Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Thaipusam at Batu Caves

A very simple introduction to Thaipusam: It is a Hindu festival celebrated mainly by the Tamil community during the fullmoon on the tenth month of the Hindu calendar. Pots of milk are offered to Lord Murugan, the god of war, to give thanks for his blessings. Some devotees also shave their heads, carry the Kavadi or pierce their bodies as a way to seek blessings from Lord Murugan.

After years of thinking about going but being put off last minute by stories about how busy it gets with more than a million visitors yearly, warnings about pick pockets etc. we were so glad that we've finally made it there this year!

The best way to get there is by KTM Komuter train. It takes about half an hour from KL Sentral station, stops right beside Batu Caves and costs an affordable RM 2:60 one way. Much better than braving the horrendous traffic and not even sure where to park if we were to drive there.

We had planned to go as early as the first available train, which we thought was at 6.54am, but we found out (not on their website  ) that the Komuter trains operates round the clock the entire weekend during festival. Anyway, we got the 6.25am train and enjoyed watching the sky slowly turn bright as we approach the caves.

The first thing that greeted us as we got of the train was the loud music! There were rows of stalls set up selling food, clothing and even an amusement park complete with bumper cars and scary rides! While we struggled to find the connection between that and the festival itself, the kids and the young at heart probably loved those extra bits after their prayers.

Thanks to tips from a friend, we did not go up the stairs to the temple in the cave since it was really busy and we didn't want to get into any accidents with the kavadis being carried up and down the 272 steps.

Instead, we made our way out to the river across the other side of the railway track to witness devotees getting ready to have their face/body pierced and to carry their Kavadi or pots of milk offerings up to the caves.

One of the many stalls set up for head shaving.

This guy's rope is attached to the hooks pierced on the other guy's back! Looks painful, but he's in a trance and doesn't feel the pain. One of the videos taken by hubby:
Really loud drums and very similar to the ones used in the cremation ceremony that we've seen in
Bali! The sights and sounds were so incredible, we felt as if we were in a National Geographic video.

We could be anywhere in India!

Preparing the Kavadi.
Prayers before carrying the milk offering up to the caves. 
 Spotted this.

If you're planning to go for next year's celebration:
1. Take the train, and if you have the time, go to KL Sentral on the day before to check out the train timetable.
2. Going early means getting the nice morning breeze, less crowd and getting to see the devotees preparing themselves for their march to the caves.
3. The procession of the silver chariot that carries the statue of Lord Muruga to Batu Caves starts off from Sri Mahamariamman Temple in Chinatown the evening of 2 days before if you'd like to see that.
4. Preparation for the kavadi carriers takes place by the river nearby, just cross the pedestrian bridge over the railway track and follow the crowd there.
5. We were told to not carry bags and valuables. While we did not carry much valuables except for our cameras, we felt that it was pretty safe (early in the morning anyway) but I did put my sling bag to the front and kept an eye on it at all times.
6. Take it all in with an open mind.

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