Depth of Devotion – Thaipusam in Malaysia

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Brits call it “holidays” and North Americans call it “vacation.” Whatever the hell you call it – you probably love it and so does your body for its well-earnt rest, as does your soaring excitement levels (but I’m not so sure about your bank account).

Some people like to kick back and relax on a sunny resort. Others like to have a jolly good piss-up. The more refined folk like to sightsee and read up on the history of the country that they are visiting.

My friends and I….we chose to watch people put themselves through immense physical pain, which generally included masses of people choosing to stab sharp blades through their face.

Classy bunch we are!

I took loads of horrendous and interesting photos of this. Then forgot to upload them to my computer. Then I broke my camera in Singapore. 🙁 Thankfully, I have friends who went and I took some cheeky photos on my phone.

Edit; this became a recurring theme over the years. I’m the worst photographer and travel blogger ever!

Yes - it's straight through his face.
Yes – it’s straight through his face.

So why do the men and women of Kuala Lumpur (those of Indian heritage) decide to every year, put themselves through so much torture and torment? You might have guessed it – religion!

Origins Of Thaipusam

Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated by the Tamil community every year, but oddly enough it is not recognised in India as an actual event. Malaysia is made up of a melting pot of races, many being of Indian heritage – and these guys decide to steal the show during Thaipusam in the most eye-catching way.

Thousands of devotees flock to the Batu Caves, to pay tribute to an old battle against the Asura forces, apparently aided by praying to the God  “Shiva,” who flew down and kicked some serious arse or something. One guy told me the pain they experienced was to keep out evil souls that still linger around and threaten the Tamil community.

But you don’t really care about all that history stuff, do you? You just want to see people with blades through their face and backs pouring of blood, don’t you? Sickos!

Day number one of two at Batu caves provided an infectious, enthusiastic and exciting environment. Girls queued up for impressive body art and performed lovely Tamil dance rituals. Guys did what we do best – stuffed our faces with loads of food. (Everything is vegetarian during this event). I did however, return to my hostel feeling underwhelmed – as I wanted to see more crazy shit!

The 4am show however, did not fail to meet up to my expectations – and I felt like I was part of a complete different universe! Before I knew it, guys and girls with only one blade through their cheeks were becoming soft core to me. My unquenchable curiosity was as thirsty as ever – but my shock factor was becoming alarmingly strong. And I craved craziness.

Thaipusam devotion

I got what I wanted. Thousands upon thousands of the Tamil community strutted up to the long walk up to Batu Caves with multiple sharp objects through their face. Some guys had hundreds of piercings all over their back, with attached chains.

The other end of the chains were attached to mini sculptures which mimicked the temple that was transported to Batu from Kuala Lumpur central.

Blood cascaded down their backs, blades through their face, heavy memorials rested on their head as they climbed the 272 steps of Batu caves. What made this event even more outrageously unbelievable was that the Tamil folk never looked in distress. They looked in a meditative state and at times they would squeal and roll round on the floor as to suggest that they were possessed by demons.

Batu Caves, Thaipusam festival.
Batu Caves, Thaipusam festival.

At the top of the stairs, the blades are removed and the individual acts like something out of a scene from “The Exorcist.” I watched one guy salivate, make evil cat noises, have a fit and then scream as his blades were removed from his face. Seconds later he came over to me and said in his distinctive Indian/English voice; “Thank you for coming to our festival, Sir. It’s a great pleasure to have you here.”

Dumbfounded!

A Hindu devotee gets in a trance before he starts his pilgrimage to the sacred Batu Caves Temple during Thaipusam festival in Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur

I’m not showing off or anything here, but the videos that are currently on Youtube for this event are pale in comparison to what I witnessed.

I’m not a religious man myself and I personally believe that it’s done more harm than good. The subject of religion is actually a really touchy one for me right now, in my personal life so maybe I will have a different view about it when I’m not too emotionally attached.

Thaipusam certainly is a “go hard, or go home” kind of event and I’m happy that I experienced this wild and fascinating festival.

 What is the craziest religious festival that you have went to? Have you ever been to Thaipusam?



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8 comments

  1. R.a.W | Ramble and Wander Reply

    Despite being a Malaysian, I only went to Thaipusam in Batu Caves for the the first time ever this year. Like you said, it’s an amazing but hard to believe experience for non-Hindus. Watching the procession, seeing the faithful being in trance while having stuff pierced on the face and both on the front and back of their body is definitely not for everyone but it certainly makes a good and very memorable experience…

    Great shots, btw. Love them!

  2. Turner Reply

    Sorry I missed this one. Perhaps I can come and we can reenact this one.

  3. Mark Reply

    You should check out the annual ‘Vegetarian Festival’ at Phuket. Piercing galore. Possibly the only reason to spend more than one day on that island.

    Disappointed with your photos though. Was expecting one of you with fishhooks through your gonads, attached to ropes, pulling a fully laden tuk-tuk uphill!

    May be you could do a charity run?

    There but for the grace of God, go I!

    1. Anthony Reply

      Hahahaha Mark – thanks for that info! Sorry to disappoint, RIP my old camera :'(

  4. Andi Reply

    This is just too crazy for me. I want to throw up every time I see a picture. Ahhhhh!!!

    1. Anthony Reply

      Haahahaha you love it, Andi! You LOVE it!!!

  5. Devon Sutton Reply

    She is Telegu and she hates Tamil to core .All her negativity will be reflected to Tamils , why Telegu movied do no have Dappankuthu ? She hates Tamils till she don’t want to use the word Deepavali but choose to use Diwali .Diwali is iused by Northern Indian but in Malaysia common word is Deepavali which is a tamil word. Your article is half complete and lacks in depth research, Sonia Ghandi was working in tandem with LTTE to smuggle God’s statute/artifices from India to European country .Some of this are sold in Sonia’s sister shop in Italy . You also did not mention the role China in this conflict who was playing shadow game with Sri Lanka . The Tamil diaspora around the world has brought this to UN level and working hard on this matter.So for you who has no role except being arm chair critic plus being a Tamil hater .You are linking the objection abt Rajapaksee by local Malaysian Tamil with Tamil Nadu politics plus Palestine and the whole world issue .Maybe you are the one in cloud nine by writing subtly this article which reflects your hatred against tamils in general. The above is the caustic criticism I received after blogging about dappanguthu for Diwali and the Sri Lankan issue and it is all because of me being a Telugu. Yes, racism is rearing its ugly head again and in actuality, it is not racism; it’s sub racism because Indian is a race as a whole. Telugu, Tulu, Marati, Malayalam, Bihari, Punjabi and whatnot are Indian sub races.

  6. The Vegetarian Festival in Phuket, Thailand - Man vs Clock Reply

    […] out my Thaipusam festival in Malaysia – it’s quite similar in principle – believers putting themselves through […]