Thaipusam at Batu Caves – 1.5 Million People!

Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (Jan/Feb). Pusam refers to a star that is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates both the birthday of Lord Murugan (also Subramaniam), the youngest son of Shiva and Parvati, and the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel (lance) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman.

The biggest Thaipusam festivals in the world are in Malaysia and Singapore, most notably in Malaysia at Batu Caves, a place everyone that lives here should be familiar with.

This year there was 1.5 million people expected at Batu Caves, that’s an experience everyone should feel I think. Plus the sights, sounds and smells of being up close with the people bearing Kavadi (burdens) and piercing themselves. At its simplest and most common as I noticed, the Kavadi may entail carrying a pot of milk, but mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers is also common. The most spectacular practice is the vel kavadi, essentially a portable altar up to two meters tall, decorated with peacock feathers and attached to the devotee through 108 vels pierced into the skin on the chest and back.

Some info is from here: Thaipusam at Wikipedia

I also spotted The Snark there and a few other photogs I recognise.

I went very early to avoid the chaos that ensues around 7/8am, I arrived at the caves around 4am and found a pretty decent parking place nearby.

Then I headed inside..

I was shocked to find at 4am there were already droves of people, it was chaos!

Arrival at Batu Caves

The piercing and Kavadi had already started when I arrived and floods of people were making their pilgrimage up the 272 stairs of Batu Caves.

Kavadi

The atmosphere was intense.

Batu Caves

Experiencing people in a trance at such a close proximity was quite something, with their tongues extended, eyes bulging and skewers through their cheeks..at times it was quite scary.

Kavadi Trance

The most common things used as weights on the piercings were leaves (lime leaves I assume), limes themselves and bells.

Limes

Some people were covered.

Lots of Limes

And some people rolled all the way there…

Rolling

Some did it without the fancy costumes, just in a pair of Levis.

Levis

The beating of the drums was intense and overpowering, at times I felt like I could drift into a trance..

Dance

Intense..

Intense

Some people were very calm.

Calm

Lord Murugan overlooked the crowds.

Murugan

There were all ages of kids.

Kid

And some beautiful women, albeit with skewers in their faces.

Beauty

This guy really didn’t like having his photograph taken and freaked out as we took his picture, he almost smashes The Snark’s camera.

Anti Photog

It was a colourful and fascinating processing with people of all shapes, colours and sizes.

Purple Man

I stayed there until dawn broke.

Dawn

Morning with Murugan

Murugan

I climbed the 272 steps to the top of the caves at around 9am, as the sun was rising during golden hour.

Stairs

Murugan looked on as the crowds flowed up the stairs non-stop.

Murugan

It was a beautiful site from the top of the stairs.

Stairs

It was packed inside the cave as well of course.

Cave

Not unlike the Malaysian Highway…there was also a traffic jam and we got stuck there for quite sometime while we waited for it to clear.

Cave Jam

Being up close with the piercings is strange…they are both beautiful and morbid, fascinating and somewhat repulsive at the same time.

Piercings

The look in this child’s eyes makes me wonder.

Child

After sunrise I headed back down and my battery went flat, plus my feet were aching and I was starting to get tired after being there for about 5 hours and not sleeping the night before.

Morning has Broken

So I headed back down and went back home..

My car overheated on the way back and stalled, so it wasn’t a good trip back, I managed to get it home and will be going to the workshop shortly.

I hope it’s something simple (and relatively cheap) like the water pump or similar and I hope even more my engine isn’t damaged from the intense heat on the trip back.

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20 Responses to Thaipusam at Batu Caves – 1.5 Million People!

  1. Mossie`Ol Chin February 2, 2007 at 9:00 am #

    hey, my brother was (busy shooting as well) there and he said he was next to you, but he never introduce himself… haha…

  2. suanie February 2, 2007 at 9:51 am #

    i love thaipusam babies.

    will strive to catch it next year 🙂

  3. gromol February 2, 2007 at 9:52 am #

    Hey ST.
    Saw you at BC early in the morning.
    Was shooting with you at the entrance.

    Great pics btw. Nice story to go with it too.

    I’ll say hello next time I bump into you.

  4. Grant S. February 2, 2007 at 10:04 am #

    Kudos for the early start! My watch doesn’t have a 4:00am setting 😉
    And extra kudos for waiting until golden hour for those excellent colours at dawn.
    Some superb close-ups too! Very nice set.

  5. meekiee February 2, 2007 at 1:37 pm #

    One, Two, Three

    Extremely intense..Do you think the situation would allow you to shoot like NG?
    I find the photos disturbing and overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, that’s just my opinion.

  6. Kai Hong February 2, 2007 at 2:19 pm #

    Nice photos and observation !! Really nice !!

    Next time perhaps you could try eco-caving in Batu caves which I think is fun too !!

  7. Arunasalam February 2, 2007 at 6:42 pm #

    தைபூசம் great job, i´m in london now and you gave me tha chance to be there thankx, great photography

  8. sourrain February 2, 2007 at 9:33 pm #

    v. nice!I like the one entittled Morning with Murugan.

  9. navaraja February 3, 2007 at 12:50 am #

    Thaipuisam is a relegious festival to be celebrated with reverence and respect and should not be commercialised. The deity “Lord Muruga”
    represents the God of the Universe. His appearance is like young warrior. The spear,”Vel” represents “wisdom”, which humans need to overcome suffering in this world by avoiding evil habits.

  10. Emily February 3, 2007 at 12:26 pm #

    I wish I went there, but I just can’t handle the crowd…

  11. Boss Stewie February 3, 2007 at 11:18 pm #

    OUCH!!!!!

  12. iamyuanwu February 4, 2007 at 12:43 am #

    A Hindu uncle told me the Thaipusam preparation begins at about 7pm on the eve of Thaipusam. Maybe you could go there at midnight next time.

  13. snappergrl February 4, 2007 at 9:40 pm #

    Great pictures! Thanks for sharing!

  14. ShaolinTiger February 5, 2007 at 3:10 pm #

    Mossie`Ol Chin: Eh leh, why so shy?

    suanie: Definitely recommended!

    gromol: Ah! Few of us there, you must be the older guy with white hair or the younger guy with glasses I guess? Do say hi, I don’t bite!

    Grant S.: Thanks man! Well photography in many parts is about patience and perseverance…waiting for golden hour, waiting for the right light to get the shots.

    meekiee: What is like NG?

    Kai Hong: Thanks! I might try that some day.

    navaraja: Who is commercialising it?!

    iamyuanwu: Yah it starts the night before…but I wanted to be there at golden hour, if I went at midnight it’d be too long, I’d be exhausted. 4am-9am was already tough!

  15. yoga February 5, 2007 at 6:33 pm #

    Thanks for the great pics. I wasn’t in town during Thaipusam and through your pictures I could imagine myself being there climbing the stairs as well ..

  16. moo_t February 6, 2007 at 3:29 pm #

    To avoid traffic, you can take train that only operate during Thaipusam (from Sentul to Batu Caves). Otherwise park you car 2km-5km away from Batu Caves.

  17. ShaolinTiger February 7, 2007 at 2:24 pm #

    yoga: Glad it connected you to the event 🙂

    moo_t: Parking was fine, just use a bit of brains..I managed to park about 500m away from the entrance and didn’t get towed away! Traffic was ok apart from breaking down on the way back…

  18. vicknaes February 15, 2007 at 3:34 pm #

    Bro,
    Great write up. Minor error, Thaipusam celebrates the day Lord Murugan received the lance like Vel. It is not His birthday. His birthday usually coincides with Wesak day.
    Try getting the shots of the 20ft silver chariot next year ard.
    Maybe next year ard, you might want to catch photos of babies in a sugar cane cradlle 🙂

  19. gromol February 16, 2007 at 9:47 am #

    vicknaes & ST,

    “…photos of babies in a sugar cane cradlle”

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/gromol/377112294/

    Not a baby exactly, but a child. 😀

  20. mages February 17, 2007 at 1:44 am #

    excellent shots.i have always wanted to be there during the festival.now i know why singaporeans are flocking there to fulfill their vows.everything is beautiful.well hopefully i hope to go next year