29 January 2010

272 Steps and Thaipusam

Yesterday, I visited the popular tourist attraction of Batu Caves, just north of the city of Kuala Lumpur. These huge limestone caves house a Hindu temple, where this weekend, throngs of people will be gathering for the Thaipusam festival. I went early to view the preparations and avoid the huge crowds - parking was bad enough yesterday, so goodness knows what it will be like tomorrow when hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees pay annual homage to Lord Murugan who vanquished the evil demon Soorapadman with a vel (spear).

Thaipusam will be a day for celebration and atonement for which devotees will have prepared with weeks of rigorous abstinence. Many will shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a set route ( including climbing the 272 steep steps up to the caves) while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi (burdens).

Some will simply carry a pot of milk, but others will shoulder a more elaborate, semi circular decorated canopy supported by a wooden rod.

Thaipusam - vel kavadi
Some devotees will even endure an austere penance by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers! Apparently in their trance-like state they feel no pain. How bizarre! I didn't spot any of these yesterday, unfortunately. I imagine the photo opportunities will be amazing tomorrow, providing you can handle the jostling crowds! For more startling images click here (if you can bear it!).

Hundreds of stall holders have set up to ply their wares. I bought a beautiful garland of chrysanthemums, orchids and sweet smelling jasmine from this cheerful chap!

Get your Kavadi here..

or fragrant Sambrani Incense there..

shop for Golden Deities,

sweet treats

and flashing, musical wall hangings!

Take in the exotic statues!

but watch out for food and bag snatchers at the top of the steps!

And last but definitely not least - is this Rapunzel?

Check out this lady's incredibly long locks! Now that surely must be quite a burden to carry up those steps!


  1. thanks for a peek into life far away.

  2. You are living in a colorful exotic land. How long do those leis stay pretty? They are so beautiful now.

  3. Oh my Caroline- this is the richest post EVER! I will spend days here! At first , because my eysite is compromised, i saw the staue, and thought what a pretty little thing and then my eyes cooperated- WHOA! It's massive!
    Love the icons and the flowers, bright colours, the reeligion thing is interesting and somewhat annoying but that's just me. I am sure that people benefit in some way, else why do this sort of thing for hundreds of years? Beautiful shots, thank you so much- I really needed to get away...WONDERFUL post!!!

  4. Amazing. Loved the handsome men in skirts, the exotic statues simply amaze and astond me, the monkey is cute and that is the hugest DREADLOCK I have ever seen! Wow. How wonderful to be there to see it all first hand. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Another extraordinary post...full of cultural eye treasures...your flower garland is sooo yummy...those stairs so steep and so MANY...and the woman's hair...totally unbelieveable. I am totally ignoring those piercing thingys... I watched a special on television quite a while ago about just that...and UGH...to this day it give me the willies! LOL :)

  6. you are the most amazing person! i wish we could be really truly friends and that this was an adventure we took together for reals!!! i heart you and you are a very wonderful photographer and have a beautiful eye, i know i have said that many times but i really do mean it ;)

  7. Oh my word... I can't believe the long locks! I really enjoyed looking at these photographs Caroline. So many interesting things to ponder over. I'm imagining the crowds swarming up 272 steps!

  8. Wow! Caroline, you were up for this Thaipusam's celebration.
    Love your sharing and the colourful shots too:)
    I had been to Batu Cave when I was very young about 10 years old.
    Surprisely I managed to climb to the top without any complain!

  9. WOW what gorgeous pics. I just love reading about your visits in Malaysia. Makes me really miss and cherish my expat days! Thanks so much Caroline for sharing this!

  10. WHOOOA! Look at that hair! I can'tt get over it. She must use up three bottles of shampoo and 6 bottles of conditioner in one shower!

    Hahaha! I love the photograph of the colorful foods, the best.


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