The Spectacular Thaipusam Celebration in Malaysia

Updated on February 7, 2018
greatstuff profile image

Born and raised in Malaysia, Mazlan is proud of his Malaysian and Asian heritage and likes to share its mysteries, culture & current issues.

Thaipusam Batu Caves in Malaysia:

This may come as a surprise to many people but the world's biggest and most colorful Thaipusam is celebrated in Batu Caves, Malaysia.

Batu Caves is a limestone outcrop just north of Kuala Lumpur and the site of prominent Hindu temple and shrine.

Source

What Is Thaipusam

Thaipusam is a holy festival celebrated by Hindus of Tamil origin from South India, as a thanksgiving to their deity, Lord Subramaniam (also known as Lord Muruga). It is the most elaborate and spectacular of all the Hindu festivals, mainly due to the combination of what seems like a painful body piercing and a religious practice.

Hindu Celebrations and Festivals

Hindu celebrations and festivals such as Thaipusam and Diwali celebration are celebrated not only in India but also in countries where there are major concentrations of Tamils such as in Malaysia and Singapore. Thaipusam celebration in Malaysia is, in fact, one of the major religious festivals in the country. It is also the biggest among the countries that celebrate Thaipusam.

Carrying Kavadi during Thaipusam Celebration
Carrying Kavadi during Thaipusam Celebration | Source

Thaipusam Rites and Rituals

Hinduism Festival

Devotees who made their vows and prayers to Lord Subramaniam will subject themselves to sacrificial acts in exchange for an answered prayer. The prayers could be for recovery from sickness, or to seek forgiveness for past misdeeds, or a childless couple asking for baby etc.

This sacrificial act could be in the form of carrying kavadi that weighs several pounds and is attached to the body by skewers and hooks (see photo above). This is usually done by the serious Thaipusam male pilgrims.

Other Forms of Doing Penance

But the penance can be in a 'simpler' form of just fasting for the day, or to carry a pot of milk during the procession. There are also devotees who will go for a slightly 'serious' sacrificial act but not as tough as carrying the heavy-weight kavadis, will have their tongues and cheeks pierced (see photo below).

Shaving the head (especially for the children) giving foods and drinks to devotees, and providing other essential services, are also other forms of penance that can be observed.

Thaipusam Procession

Thaipusam procession from one temple to another main temple (varies according to region) can be several miles long. Family members and supporters will be following the devotees during this procession, chanting prayers and offering encouragement.

Worshipper being pierced to allow for spikes that will be placed through his cheeks.
Worshipper being pierced to allow for spikes that will be placed through his cheeks. | Source

Brief Information on Kavadi

Types of Kavadi

There are four types of kavadi for the Thaipusam procession and are:

  1. Idumban Kavadi: Pots filled with milk and suspended on rods and carried on the shoulder
  2. Mayil Kavadi: Similar to Idumban kavadi except that it is decorated with peacock feathers
  3. Pal Kavadi: Metal pot filled with milk and carried on one side of the shoulder only
  4. Pushpa Kavadi: Pot filled with milk and carried on the head

Materials Used for Kavadi

The design and material varies according to the wishes of the kavadi bearers. The most common materials for kavadi are aluminum plates, wooden plates, nuts and bolts and peacock feathers.

Kavadi made of polystyrene is popular in Ipoh and Penang while kavadi decorated with LED lights is popular in Ipoh.

A Devotee who has taken a Vow for the Thaipusam Celebration
A Devotee who has taken a Vow for the Thaipusam Celebration | Source

Pre-Thaipusam Rituals

The devotee who vowed for Thaipusam celebration is required to cleanse themselves with at least a month of prayer, fasting and several series of strict physical and mental disciplines. These include a strict vegetarian diet and maintaining self-discipline such as abstinence from sex.

These will put the devotees into a trance-like state that will numb them from the pain of the pierced skewers and hooks and these piercing will not leave any scar.

Before the devotees put on their respective kavadis, prayers will be conducted at homes for a smooth flow of events.

Thaipusam Festival in Malaysia: the Event

Malaysia is a multi-ethnic country and this multicultural and multilingual society makes the country a melting pot of various religious festivals. Thaipusam is just one of these festivals.

Thaipusam celebration in Malaysia is held in most part of the country but the largest gatherings are in Kuala Lumpur. Unlike Diwali celebration, Thaipusam is not a public holiday for the whole country but only in certain states.

This three-day Thaipusam festival in Kuala Lumpur starts from the Sri Mahamariaman Temple in Chinatown and ends in Batu Caves, covering a distance of about 9.5 miles.

The Procession

In the early morning on the eve of the celebration, the Thaipusam procession will depart Sri Mahamariaman Temple with Lord Muruga's idol heading the procession. Hundreds of devotees carrying their kavadi or whatever form of sacrificial act that they opted for will go on this 9.5-mile procession, which is an 8-hour journey.

Batu Caves Temple

On arrival at Batu Caves temple, a prayer ceremony will be held at the foot of the caves. The Batu Caves temple is very unique and is an attraction of its own, even outside the Thaipusam celebration day. The temple is sited in one of the biggest caves and to reach it, you need to climb the 272 steps (see photo below).

Devotees carrying their offering will climb these 272 steps and offer their prayer. Those who had their body pierced with skewers and hooks will have them removed whilst the priest chant over them. Amazingly enough, there will not be a drop of blood and the wounds that will be treated with hot ash, will not leave any scar!

Batu Caves Temple with the famous 272 steps leading to the temple. The 140-feet statue of Lord Murugan took 3 years to complete and was unveiled during Thaipusam festival in January 2006. It was built by 15 artisans from India.
Batu Caves Temple with the famous 272 steps leading to the temple. The 140-feet statue of Lord Murugan took 3 years to complete and was unveiled during Thaipusam festival in January 2006. It was built by 15 artisans from India. | Source

Thaipusam Celebration and Festival in Other Parts of Malaysia

Thaipusam Celebration in other parts of Malaysia is celebrated in most towns with a large Tamil community. The bigger celebration sites outside Kuala Lumpur are at the Nattukottai Chettiar Temple in Penang, and Sri Subramaniar Temple in Gunong Cheroh, Ipoh, Perak (another cave site).

Bearing Kavadi by Other Ethnic Group

Whilst this doesn't happen every year, people of other ethnic groups and faiths, such as the Chinese and Caucasians will participate and carry the kavadi.during Thaipusam.

More Thaipusam Pics

Devotee piercing mouth with small skewer and hanging limes to the body for Thaipusam festival
Devotee piercing mouth with small skewer and hanging limes to the body for Thaipusam festival | Source
A women devotee who has opted to have her penance done by having a metal skewer pierce through her mouth and part of forehead during Thaipusam celebration
A women devotee who has opted to have her penance done by having a metal skewer pierce through her mouth and part of forehead during Thaipusam celebration | Source
A child with shaved head, as part of penance for the minor during Thaipusam
A child with shaved head, as part of penance for the minor during Thaipusam | Source

Thaipusam in Malaysia: Advice and Tips for Visitors

If you are visiting Malaysia for this event, it is advisable to make your travel booking early.

The celebration starts early at 5 am and goes on until late night. Be up early and bring your fully charged camera-handphone or the still and video cameras to capture the full action of Thaipusam.

Admission to the celebration is free. With more than 1million devotees, supporters and visitors, you can get overwhelmed especially within the confined temple area. So bring extra drinking water and food with you. These are also available at the site but is best to have them with you so as not to lose precious time queuing up to buy.

Getting There

If you are visiting the celebration at Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur the best way is to take the commuter train from KL Sentral Station to Sentul Station. Buses and taxis are the other options but with the heavy traffic and traffic diversions, it will be slower. Your hotel can assist you on how to get to KL Sentral station or the buses or taxi from your hotel.

Visit Malaysia

If you are unable to make it for Thaipusam celebrations this year, you can always plan for the following year. Malaysia is rich in various religious and cultural festivals and you are bound to be in one of these festivals whenever you visit Malaysia.

Malaysia is also noted for the variety of foods from its many ethnic groups making the country a gourmet center. So come over not just to savor the sights and sounds but also the flavor of Malaysia.

Thaipusam 2012 photos

Devotees and visitors at Batu Caves for Thaipusam 2012
Devotees and visitors at Batu Caves for Thaipusam 2012 | Source

Thaipusam Trance: Warning, Contain Scenes That May Be Disturbing

Questions & Answers

    © 2011 Mazlan

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • greatstuff profile image
        Author

        Mazlan 3 years ago from Malaysia

        Hi Lee, do you know that today is Thaipusam day and Batu Cave is now packed with devotees and both local & foreign visitors? Thanks for dropping by

      • traveleze profile image

        Lee John 3 years ago from Preston

        Great hub and very interesting

        Thanks again

        Lee

      • greatstuff profile image
        Author

        Mazlan 6 years ago from Malaysia

        Hi jojokaya.. thanks for the compliment. The festival for 2012 just ended about a week ago. Unfortunately I couldn't make it to the celebration. Will try to get new 2012 festival photos and upload to this hub.

      • jojokaya profile image

        jojokaya 6 years ago from USA

        Beautiful and interesting hub.

      • greatstuff profile image
        Author

        Mazlan 6 years ago from Malaysia

        Hi Lila, when someone prayed for something and they got what they asked for, and if in their prayer they vow to do something in return, Thaipusam may be the day that they will fulfill this vow. So the celebration is a thanksgiving celebration. It may sounds odd to you that with all the body piercing, how can someone celebrate? Well this has a religious undertone and when one believes in something, the whole act is also a spiritual journey. Come over to my country Malaysia to see and experience all the many religious festivals of many ethnic races, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism etc

      • profile image

        lila 6 years ago

        how do they celerate?????

      • greatstuff profile image
        Author

        Mazlan 6 years ago from Malaysia

        Hi Arlene, thanks for dropping by and for your kind words. Thaipusam is an interesting event, to see and experience. Should try and make it one day. Malaysia is affordable, maybe airfare is the only expensive part of the total budget. If you do research online, you might get some very competitive airfare rates.

      • profile image

        Arlene V. Poma 6 years ago

        Simply fascinating Hub with equally fascinating photographs. Never been, but I am bookmarking this. Voted up and everything else. Thanks for the escape.

      • greatstuff profile image
        Author

        Mazlan 6 years ago from Malaysia

        Thanks geoffclarke. Looking forward to your hub on Malaysia.

      • geoffclarke profile image

        geoffclarke 6 years ago from Canada

        Hi Greatstuff, very interesting hub. Thanks for explaining the Thaipusam Celebration. I visited the Batu caves in November, climbed the 272 steps and saw the monkeys! Love the photo, the golden statue of Lord Murugan was covered in scaffolding when I was there!

      working