Kuala Lumpur Part 2 – Thaipusum

Warning, this is intense!!!

After visiting Penang Island, I made my way back to KL where I planned to spend 5 nights to witness the Thaipusum Festival. Thaipusam is a Hindu festival dedicated to the Hindu god Murugan, the youngest son of Lord Shiva and conqueror of evil. He’s the god of war and victory, and is often shown riding a blue peacock. The festival happens in many locations every year, but one of the largest and most known is at the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, as they are completely dedicated to Lord Murugan.

When I arrived, there were many vendors with food, trinkets, and barbers shaving the men’s heads and beards. At the bottom of the steps, there were huge piles of shoes, as many climb the steps barefoot. Shoes are allowed in the caves, but not in the different shrines within the caves. I’m wondering how many people had to return home shoeless??

Some women carry a silver jugs of milk on their heads and small peacock hats as offerings, and a few have piercings. Male devotees pierce body parts with needles and spears, especially their cheeks and tongue. They also put hooks into their backs which attach chains and poles that pull on the hooks when they dance around in a trance, carrying a kavadi to the temple as an offering to Lord Murugan. The men who carry the kavadis on the 11 km procession from Chinatown to the Batu Caves, and up the 272 steps are accompanied by friends and family who play drums, chant, provide a stool for breaks, water, and offer massages and general support. I knew this was going to be eye-opening, but wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. It was definitely intense, and grew more and more intense as the evening approached. Unfortunately, the skies opened up and it began to pour as many of the men with the larger kavadis were heading up the steps. Here is a closer look with some videos to give you an idea…

A devotee dancing and whirling in a trance

Many of the men carrying the kavadis are not young. These offerings are very heavy, and the guys are completely exhausted after the journey. Many of them also fast and sleep on the hard floor for weeks leading up to the festival to prepare, making the journey even more difficult.

I followed this guy up the steps and into the temple. It was concerning to watch, as he was extremely exhausted by the top!
Finally, his legs gave out and he collapsed. Quickly his team took out the piercings, hooks, etc. as they laid him down and cooled him with fans and water.
I was relieved when he finally came to and held his supporters.
It was amazing how much trash was piled around the caves with the exhausted devotees by the afternoon! The smell was intense!

After the excitement in the caves, I made my way back down the steps to the village below where I checked out he food, trinkets, and crafts until I couldn’t take anymore of the crowds and the heat.

As I made my way out of the complex, the skies opened up, and it was time to find the train…this was another adventure as I just missed one, and had to wait almost an hour for the next train to arrive. I was in the front of the group (you can see my blonde head with my sunglasses), but as soon as they opened the gates, the squeezing and pushing began….everyone was ready to head home! It was a bit scary, but once we were on the train, everyone was back in good spirits and it all worked out.

Phew…that was Thaipusam! I’m so glad I experienced it! I probably won’t rush back next year, but it was truly amazing to witness!

I was going to finish KL in this post, but realized Thaipusum needed a post of its own. See you again soon!!

Hugs, Michelle

3 Replies to “Kuala Lumpur Part 2 – Thaipusum”

  1. Truly amazing!! Very colorful, but a bit ruff to witness. The poor men doing this. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could put themselves through this. Do you have a photo of the steps going up to the cave?
    Thanks for sharing this interesting custom/ festival.
    M& D


      1. I’m almost sure these are the steps we climbed. At the Batu Cave. I was thinking that it was in Phuket. Glad to know the right place.


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