Feb 08 2012
For three days every year, the Batu Caves temple complex is at the centre of Malaysia’s most extraordinary religious event — the Hindu festival of Thaipusam.
On the first day, a procession wends its way from central Kuala Lumpur to the complex, which is about 15km to the north. Setting off just after midnight, it takes more than 14 hours to reach the approach road to Batu Caves.
Pride of place in the procession goes to a silver chariot carrying an idol of Lord Murugan, the deity whose victory over an evil demon Thaipusam celebrates.
Tens of thousands of people line the route of the procession, often waiting hours for a glimpse of the chariot. Many have offerings for Lord Murugan such as flowers and fruit.
Over the three days, between 700,000 and a million people throng Batu Caves, a veritable sea of humanity. No other festival in Malaysia can match the sheer size, colour and energy of Thaipusam.
Batu Caves becomes a massive bazaar for the duration of the festival, offering everything from vegetarian food to budget flights to India. Somehow, all this commerce does not detract from the religious essence of Thaipusam.
By the massive golden statue of Lord Murugan, is the final ordeal — 272 steps up to the main cave temple.
The left hand lane is reserved for people carrying kavadis — a cross between a burden and an offering. They are a way of asking for divine favour, or offering gratitude for an already granted favour.
Kavadis — most commonly pails of milk — are also a way of making penance for past misdeeds.
Many people shave their heads in honour of Thaipusam. Another popular activity associated with the festival, particularly on the third day, is to smash coconuts.
Nothing can prepare a first time visitor for the sights, the smells, the crowds, the exuberance of Thaipusam at Batu Caves.
We also covered what happened in Singapore for Thaipusam yesterday.
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