On the third day of My Selangor Story , the participants experienced Thaipusam celebration. Checking-out at 5.00 a.m. in the morning, we were taken to a mamak restaurant near Selayang by the name of Al-Bidayah. It’s prudent act to eat breakfast before we joined tens of thousands crowd in Batu Caves for Thaipusam. Malaysian at heart, my choice of food is forever a plate of rice. What I do note while having breakfast with my Indonesian friends, they opt for lighter breakfast such as toast and few slices of bread.
Later, we were taken to Majlis Perbandaran Selayang (Selayang Municipal Council) to meet our escort that would escort us all the way to Batu Caves.I have been to Thaipusam celebration in the year of 2010 when I accompanied my Swedish friend, Rahel to witness the colourful celebration. I have the idea of what Thaipusam looks like and what to expect on this visit. BUT!
How many of us really know the significance of Thaipusam? (Don’t intend to bore you with historical background but understanding its significance may provide better imagination. Atleast when you look at the pictures, you can go, “Oh, that’s why…”
Two word combined together – “Thai” refers to Tamil month of Thai (January – February) while Pusam means the brightest star during the period. Falling between 15 January and 15 February every year, Thaipusam is a celebraton of Lord Murugan’s victory over Soorapadman’s tyranny. Self-declared invinsible, Soorapadman believed that he cannot be killed by anything other than a being that was a manifestation of Lord Shiva, one of the most important Hindu deities. Unfortunately, Soorapadman got the wrong being, it was actually Lord Murugan who defeated Soorapadman using his spear (vel) given to him by Lord Shiva’s consort, Parvati.
It is during Thaipusam, believers thank Lord Murugan for granting their wishes and ousting away the demons that plague their lives, illnesses, infertility and many other reasons. They also seek blessings and forgiveness for trangression.
Apart from the marching journey up 272 steps to Temple Cave, the rituals of Thaipusam begin as earlier as a month before the occassion when the devotees fast for more than a month and others shave their heads as an act of gratitude, repentance or as a plea to have prayers answered. In malay term, “nazar“.
This is how the procession works:- The procession usually starts before midnight on the eve of Thaipusam. The image of Lord Murugan is transported from one temple to another, accompanied by the devotees bearing offerings to the deity. It is as if the image of Lord Murugan finally goes back to its home. Offerings come in the form of milk which symbolizes purity and virtue while Kavadis means “sacrifice at every step”.
Kavadi is actually an arch-structured wood decorated with clothes and peacock feathers and is held on shoulder. Kavadi comes in different shapes and sizes. Kavadis can be seen attached to devotees via hooks and thin spears that pierce their backs, cheeks and mouths. It is such a wonder how kavadi bearers withstand the pain especially for a journey that may take 8 hours to reach Temple Cave. It is believed that the burden in life of a devotee who carries a kavadi will be lessened.
We reached Batu Caves at approximately 8.20 am. We had to walk for 1km to reach the main entrance to Batu Caves wherein the devotees would pass by in order to go up to the Temple Cave. My first sight was a couple spreading a piece of white clothes in the middle of the crowd and then people will give some donations and place it on the white clothes. Once we were briefed and divided into groups, we joined the crowd.
We get up close and personal with a kavadi bearer who was giving his blessings to members of musicians entourage. Each kavadi bearer has its own musicians entourage who will play tavul and nadeswaran (tradional Indian musical instrument) along side with prayers and chanting offered to Lord Murugan.
The area where we stood were filled with people heading to the temple cave.
They pierced their cheeks.
A boy carrying small size kavadis.
Men and women walked with pots of milk on their heads.
Other candid pictures of the surroundings:-
While all these fleet passed me, they shouted “vel”, “vel”, “vel”.
One moment I could not forget was when a huge kavadi wanted to pass through us. Together with other bystanders, we were pushed to extremity against the wall. Luckily, no one passed out.
To avoid the crowd, we moved to the side way only to find that the road leading to the steps was blocked. We dismissed the idea of going up into the temple cave as we were given little time at Batu Caves. Looking at the crowd, we won’t be able to make it. There was also a sense of respect for the bearer to fulfil their responsibility. So I make way for those who really have to go up there and make the offerings.
We then moved to the market stalls where food and praying equipments were on sale. One can also find henna services there.
Barbers lined the street. They were on full force. Occupied every single minute available.
If given the chance to re-do the whole trip again, I’d like to go to the river where the devotees take bath and set their kavadis. Maybe, another visit next year to get good photos. Notwithstanding, it was truly an experience seeing a celebration like this.