Thaipusam at the Batu Caves 2019 (Monday Afternoon)

Rising almost 100 m above the ground, the Batu Caves temple complex consists of three main caves and a few smaller ones. The biggest, referred to as Cathedral Cave or Temple Cave, has a very high ceiling and features ornate Hindu shrines. To reach it, visitors must climb a steep flight of 272 steps. The Batu Caves serve as the focus of the Hindu community’s yearly Thaipusam (Tamil: தைபூசம்) festival. They have become a pilgrimage site not only for Malaysian Hindus, but Hindus worldwide, from countries such as India, Australia and Singapore. A procession begins in the wee hours of the morning on Thaipusam from the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur leading up to Batu Caves as a religious undertaking to Lord Muruga lasting eight hours. Devotees carry containers containing milk as offering to Lord Murugan either by hand or in huge decorated carriers on their shoulders called ‘kavadi’. The kavadi may be simple wooden arched semi-circular supports holding a carrier foisted with brass or clay pots of milk or huge, heavy ones which may rise up to two metres, built of bowed metal frames which hold long skewers, the sharpened end of which pierce the skin of the bearers torso. The kavadi is decorated with flowers and peacock feathers imported from India. Some kavadi may weigh as much as a hundred kilograms. After bathing in the nearby Sungai Batu (Rocky River), the devotees make their way to the Temple Cave and climb the flights of stairs to the temple in the cave. Devotees use the wider centre staircase while worshippers and onlookers throng up and down those balustrades on either side. When the kavadi bearer arrives at the foot of the 272-step stairway leading up to the Temple Cave, the devotee has to make the arduous climb. Priests attend to the kavadi bearers. Consecrated ash is sprinkled over the hooks and skewers piercing the devotees’ flesh before they are removed. No blood is shed during the piercing and removal.

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