Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia’s largest Hindu pub­lic cel­e­bra­tion is a visual spec­ta­cle.

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

Each full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (mid-January to mid-Fe­bru­ary), Malays and tourists flock to the Batu Caves out­side Kuala Lumpur to wit­ness the coun­try’s big­gest Hindu pub­lic dis­play, Thai­pusam. A time to show thanks to Lord Shiva’s son Mu­ru­gan, the fes­ti­val is about faith, stamina, and penance.

Devo­tees – of­ten in a state of trance – climb the 272 steps to Mu­ru­gan’s shrine, many with painful, if spec­tac­u­lar-look­ing, pierc­ings as an out­ward sign of de­vo­tion and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for wishes ful­filled. Some carry of­fer­ings of milk pots hooked to their flesh, while oth­ers pierce their cheeks, tongues, and other body parts with en­tire frame­works of spikes – the spir­i­tual trance ap­par­ently keep­ing them free from pain.

More than a mil­lion peo­ple at­tend the fes­ti­val which, with its char­iot-led pro­ces­sion, chant­ing, and mu­si­cians, ex­udes a car­ni­val-like at­mos­phere. There, the faith­ful per­form rit­u­als be­fore a huge golden statue of Mu­ru­gan. For vis­i­tors, it’s a chance to ex­pe­ri­ence an an­cient cel­e­bra­tion first­hand, ex­plore Kuala Lumpur – a sul­try city em­brac­ing moder­nity and tra­di­tion – and, in keep­ing with the aim of the fes­ti­val, return to their lives re­freshed.

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