Thaipusam 2009 at Batu Caves

09 Feb

Thaipusam 2009
A devotee suspended on hooks attached to the skin of his back

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.

Batu Caves
Batu caves on a normal day

Thaipusam 2009
Batu Caves during the Thaipusam celebrations

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.

Thaipusam 2009
A devotee with hooks on his body.

Thaipusam 2009
The hooks are attached to heavy rope which is being held by another person.

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.

Thaipusam 2009
This devotee is twirling around whilst in a trance.

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.

Thaipusam 2009
Friends and family supporting the devotee while he rests

Thaipusam 2009
Friends and family would rub his 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.

Thaipusam 2009
Getting ready to get up

The most visually striking devotee for me is the one pictured below.

Thaipusam 2009

Thaipusam 2009

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…..


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