Thaipusam is a spectacular Hindu festival celebrated each year, beginning on the night of the full moon, in the tenth Tamil month of Thai, falling in January/February on Western Calendar. It is not only observed in countries where the Tamil community constitutes a majority, but also in countries such as Mauritius, Singapore, and Malaysia. In fact, it is in Malaysia where you can find the largest demonstrations of the event. The center of activity can be found at the Batu Caves north of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Thaipusam will be held January 27-29, 2013.
The word “Thaipusam” is derived from a combination of the name of the month, “Thai” and the star “Pusam”, which is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel “spear” so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadam.
This sacred festival has a heritage extended back for hundreds of years, and the annual pilgrimage sees more than one million people on average. In 2011, the festival saw the largest turnout in history with 1.5 million people in attendance.
The festival begins with an 8 hour pilgrimage from Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur to the Batu Caves ten miles north. It is a painstaking, religious undertaking. Devoted participants carry ‘kavadi‘, large decorated vessels containing offerings to the Lord Muruga, either by hand or on their shoulders. These kavadi may be simple wooden structures or ornate, heavy ones. Some kavadi rise up to two-three meters in height, and are made of metal frames which hold long skewers, the sharpened end of which pierce the skin of the bearers torso. Some kavadi may weigh as much as a hundred kilograms.
After bathing in the nearby Sungei Batu (Rocky River) at the entrance to the caverns, the devotees make their way to the Temple Cave and climb the flights of stairs to the temple in the cave. Devotees use the wider centre staircase while worshippers and onlookers throng up and down those balustrades on either side.
The temple has 272 steps, and the kavadi bearer must make the arduous climb by himself.
Hindi Priests await the pilgrims at the top, and attend to their bodies. They sprinkle consecrated ash over the hooks and skewers embedded in the skin of the participants before they are removed.
The cave is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India, and it is dedicated to Lord Murugan. The limestone forming Batu Caves is said to be around 400 million years old. Some of the cave entrances were used as shelters by the indigenous Temuan people before being converted into the current temple site.
Batu Caves serves as the focus of the Hindu community’s yearly Thaipusam festival. It has become a pilgrimage site for not only Malaysian Hindus, but Hindus worldwide from countries such as India, Australia and Singapore.
One of the most prominent features of the caves is the 42.7-metre (140 ft) high statue of Lord Muruga. The monument was unveiled in January 2006, having taken 3 years to construct. It is the tallest Lord Muruga statue in the world.
Batu is more than just a sacred site, with 160 trails, it is one of the most popular hiking spots in all of Malaysia. The routes are scattered all around the side of Batu Caves, which is made up of limestone hills rising to heights of 150m. These climbing routes are easily accessed as most of them start from ground level.
Attractions of Malaysia
There is much more to see in Malaysia than festivals and caves, although that is a brilliant place to start. While on holiday, you can visit the tropical rainforest of Taman Negara, the luxurious island of Pulau Tiomen, Mount Kinabalu (the highest mountain in Borneo), the Beaches at Langkawi, and Malaysia other set of notable caves - Mulu Caverns.
Malaysia is a tropical wonderland with a thriving culture. It’s natural splendor has invited visitors to come and bask in its beauty for centuries. A trip to the area is a step into a unique past, where color and life combine with ritualistic simplicity. Prepare to be amazed as you enter into a world so unfamiliar from your own. And whether you’re there for Thaipusam, or just on holiday, it will be undoubtedly a time to remember.