Malaysia’s Tamils Mark Thaipusam

Amir Hadi Azmi

A silver chariot carrying an idol of Lord Murugan is paraded through Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown on its way to Batu Caves, Jan. 23, 2016. BenarNews


Musicians march ahead of a devotee carrying a kavadi (burden). Devotees believe that music helps ease the pain of lifting such a large load, Jan. 24, 2016. BenarNews


A 42.7-meter (140-foot) statue of Lord Murugan stands beside a 272-step staircase that devotees climb to fulfill their pledge, Jan. 24, 2016. BenarNews


A devotee carries a kavadi up the stairs, Jan. 24, 2016. BenarNews


A young devotee carries a small kavadi, Jan. 24, 2016. BenarNews


A child has his head shaved after fulfilling his pledge, Jan. 24, 2016. BenarNews


Women and girls carry jars of milk over their heads as the simplest form of kavadi. Women are not required to carry more ornate and heavier kavadis, Jan. 24, 2016. BenarNews


Some devotees go into a trance to cope with the pain and burden of their pledge, Jan. 24, 2016. BenarNews


A holy man prepares an offering, Jan. 24, 2016. BenarNews


A girl joins the festivities, Jan. 24, 2016 BenarNews

Life on the northern end of Kuala Lumpur burst into a dizzying array of colors earlier this month as Malaysia’s ethnic minority Tamils marked Thaipusam, a religious festival that commemorates the defeat of the demon Soorapadman by Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war.

Thaipusam began with a nighttime procession on Jan. 23 that featured a silver chariot bearing the idol of Lord Murugan as it made its way to the Batu Caves, a sacred site for Hindus on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital. The idol of the god is housed at the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

Batu Caves, where the festival has been celebrated since 1892, is a limestone hill 17 km (10.5 miles) north of the city. The caves, next to a giant statue of Lord Murugan, can be reached by a 272-step staircase.

The festival’s main highlight is the Kavadi Attam (Burden Dance), where devotees carry offerings on their heads as they make their way to the temple-cave. The simplest offering can be a pot of milk, but some devotees punish or exert themselves by having their cheeks and backs pierced with skewers or hook as they carry the altar on their shoulders. Participants prove their gratitude through pledges to Lord Murugan.

To prepare for the Kavadi Attam, devotees go through 48 days of physical training and spiritual cleansing. This includes a strictly vegetarian diet and abstinence from sex.

Some attendees walked for more than 10 hours from neighboring states to participate in the celebration in the Kuala Lumpur area. In other states farther out, members of the Tamil community hold smaller Thaipusam celebrations.


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