Malaysia’s Hindu devotees celebrate Thaipusam festival

Hundreds of thousands of Hindus celebrated the annual Thaipusam festival on Thursday, gathering in temples across Malaysia, with many displaying their devotion by piercing their bodies with hooks and skewers.

Huge crowds converged at the spectacular Batu Caves temple complex on the outskirts of the capital Kuala Lumpur for the event, which is one of the most important religious festivals for local Hindus.

Barefoot devotees made a steep 272-step climb in high humidity to reach the temple top nestled within a limestone hill.

“I think because you’re constantly praying, you don’t really feel it,” devotee Jaynita, who asked to be identified only by her first name, told AFP.

“Once you go in you are in a mode of like, Zen, you just think about the god (Lord Murugan) and you just want to reach him,” she added.

The 30-year-old and her sister carried milk pots on their heads as offerings to the god to give thanks for the improved health of sick family members.

“When they get better, we believe that it’s because of him. So we fulfill the vow since he fulfilled what we asked for,” she said.

Thaipusam commemorates the day when the goddess Parvathi gave her son Lord Murugan a powerful lance to fight evil demons.

Some devotees carried heavy ornate metal structures called kavadis, affixed to their bodies with sharp metal spikes, or had their tongues and cheeks pierced with metal skewers as a show of thanksgiving and penance to Lord Murugan.

Many others in yellow robes carried offerings of milk pots or coconuts, which are smashed in a cleansing ritual during the festival.

Devotees appeared to be in a trance-like state as they carried the kavadis, which can weigh as much as 100 kilogrammes (220 pounds).

Some throbbed to drumbeats and religious songs as family members and friends cheered them on.

Prior to Thaipusam, devotees will typically hold daily prayer sessions, abstain from sex and stick to a strict vegetarian diet for weeks.

Colourful scenes also took place in Malaysia’s Penang state, where massive crowds thronged to a hilltop temple.

“We expect some one million people to participate in the Thaipusam festival in Penang,” R.S.N. Rayer, Penang Hindu Endowment Board chairman told AFP.

K. Ganesan, 59, a photographer in the northern state, said he and his family will “walk five kilometres carrying the milk for Lord Murugan, who has protected and graced my family.”

Thaipusam is also celebrated in India and Singapore and other areas with large Hindu Tamil communities, but is marked with particular zest in multi-cultural Malaysia.

Ethnic Indians make up about seven percent of mostly Muslim Malaysia’s 34 million population.


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