Saturday 9 February 2013

Malaysia: My Selangor Story 2013 (07) - Thaipusam at Batu Caves

We started our third day very early although granted, not as early as the original plan which was to check out and leave the hotel at 4.30 a.m. We boarded the bus and continued with our sleep until we got to Bandar Baru Selayang where we stopped to have breakfast.

Almost everyone had their breakfast there. I didn’t have mine because I was worried that I might need to do the number two business (heh!) when we’re right smack in action at Batu Caves later with thousands of other people. Part of risk management, I'd say.

After breakfast, we boarded the bus again and headed to the local municipal council building from where we were escorted by 2 policemen on their big bikes. When we got to Batu Caves, there were already thousands of people flooding the area under the overhead bridge right across from Batu Caves.

There Safri, the group tour guide, split us into groups of four before leaving us on our own to search for stories and photo opportunities relating to Thaipusam. I ended up with Dicko, Helga and Ridha. We’re supposed to stick together throughout the morning no matter what, just to make sure that we don't get lost in the sea of people and that we're back at our assembly area right on time at 11 a.m.

Well, that’s what we’re supposed to do. Stick together. In less than 5 minutes though, I couldn’t find Helga and Ridha already. Hopeless! Ha ha! I wonder how families with kids could manage in such a crowd. I saw that Dicko was still nearby so I stayed close to him while giving each other some space to take photos from our own perspectives.

I lost him though when I started walking up the 272 steps to the caves where the procession came to an end.

(L) Walking up the 272 steps to the caves; and (R) The view from above
(click on each photo for a larger image)

Taking a breather upon reaching the caves

Inside the caves

Taking everything off once the procession is done. Note that there's no blood.
Watching Hindu devotees bearing kavadis and the procession really fascinated me. Devi told us that preparation for Kavadi bearers would start some 2 weeks before Thaipusam. The bearers would start on a vegetarian diet, abstain from sex, sometimes sleep on the floor, performs regular prayers and a few other requirements with the belief that that would to purge themselves of any impurities. The bearers would start fasting the day before Thaipusam (although sipping some water is okay, I was told) so that when the time comes for them to bear a kavadi, they would have entered a trance where they won’t feel the vels and needles being pierced through their skin.

The idea behind the kavadis, I was told, is either to give thanks (or pay for a debt) for wishes previously granted or to ask for help to fulfil a certain wish. I approached a couple of devotees, asking if they would mind if I ask them some questions. After getting the nod, I simply asked what are they giving thanks for or what are they wishing for when they pray on the day. I thought the question might be a bit intrusive as the answer could be quite personal. Both however told me that they’re not performing the ceremonial prayer for anything specific, they’re there just to perform the ceremonial prayer.

(click on each photo for a larger image)

I also asked 2 or 3 parents for permission to take photos of their children who had taken part in the ceremony in their traditional costumes (imagine kids with shaved head and in yellow dress) but they all politely refused. Some adults also preferred not to be photographed as well. 

That got me into thinking. They’re actually here in Batu Caves to perform religious duty according to their faith. It’s a day when they worship, and connect with Murugan, not a day of celebration with family, relatives and friends like Deepavali/ Diwali, Eid ul Fitr, or Christmas. Come to think of it, I hardly saw any of the devotees carried any camera or snapped any photos with their mobile phones.

Consequently it made me wonder if the fact that me (and thousands other tourists and non-Hindus) being there snapping photos after photos are actually a distraction to them. I suppose we were all a distraction regardless of how much space we gave and left between us (literally). In that kind of crowd – which thousands of tourists and I contribute to and are part of, obviously – sometimes it’s hard not to find yourself right smack in someone else's face.

I suppose too that they couldn't really say anything much about it because they are supposed to be patient about everything while performing the ceremony. And yet, Thaipusam at Batu Caves is being promoted as one of major tourism events for Malaysia. There’s no doubt that the day and the ceremony could be fascinating even to non-Hindus, locals and foreigners alike, but let’s not forget that for each one of these Hindu devotees, ceremonial prayers on Thaipusam are actually part of their personal journey in their faith. They are not a show, and there’s nothing commercial in that. Unless if one wants to turn it into one.

Oh well, I suppose there needs to be a balance in everything that we do.

Despite all these thoughts, I'm still glad that I was there to experience Thaipusam celebration at Batu Caves in person.

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Comments and feedback are always appreciated. So do leave one or two if you have the time. Thank you!

  1. I think it happens to every religion ceremony, Bang. there will be so many photographers everywhere and pointing their lens to people's faces very close. some with flash while they're praying.

    1. Citra, true. But that doesn't make it right, does it? What strike me most though I didn't see them taking photos of themselves during the ceremony, unlike during Deepavali/ Diwali or other religions' celebration like Eid and Christmas, or Chinese New Year. That's one of the things that made me wonder. :-|

  2. Nice one! I totally get what you mean about us being intrusive, and it makes me feel guilty sometimes. Really nice photos, by the way :)

  3. wahaha waktu itu saya dan ridha melepaskan diri dari abang dan dicko
    entah tak terbayang jika saya membawa sanak family ke acara macam ni
    pasti tersesat laah


    1. Itulah... saya fikir bagaimana keluarga-keluarga yang ke sana dengan anak-anak. Tapi tidak terdengar pula sebarang pengumuman tentang kehilangan anak, ya?

  4. awww that's awesome.. i knw why u dont write it slow down bc u want to make it well,,, Good jobs,, bang Rusli :D
    Dont forget to drop into my blog heheh

  5. nice jobs Rusli i wonder why u write it so slow!!

  6. sangat lawa, especially the one 'inside the cave'... (susah tau nak dpt i comment kat blog orang, ni kira syukur dah nih, hehehheee....).

  7. I really enjoy reading your posts. reminds me of how I could lose you at Thaipusam. hahahaha. You always have great pictures as usual. I love the photo two devotees wearing that red and black turbans. (if i couldn't say that a caps. lol :D)

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