Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated across Hindu communities of the world. Each has variations in its tradition, but its reason is to celebrate Lord Murugan (the son of Shiva) upon his receipt of- “a magic spear to crush the demon Soorapadam”¹. The ceremonies are carried out in a sort of penance for Murugan, mutilating the body in an act of self-sacrifice and humility. Dedicated devotees begin preparing for the festival up to 48 days before with prayer and fasting.
The holiday is highly celebrated across Malaysia, with communities marching to various holy locations in different parts of the country. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, participants march 14 kilometers across the city to the Batu Caves, which has been transformed into a place of religious offerings, prayer, tourism, and carnival-like festivities. Select individuals have pierced their bodies with rings and their tongues with daggers, burdening the weight of a “kavadi“, which is said to weigh over 30 kg. In a sort of hypnotic state they march along, pausing periodically to dance. These individuals have a small team of people to assist on their journey. I followed a man carrying a kavadi as he walked and danced along the path, then steadily climbed the steep cave stairs. He paused about every 20 meters, going into a sort of trance dance. There are musicians in his team of followers for accompaniment. After each dance, he sat for a brief moment as team members massaged his tired, shaky legs and fanned his body. At the top of the 200 stairs lies a large cave with various Hindu shrines and a couple of temples. It is there that the kavadi is finally removed along with the piercings, hooks, and daggers.
Here are some photos and a video from my visit to the Batu Caves – January 2018.