Brightly-coloured kavadis on the shoulders of devotees. The thick scent of camphor punctuating the air. Dizzying sight of hooks and spears pierced across the tongue and body. There is no festival quite as compelling as Thaipusam, which honours Lord Murugan’s victory of good over evil.
In Malaysia, the best place to witness these touching spiritual rites is Batu Caves, a famous temple complex tucked within a limestone cave. An enormous, imposing statue of Lord Murugan watches over the main entrance. A flurry of pigeons and loose feathers settle on the walkway.
While Batu Caves sees its fair share of temple-goers across the year, Thaipusam galvanises it into a psychedelic wonderland of distinctive Hindu rituals. To receive blessings from Lord Murugan, devotees perform symbolic acts of sacrifice, such as shaving their heads bald, carrying pots of milk to the temple, piercing spears through their tongues and shouldering the most elaborate homemade kavadis (altars that also literally mean “burdens”) with hooks, fruits and tiny pots hanging all over their bodies.
With “burdens” on their backs, they brave the crowd and the steep 272 steps of Batu Caves. It really makes you wonder what ordinary humans are physically capable of in reality! Take a look at the photo gallery for more.
How to get there
If you are thinking of driving there yourself, you might want to think again. It’s absolutely crowded and there are usually not enough parking spots. Alternatively, you could hitch a ride off someone or take the train at the Batu Caves KTM.
If you are thinking of taking the KTM, carry a topped-up Touch & Go card or return token with you. It’ll help you skip the queue as it gets crowded towards the afternoon.
Tips for your Visit
- Bring a camera
- Bring a bottle of water
- Bring your Touch & Go card
- Be alert as there are pickpockets around
Address: Batu Caves, 68100 Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia
Thaipusam may be a wonderful time to visit the temple, but any other day without the crowd is just as lovely. Apart from Hindu devotees who regularly visit the temple, locals also come here in the morning to exercise or train for long climbs (if you plan to climb Kota Kinabalu, running up and down the stairs gets your heart racing!), see the monkeys and enjoy the views.