Saturday, 4 February 2017

Thaipusam Festival - Picture Story




Batu Caves During Thaipusam Festival
There are certain things that I need to do because I am a photographer's wife. Like sometimes help him with his projects; be that helper who holds the photographer's bag and lens. Do I enjoy it? Most of the times yes! I don't know if my interest and curiosity about different cultures and traditions is because of his urge to capture them. But, I feel great that I get to experience such diversity! I saw Thaipusam festival in 2015 with my husband and I wanted to share with you some photographs and all that I know!

All photographs by www.ahsanqureshi.com


Thaipusam festival is one of the biggest Tamil festival celebrated in Malaysia. Around 7% of Malaysian population consists of Indians making them the 3rd biggest ethnic group in the country. 90% of Indian population consists of Tamils. Thaipusam is a Hindu festival that is celebrated in January/February of Gregorian calendar. Its origin dates back to a historical battle between mythological beings in Hindu text namely Asura, described as demons or beings with bad qualities and benevolent Devas. In this particular battle Devas were losing so they called upon Shiva for help. Shiva created the ultimate, powerful and brave warrior, Murugan, who helped Devas win this battle. The devotees of Murugan basically celebrate this festival as a remembrance of the victory and as a day to pray to god and get rid of evil. 

Thaipusam in Kuala Lumpur is celebrated in the very famous temple Batu Caves, dedicated to Murugan. It is the biggest Tamil temple and is the main hub for this festival. On normal days you can visit Batu Caves as it is a famous tourist destination. It has different worshiping sections. The main temple is on top of the mountains, in the cave,  for which you need to climb 272 very steep and narrow stairs.

Batu Caves on a normal day
However, on the day of the festival it is impossible to see the temple on top as there is a sea of worshipers to say the least. Also, there are a lot of tourists and travel photographers who love to capture this intriguing festival.


The rituals start early in the morning or the night before with a bath at the river or the temple to cleanse oneself. Worshipers carry on their heads pots of milk called Kavadis to take to the temple. A whole procession of devotees, worshipers and observers start from one temple, Sri Mahamariaman Temple in Chinatown in Malaysia, and cross every temple in the city. The final destination is the main temple in Batu Caves.


Murugan is also believed to be the one that grants favours. Devotees make vows whole year and then on this day they show their gratitude by self mortification. They pierce themselves with spears, hooks and other sharp objects. They are in state of trance, believed to be physically and mentally free from the worldly pleasures.

A devotee at Batu Caves, Malaysia
A devotee in Trancelike state at Batu Caves
This infliction of pain to the self is based on the belief that salvation is found in enduring pain.       

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I am adding limited photos in respect of their belief. 

All the devotees have to reach the temple on top where they lay down the pots of milks and remove the spears and hooks. The wounds are treated with hot ash and it is said that no scar is left behind.

If you love travel photography or if you have interest in different cultures, Thaipusam will be held on the 9th of February 2017 in Kuala Lumpur. It is best to take the train (KTM) which goes directly to Batu Caves. Carry minimum stuff with you and I would recommend to not go alone as the place is packed with people; shoulder to shoulder and the activities and rituals of the day can be overwhelming! Have a good day if you do!

Do you know more about this festival? I would love to know more.


10 comments:

  1. Even the pictures seems overwhelming.! Very intriguing cultural event indeed. Heard about the Thaipusam here in Canada from Tamil speaking people. Interesting story behind the festival.

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  2. I was in Malaysia in 2015 & was in Batu Caves just after the Thaipusam Festival. I remembered it because Batu Caves during that time had a lot of trash, mostly empty water bottles. One of the locals told us that they just had the festival.

    I only learned about it while doing my research prior to my trip to Malaysia that year. What I didn't know is that devotees pierced themselves with sharp objects. It sort of reminds me of a tradition here in the Philippines during Holy Week - people do the Penitensya.

    It's cool how you experience and learn about different cultures by helping your husband out with his photography work.

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  3. I haven't visisted Batu Caves and this seems like an interesting festival! The tradition and ritual (and inflicting pain to one's self) seems like a different ritual for Catholics during Holy Week.

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  4. I would have visited Batu Caves when we visited Kuala Lumpur but we got lost looking for the bus stop near Petronas that we shelved the idea of going there. Glad I saw these photos. Interesting festival, btw.

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  5. I'm also amazed at the Batu caves. It's just a tourist hotspot and you got to appreciate the traditions as well.

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  6. These photographs are hauntingly beautiful. Kudos to the photographer! It was great to know about Batu Caves and all its traditions

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  7. I am in awe of religious celebrations but I am too good with crowds. We have a lot of celebrations here with rabid believers, but I dare not go because of the crowds there.

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  8. Being from southern India, I was always awe inspired by how so far away in Malaysia, our festival is celebrated with so much merry and trance!!! Glad you liked it too!

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  9. Hey, don't be worried about putting up too many pictures. As long as you aren't insulting the religion (which you definitely aren't!), sharing more photos will only let more people understand about the festival!

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  10. Thaipusam is a big festival. Even here in SG, it is celebrated on a grand scale. Loved your pics.

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