22 January 2011

The Amazing Thaipusam

I joined thousands of people to celebrate the Thaipusam Festival at the Batu Caves last Thursday. I first saw and learned about it when I watched a CD called ‘Amazing Asia’ and I remember how I was so surprised that something so ‘fleshy’ for a celebration actually took place here in my own country. I had always wanted to attend it ever since but I never got to do it until recently when I received an envelope with a letter of transfer in it.
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I was required to report for work in KL on the date that coincides the week of Thaipusam. Of course, I wouldn’t let it slip by just like that this time.
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Oh well, when we’re talking about 1 Million people cramping up into one place at a time, we should be prepared for the worse. I took a train from KL Sentral to Batu Caves and I could already feel the ‘heat’ even when I was lining up at the ticket counter.
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We went down to the waiting platform and took in the relief of seeing it being in a not-so-crowded condition. Yayyyy!
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This KL survivor of 2 weeks was there to accompany me and I was telling the truth when I convinced her that it wouldn't be THAT bad.
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15 minutes on and we suddenly became dots in a big crowd of people all in eagerness to become part of the amazing Thaipusam celebration. Jeez. Bad omen.
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Even getting into the train was already a game of pushing and squeezing (in).
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It was one of those times when I wished I could shrink down to half my size to earn more space for myself. Every space of the train was occupied to the last inch and it was impossible to keep even the slightest distance from everybody. I could even feel somebody breathing his stale breath right at the back of my neck. Erkkkk.
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I really had a lot of respects for Ulai. While I was struggling to hold my breath, she seemed so oblivious to the aromatic armpits that surrounded her colored head. LOL!
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I could see more reason for anybody to buy an iPhone then. :-P
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So…… I survived the train ride and went yayyyyy!
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But it wasn't for long. By just looking at the crowds was making me wanna pass out right there.  
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Thanks to the outcome of the last General Election, Thaipusam has since been declared a public holiday to some of the states in Malaysia and the number of visitors has since intensified a hundred folds over and more and more people from all over the world come to KL to bear witness to what is considered one of the greatest celebrations in the region.
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Our very beloved PM was addressing the crowd with his ceremonial speech when I got there. All the talks about his voice were true then. He has a loud voice to make up for what he is lack of – good points.
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Of course my main agenda was to see for myself the famous procession of Thaipusam which was to include hundreds of devotees to go on an 18KM pilgrimage walk from the Sri Mariamman Temple in KL to the world renowned Hindu shrine of Batu Caves.
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Thaipusam really is a spectacular celebration. The intense tropical heat of KL didn’t stop the thousands of devotees to come to Batu Caves to be part of the massive festival which is to mark the day Lord Murugan received Vel for the divine spear from his mother Goddes Mariamman to kill the demon Soorapadman.
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Being a dot in the sea of people, it was almost impossible to see everything. A crazy idea just kinda flicked on when I saw this.
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Before I knew, I was already up on the makeshift scaffolding enjoying a good 360 degrees view of the celebration.
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Looking around, I could see devotees including children and the elderly walked their sacred journey up to the caves. Some of them even brought their babies along and it was amazing how they could put these infants into sleep when the sun was sooo cooking hot. o.O
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They were men and women carrying a silver pot on their heads which I later learned had contained of milk which would then be carried to the caves and poured at the Lord Murugan’s statue.
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A loud bang had almost shaken me off the scaffolding and I turned to see clusters of pigeons had been flown free to mark the ceremony (I can’t say it was the opening ceremony because the celebration had started the day before).
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The pigeons were kinda swirling around for quite awhile before they disappeared into the bright sky.
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Whoever taught this budak to camwhore??
Oh well, all the info about the exact date of Thaipusam at Batu Caves can be quite confusing. Marked to start on the 19th and end on the 21st, people tend to get confused on which date to pick for their visit. The procession actually begins late in the evening of the 19th and it will go on until the 21st so you’ve got plenty of time to go there.
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I gotta say I should have gone on the night of 19th when it wasn’t really hot and the excitement was just about to begin.
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My initial plan was actually to join the procession at least up to the caves from the foot of the hill but thanks to my lack of exercises for the past few weeks, I don’t think I was physically-prepared to do it this year.
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The idea of passing out half-way up the 272 stairs was just so OMIGOD when there was so much to do to make sure a smooth transfer to my new workplace in KL.
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Thaipusam might bear what appeared to be a complicated significance to most people especially among the non-Hindus. Putting it the simplest way, it is more like a pilgrimage where devotees engage themselves in various acts of devotion to the Lord Murugan – the Hindu god of war.
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These acts of devotion include among others piercing through the tongue and cheek and hooks pierced at their back. Not really such a fun thing to watch but that’s just the way they do it.
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Ohh, and they don’t really let the hooks dangle freely on their backs. They are ‘hooked’ to a variety of fruits and just imagine how painful it is to have fruits hooked to your flesh and skin.
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It was painful to see them doing all the acts of devotion but just knowing that they don’t do it for nothing was actually a relief to me somehow.
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In a simple spiritual way of explaining them, the bigger the pain, the more the god-earned merit.
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It was such an amazing experience getting to see what there was to see there. Thaipusam is one hell of a colorful celebration. Already dressed in colorful ensemble, the variety of colors and forms of ‘kavadi’ that they carried along were such a spectacular view to see and enjoy.
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I was told that the kavadi bearers would be in a state of semi-conscious as they proceeded in the spiritual walk. I had to shake my head on that now, NOW that I’ve seen how they seemed to be very much awake and fully aware of all the attention that surrounded them. In fact some of them seemed to be enjoying the attention they’d even pose for the cameras!
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A MISCONCEPTION: All Hindu are Indian and all Indian are Hindu. This kavadi bearer here can't be an Indian.
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One thing I gotta tell you is that the Thaipusam procession is not really a silent one. In fact, it is a very vibrant and lively parade where the kavadi bearers and even the people would dance to the upbeat Indian folk music played by groups of super energetic musicians.  
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It felt so good enjoy something so spiritual and yet so entertaining at the same time. 
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I had nothing but sympathy for these security personnel whose patience seems to be tested to the fullest. I would have cracked a head if I were one of them. LOL! 
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So… We were there for a good 3 hours before deciding to get the hell outta there. I would have wanted to stay longer if I was still based in Sabah but now that I’m officially a metro guy staying in KL (ehem!), I could always come back again next year. BTW, can anybody tell me what the hell is this? Sorry, I'm a city guy. I don't know much about kampung fruits. I know durians but it is not one is it? :-P
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The train ride back to KL Sentral was not as grueling as the previous ride to Batu Caves. There was more space for me and I didn’t have to keep mum and hold my breath this time.I really thought I was lucky until one of the train personnel came shooing me away from what was apparently a so-called ‘LADIES ONLY’ coach. *malu
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Shit. When the hell did this all begin? Seems like I’ve got a lot of catching up to do with things here in KL. :-(

8 comments:

thomas said...

I don't like places which are crowded like Batu Caves during Thaipusam,
somewhat so near yet so far.
Thanks for your beautiful photos,
i am almost there.

chegu carol said...

omg jipp punya packed! i dont think i would want to go there when it's on Thaipusam...but then again, thats the only time we can see with our own eyes people walking with colorful sharp stuffs poked through their flesh and not feeling a single pain.
bravo to you and ur friend. great experience.

ken said...

even though i'm interested to experience how thaipusam like, i will never join the festive.. i dont like it as it's too crowded and hot..

if got helicopter then i might consider.. haha..

anyway, the female coach.. long time already lor.. :P

JIPP said...

Thomas: No problem. It was quite an experience. :-)
Chegu: Yeah, apart from the spiritual reasons, most people go to Thaipusam to see for themselves the physical torture. It was hard not to wince when looked at them. Ouchh.
Ken: Haha. I did wish I was on a helicopter when I was there. So damn packed but I just took it as part of the fun. :-) Really didn't know about the ladies only coach. :-(

chegu carol said...

oh wait, are u sure about not knowing the fruit in your pic? cos it looks like jackfruit to me.

JIPP said...

Oh yaaa. Jackfruit it is! Thanks for making me recall it again. hehe.

aud said...

I didn't go this year - last 2 years I did and enjoyed the experience. An eye-opener.

Since you are a city boy already, definitely also go on the night before, you can see them starting their journey barefoot from temples all over KL towards BC.

JIPP said...

Thanks Audrey. I'll do it next year. Thinking of joining the procession as well. :-)

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