Thaipusam is a pilgrimage for devout Hindus who come to the colossal Batu Caves situated in a bluff of limestone karsts 15kms north of KL. Many set off from the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in Chinatown in the early hours of the morning on a route culminating with a long stairway of 272 steps leading into the enormous Temple Cave at the top.
Thaipusam has a number of meanings for Hindus, with the most spectacular and visible one being those that come to do penance for misdeeds or being unworthy of their gods. This penance takes the form of what look like incredibly masochistic feats of atonement such as seeing the endless procession of men who have attached limes, oranges or small silver urns to their backs and chests with hooks directly into their skin! Some add to this by attaching these hooks to rope which would be held by family members providing resistance and keeping these ropes taut against the devotee straining against it.
Others wear enormous 'kavadi's' (meaning "suffering at every step"), which are basically ornately decorated shrines assembled upon a steel frame that is supported around the bearers waist. Many of these kavidis weigh from 100-150 lbs and upwards and also have to be manhandled up the steps into the temple above.
Not all worship involves self inflicted pain, and many men and women make the walk to the Caves barefooted with a simple silver urn of fresh milk on their head in thanks for any children born that year.
This was without doubt one of the most spiritual experiences I have ever had and I was so glad to be a part of it, being surrounded by so many people devoted to their religion in this manner. It was a very peaceful event and we met many people only too happy to explain the significance of this event to a pair of curious westerners...
by Gwilym Owen
September 3, 2006
From journal Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia's Powerhouse