  and if you go to Batu Caves on Saturday, you'd be sure to see them. 

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