Thaipusam is celebrated by the Tamil speaking Hindu community during the full moon in the month of Thai, which is the 10th month of Hindu calendar. It usually falls between mid Jan to mid Feb and Malaysia has the largest Thaipusam festival outside of India. In Malaysia, largest celebration can be found at Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur.
The word Thaipusam is a combination of the name of the month – Thai, and the name of a star – Pusam. It is dedicated as a day of thanksgiving and penance to Lord Murugan. Devotees usually diet as vegetarian for a certain period and then prepare themselves through fasting before the festival. In Kuala Lumpur, the procession starts at Sri Mahamariamman Temple in the city center (near Petaling Street) around midnight and arrives at Batu Caves in the next morning.
At Batu Caves, devotees will take a ritual bath at the riverside before they make their way to the temple inside the cave. They usually carry kavadi (a decorated wooden or metal structure) on their shoulders or pal kodum (milk pots) on their heads. Some of them will pierce their tongue, cheeks, or any part of their body with hooks, skewers, or tridents. Many of them are in trance while piercing and on the way to the cave entrance. They believe the God is with them, and therefore it makes them no pain, no bleed, and no scar after the festival.
I have been there for Thaipusam for 3 times, but I have never made my way to climb the 272 staircases to the cave entrance on the day itself. There are just too many people with thousands to millions of them crowded to reach the temple inside the cave. Devotees and their families, plus tourists, photographers, and journalists are continued to climb up to the cave before sunrise until afternoon. I will have to take a lot of time and effort to come down if I climb up there as people are blocking the way for me to walk down the staircases.
By the time I had done my shooting near the river, it’s about 10am and I felt exhausted to climb up to the cave. This is because I would usually reach Batu Caves before 4.30am and I had never had enough sleep due to work. Next time, I guess I will have to take enough rest before the day and climb up to the cave to witness the ceremony.
- It has 2 places for the devotees to take ritual shower. One is nearby the KTM Komuter station and the other one is below the MR2 elevated highway.
- Please be prepared psychologically that you will see piercing with hooks, skewers, and tridents at any part of the body.
- Some of the devotees in trance will shout, jump, and dance; some of them even hit with whip. Therefore, please stay away from the devotees under this circumstance, or else you will be hit or whipped.
- Please do not shoot the devotee’s face with camera at a very close distance. If you want a close up photo, please use zoom lens. I saw a photographer shot a devotee who was in trance in extremely close distance (just about 2 inches away from his face) and that had caused the devotee and his family in anger.
- 公共交通：搭KTM电动火车从KL Sentral 站到Batu Caves 站。车站就在信徒进行洗浴的河边附近。
How to get there to witness Thaipusam?
- By public transport: Take KTM Komuter from KL Sentral to Batu Caves. The station is nearby the river for the devotees to take ritual bath.
- By Car: Reach as early as possible and leave before 11am. After this hour the traffic at MRR2 will be very congested as many cars will double or triple park until middle of the road. You can park your car at the shoplots opposite Batu Caves, but you have to pay for the unusual parking fee depending on the distance to Batu Caves. The nearer the more expensive. I did park along the elevated highway MRR2 too, but have to leave early as cars would block my way to leave due to double parking. [In normal days, usually can park the car at the free parking lot in front of Batu Caves]