Kuala Lumpur: "Thaipusam Festival"
25 April 2010
At the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, I bought a small pamphlet for a souvenir. The title of the little book is Mystical Thaipusam: A Pictorial Book to Batu Caves and Thaipusam Festival.*
Some of the color photos in the book are of the caves and the shrines. But the writing and most of the photos are of the Thaipusam Festival. Here are some of the key phrases:
Thaipusam falls annually on the full moon day in the Tamil month of Thai which occurs between January 14th and February 15th. This is when the moon moves through the zodiac period of Cancer according to the Indian calendar…
800,000 people visit the caves during this celebration….
Hindu devotees pay homage to Lord Sri Subramanian….
A devotee who has vowed to a penance observes fasts….
The festival begins at 4 am at the Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur. Devotees reach the Batu Caves at 1 pm after a 15 km journey...stations on the route…make offerings…sing all the way.
Drummers…musicians…religious dignitaries…dance groups.
Some devotees may carry a pot of milk which would be poured on the deity to bathe.
Here are some of the photo captions:
Holy water being sprinkled
Hindu priests carrying holy water
Devotees carrying milk pots of their head.
A young devotee with a shaved head carrying a Hindu deity’s picture.
A young couple carrying their new born baby in a saffron cradle.
Huge kavadis (burdens) decorated with peacock feathers.
A devotee with his mouth pierced with a long skewer.
A devotee with pierced mouth, forehead and shoulders.
A priest piercing hooks on the body of a fellow devotee
A devotee’s back is pierced with dozens of hooks that are tied to strings. His partner pulls the strings. (Photo on front cover of pamphlet.)
Devotees with limes attached to hooks on their back.
A priest piercing the tongue of a female devotee.
Devotees dancing in a trance, accompanied by drummers and musicians.
A devotee in a trance pulling a chariot hooked to his back.
The pamphlet concludes:
“Malaysian Hindus celebrate Thaipusam in the grandest way in the whole world. Even in India. The festival is not so grand.”
Perhaps the festival is truly grand. Certainly, to my eyes, the photos in the little pamphlet were shocking. But will I return to Kuala Lumpur next year to witness the event?
Who can resist a celebration of almost a million religious, gold-clad Hindu devotees who are accompanied by drums that pound out the beat for the celebrants in their trance?
Will I return to KL next year along with tens of thousands of tourists? I’ll think about it. After all, I am a big city boy and I am used to crowds. I’ll take a drink or maybe a pill, and think about it.
* "Mystical Thaipusam." Sri Maha Mariamman Temple. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 2006