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Cherish Malaysia’s Hindu traditions

Author: Swagata S Roy & Devendra K Budakoti
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: March 3, 2015
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/oped/cherish-malaysias-hindu-traditions.html

Thaipusam festival, honouring Lord Murugan, is a grand affair, especially at Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur, write Swagata S Roy and Devendra K Budakoti

 South Indians in Malaysia celebrate the annual Thaipusam festival in all major towns of the country where there is a temple for Lord Murugan. In Kuala Lumpur, it is celebrated in Batu Caves, which attracts a number of pilgrims and tourists. The temple complex in Batu Caves is a popular tourist attraction and has now become a heritage site of Malaysia.

 Batu Caves is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India, dedicated to Lord Murugan; it is also the focal point of the Hindu festival of Thaipusam. It is said that, in India, the Thaipusam festival is more visible in the Arulmigu Dhandayuthapani Swamy Temple in Palani of district Dindigul in Tamil Nadu, which is about 100km north west of Madurai city. Lord Murugan is also known by the names of Kartikeya, Subramanya or Mariamman.

 The festival commemorates the occasion when Goddess Parvati gave Lord Murugan a spear/lance to vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. Kavadis (dance performed by the devotees) are carried out in fulfilment of vows and pledges taken in devotion to the god. Thaipusam is a day of penance and spiritual cleansing when devotees can be seen with metal hooks, spikes, trident or trishul pierced through their body, skin, cheeks and tongue.

 Kavadis are of many types. Decorations range from simple wooden arched semi-circular supports to holding a carrier foisted with brass or clay pots of milk. Kavadi is decorated with flowers, peacock feathers and a photo or statue of the Lord Murugan. The Thaipusam festival procession begins early in the morning from the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, which is situated in the heart of the capital, Kuala Lumpur. Then, the procession leads up to Batu Caves which is about 14km from the temple. In the earlier days, a decorated wooden chariot was pulled by bulls, but since 1983, it is a 21feet silver chariot which is pulled by an engine.

 In 1878, K Thamboosamy Pillai, an Indian trader, promoted Batu Caves as a place of worship. Pillai was inspired by the vel-shaped entrance of the main cave, dedicating a temple to Lord Murugam within the caves. Since 1891, the Thaipusam festival in the Tamil month of Thai (which falls in late January/early February) has been celebrated at Batu Caves. This year, February 3, marked 125 years of Thaipusam celebrations.

 The wooden steps up to the temple cave were built in 1920. Later it was replaced by 272 concrete steps in 1940. The temple or Cathedral Cave, so named because it houses several Hindu shrines beneath its high vaulted ceiling, is the largest and the best known. The temple complex consists of three main caves and a few smaller ones. The Cathedral Cave has a high ceiling and features ornate Hindu shrines.

 The Art Gallery Cave and Museum Cave, both of which are full of Hindu statues and paintings are at the base of the hill. In 2008, this complex was renovated and opened as the Cave Villa. The Ramayana Cave is situated to the extreme left as one faces the sheer wall of the hill. On the way to the Ramayana Cave, there is a 50 foot (15m) tall statue of Lord Hanuman and a temple dedicated to him.

 The annual Thaipusam festival is a grandiose affair and has become a pilgrimage site, not only for Malaysian Hindus, but also for Hindus from many other countries. It is a tourist attraction and never-to-be-missed occasion in Malaysia. The Batu Caves boasts millions of visitors during Thaipusam, which is a public holiday in several States and territories in the country. The rituals take place over three days and the spirit of festivity is enjoyed by people of all faiths in the country.

(The writers are based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
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