More than a million Hindus gathered in temples across Malaysia today to celebrate the annual Thaipusam festival, with many piercing their bodies with hooks and skewers to showcase devotion to the deity Lord Murugan. Massive crowds descended on the stunning Batu Caves temple complex on the outskirts of capital Kuala Lumpur to participate in the festival, which commemorates the day when goddess Parvathi gave her son Lord Murugan a powerful lance to fight evil demons.
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Armed with gifts including milk pots and coconuts which are eventually smashed as offerings, worshippers walked barefoot up 272 steps to reach the temple — an important religious site for Tamil Hindus. Many displayed their fervour by carrying heavy ornate metal structures called kavadis, affixed to their bodies with sharp metal spikes that are hammered into the skin. Some devotees appeared to be in a state of trance as they carried the kavadis, which can weigh as much as 100 kilogrammes. Others pierced their faces with tridents or hung multiple hooks and chains from their bodies in an act of penance.
“My brother is carrying a kavadi today to help the family and… also for our other brother who is suffering from a neurological disorder,” said A Yuven as a group of men chanted prayers and percussionists gave encouragement.
Prior to Thaipusam, devotees will typically hold daily prayer sessions, abstain from sex and stick to a strict vegetarian diet for weeks. “I have no special demands. I am just here to offer my prayers,” said Aiyya Valmundi, who has been taking part in Thaipusam festivities for more than a decade.
Most of Malaysia’s roughly 31 million people are Muslim, but the country also has around two million ethnic Indians. Most are descendants of labourers brought from ethnic Tamil areas by Malaysia’s former British colonial masters. Lord Murugan is particularly revered in southern India and among ethnic Tamil communities in South East Asia, with Thaipusam also celebrated in India and Singapore.