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!
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.
The atmosphere was intense.
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.
The most common things used as weights on the piercings were leaves (lime leaves I assume), limes themselves and bells.
Some people were covered.
And some people rolled all the way there…
Some did it without the fancy costumes, just in a pair of Levis.
The beating of the drums was intense and overpowering, at times I felt like I could drift into a trance..
Some people were very calm.
Lord Murugan overlooked the crowds.
There were all ages of kids.
And some beautiful women, albeit with skewers in their faces.
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.
It was a colourful and fascinating processing with people of all shapes, colours and sizes.
I stayed there until dawn broke.
Morning with Murugan
I climbed the 272 steps to the top of the caves at around 9am, as the sun was rising during golden hour.
Murugan looked on as the crowds flowed up the stairs non-stop.
It was a beautiful site from the top of the stairs.
It was packed inside the cave as well of course.
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.
Being up close with the piercings is strange…they are both beautiful and morbid, fascinating and somewhat repulsive at the same time.
The look in this child’s eyes makes me wonder.
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.
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.