Festivals of the World – Thaipusam, Batu Caves

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Thaipusam is one of the most famous Indian Religious Festivals in the World…Outside of India, you can see this spectacle of Hindu celebration everywhere: from the United States to Mauritius and Singapore…It pays tribute to the Lord Murugan, son of Shiva, the God of war and Commander-in-Chief of the ‘Devas’ army, a Race of benevolent supernatural beings… It is said that after he received a ‘Vel’ (spear) from his mother Parvati, the Goddess of Love, he was bestowed with Divine strength and power, as an embodiment of her ‘Shakti’ (empowerment). With this Power, Murugan vanquishes Soorapadman, a powerful Villain in the tale, also known as a demigod of the Asura clan.

The festival honours Lord Murugan as the embodiment of Shiva’s light and wisdom, the Divine vanquisher of Evil who, using Celestial forces, defeated the Asura during the full moon of the ‘Thai’ month (end-Jan, beginning of Feb) when the ‘Pusam‘ (star) was at its highest point, as such, it is celebrated by Tamil communities across the world.

In the Sacred Story, Lord Murugan fires his Vel and splits a mango tree personifying Soorapadman, in two halves…. One of the halves became a rooster and the other a peacock. As a result, the Peacock became his vahana or deity mount (vehicle) while the other half, the rooster, became the emblem on his Battle flag.

Being so central to the tale, the Vel has since become an object of worship in the Temples of Murugan. And that’s why, during Thaipusam Festival (Kuala Lumpur), some devotees pierce their skin, tongue or cheeks with skewers, while they travel in massive processions, during their pilgrimage to Murugan’s Temple.

SYMBOLISM OF THAIPUSAM

During the 3-day festival, the devotees carry Kavadis (burdens), seek penance and blessings from Lord Murugan, along with His graceful help in eliminating and overcoming any and all Trials and Tribulations they may face in their day to day lives. In this way, Thaipusam is, at its very centre, all about Faith, graceful Endurance and Penance…
Thaipusam Festival @Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia

The pilgrimage route to the Temple

On the day of Thaipusam, devotees shave their heads before setting on the Procession route, carrying different types of burdens, from simple pots of milk on their head, to full kavadis – not an easy task, when you consider that a full Kavadi is a semi-circular decorated wooden support, built with bowed metal frames and long skewers embedded, some as long as two metres!

Kavadis bearers hang pots and fruit off of their chests with hooks while pulling chariots

These kavadis are carried on their shoulders and/or torso and are heavily decorated with flowers and peacock feathers…. Since some of these burdens may weigh up to hundred kilogrammes…you can understand how easy it is for their weight to pierce human flesh …Some the pilgrims even have long chains hanging down with hooks pushed directly into their backs! …but those who go to these extremes have claimed they don’t feel any real pain as it is blocked, in a way, by a spiritual trance, which seems to be directly related to the surrounding, constant, chanting, drumming and incense…which makes the whole scene vibrate in a way you can’t imagine. What a spectacle that is!

THAIPUSAM FESTIVITIES

The religious procession itself begins at Dawn, on the morning of Thaipusam at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, just outside Kuala Lumpur, where crowds line up in droves, to watch a silver plated Chariot, carrying a statue of Lord Murugan, which makes its way through the City, while heading towards the Batu Caves Temple…. It is SO colourful…it’s hard to find words to describe it!…but featuring dominant yellow and orange shades: the symbolic colours of renunciation: Women wear jasmine flowers in their hair and the Devotees and kavadi bearers start to make their way to the Temple Cave and climb the 272 stairs at the base of Batu Cave Temple.

Once the devotees climb the steps of the Temple, they have finished their Thaipusam pilgrimage. Once inside the Shrine, they perform a final dance before the image of Lord Murugan. After that, they are allowed to unhook their kavadis, perform the final Rituals and say their Prayers, wishing for Lives refreshed and invigorated.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

BATU CAVES ESSENTIALS

As for the Temple itself? Sri Subramanya Temple at Batu Caves complex in Kuala Lumpur was dedicated in 1892 to Lord Murugan. Batu Caves is actually one of the 10 most important Hindu holy shrines anywhere, and some see it as the primary, outside of India. With a 42.7m (140 feet!) golden statue of Lord Murugan, holding His Vel outside Batu Caves, it is no surprise that this place has been a focal point of Thaipusam, in recent times. The Statue took 3 years to construct and it is the tallest statue of the Deity in the World.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Crowds gathered in front of Batu Caves walking up the steps to the Cave Temple, 9th Feb 2017

At the top of the steps, is the Temple Cave, which houses several Hindu Shrines beneath its high cavernous ceiling…. It has also become the home to scores of macaque monkeys that hop about and play in the shadows of the Cave… Pass the Temple cave, and you find the Dark Cave, a two-kilometre network of, relatively, untouched caverns. Stalactites and Stalagmites, fall from the Cave roof, and rise from the floor, forming intricate patterns, lending Texture to the interior. Batu Caves is part of a classic limestone outcrop, as high as 150 m in some parts around the area, and as such has also become a centre for rock climbing development in Malaysia… for the past 10 years, the Caves that make this outcrop, have become peppered with more than 160 climbing routes around and in the proximity of the Temple.

HOW TO GET TO BATU CAVES

It might sound like a remote place of Beauty but it’s not, at all… it’s on the outskirts of the City, and so The Temple is easy to reach using the KTM commuter train, and yes, you can take a car…but remember: Lots of People always means a lot less Parking, every time…saying that: even with Traffic and Parking, the entire trip should only be around 20-30min from the city centre.

Sanctified ash is sprinkled over the hooks and skewers piercing the devotees’ flesh; no blood is shed during the piercing or removal

So, my Memories of Thaipusam? …First….The Energy. There was this incredible energy ‘wave’ that was collectively generated by all the People, that shook me to my Bones…. After that, it would have to be the Colours, in variety and intensity…and let’s not forget the sheer Curiosity of understanding such a deep and significant event in Hinduism, as an Outsider… Personally, I find it incredibly special that people are prepared to make such a commitment, to the point of physical pain, in such a dramatic way, driven by Belief… A wonderful Place, and similarly a wonderful Festival to experience. One of the Top destinations in Kuala Lumpur and the Best Indian festival in Malaysia.

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