I went to watch the Thaipusam celebrations at Batu Caves yesterday. What an experience. Batu Caves is the location of the world’s largest shrine to the Hindu God, Lord Muruga. The place is normally a quite place but for 3 days of the year, it is a scene where 1.2 million Hindu devotees would congregate.
Many devotees would have spent the previous 40 days adhering to a strict vegetarian diet and engaged in meditation and prayer in preparation to take part in the Thaipusam procession while chanting ‘vel-vel’ as they walk the procession route. Other followers view Thaipusam simply as a day for thanksgiving, or for the atonement of the sins of the past year.
Cleansed of all worldly comforts and pleasures by 40 days of abstinence, they carry a kavadi (the simplest way to explain kavadi is that it’s a sort of mini temple to the gods) up the 272 steps at the entrance to the Batu Caves and place him inside the temple within, which is dedicated to the Lord Muruga.
The devotees often have needles piercing all over their body. In some of these pictures, you can clearly see the skin being pulled taut.
When I took these pictures I was literally standing next to them and its quite a sight and an experience. I had a Canon EOS 3 with a 50mm f/1.8 lens attached to it. It was important for me to be mobile. No long lens for me this time. I wanted to get into the action.
I was literally standing next to them, shoulder to shoulder. I could feel the intensity of the moment for them. Sometimes they would take a rest sitting on a stool. During this time, their friends and family would support them by rubbing their thighs and feet.
After a short rest, the devotees would sit quietly in their contemplation of life, as if they would focussing all their energy into single moment as they prepare to stand up and continue.
The most visually striking devotee for me is the one pictured below.
All he did was to hang from this contraption designed to suspend him from hooks attached to his body. He seems almost relaxed and at peace as they march him around the procession. I mist make a mental note to return next year, this time for the whole 3 days and nights…..