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Hinduism in Malaysia

Hinduism in Malaysia

Hinduism is a minority religion in Malaysia. An estimated 9% of the total population of Malaysia are ethnic Indians, of whom almost 89% are practicing Hinduism. Indian settlers came to Malaya in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of these came to work as labourers on rubber plantations, while those who were English-educated occupied more professional positions. Some of the major Hindu festivals celebrated every year include Deepavali and Thaipusam.

Food in Malaysia

Food in Malaysia

If shopping is the national pastime in Malaysia, then food is the national obsession. It is not uncommon to be greeted by the phrase 'Sudah makan?' (Have you eaten already?). Everything in Malaysia revolves around great food. Pleasant social get-togethers are always combined with having a nice meal. In Malaysia, more people blog about food than about anything else. Locals usually never eat at home; unless it is with family. Everybody eats outdoors every night; Malaysia is all about food!

Rafflesia biggest flower in the world

Rafflesia

Rafflesia is a genus of flowering plants that is made up of 16 known species. The best known of these species is Rafflesia arnoldii, which has the distinction of being the world's largest flower, reaching a diameter of about three feet. The Rafflesia flowers have been found only in Indonesia - on the islands of Sumatra and Java - and Malaysia, in particular in the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak. All of the known species of Rafflesia are threatened or endangered.

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. This goes for the Chinese population in Malaysia too where the day itself is declared a public holiday. For Chinese locals the new year means a new start where they can make new money and attract new businesses. At numerous locations in Malaysia people light fireworks during the celebrations. Chinese New Year is the only day in the year most of the shops are closed for business.

Airport Taxi at KLIA

Airport Taxi at KLIA

Though using the KLIA Express is a quicker way to reach Kuala Lumpur city center, using the airport taxi is a much easier way to reach your destination within Kuala Lumpur. KLIA Express only brings you to KL Sentral while the airport taxi drops you off right in front of your hotel. If you are traveling alone it might be too expensive compared to other options as you pay RM74.30 for a ticket. You can buy tickets for a fixed price at one of the taxi counters at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Thaipusam festival in Malaysia

Everybody climbs the 272 steps

Over a million Hindus gather every year at various temples nationwide to celebrate Thaipusam. The exact date of this important Hindu event is based on the full moon day in the month of Thai (January/February) in the Hindu calendar. Thaipusam is a celebration dedicated to the Hindu deity Lord Murugan (youngest son of Shiva and his wife Parvati). The celebrations take place on a grand scale at the Batu Caves (Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple) just outside of Kuala Lumpur. Besides the Batu Caves; Hindus also gather at the Balathan­dayuthapani Temple or Waterfall Hill Temple in Penang, the Sri Subramaniya Swamy Temple in Sungai Petani (Kedah), and the Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple in Ipoh (Perak).

  • Check out our Thaipusam festival picture set at Flickr.com
"I am pleased with your courage and determination," he said. "Your devotion to your guru is admirable. I now bestow on you the honor of being my guardian" Lord Murugan then proclaimed that henceforth, those who carried kavadis to see him, would receive his blessings.
Huge crowds gather at the Batu Caves

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Thaipusam is a public holiday in Malaysia

Hooks through the skin

Thaipusam is the biggest festival for Hindus after Deepavali and usually falls in January or February. It is observed as a day of thanksgiving and paying penance for Lord Murugan. In many states in Malaysia Thaipusam is a public holiday. Devotees prepare themselves for the occasion by cleansing their bodies through fasting and abstinence, and usually observe a vegetarian diet for a certain period of time. Many devotees began paying penance a few days before the actual festival, with the carrying of the kavadi (a decorated structure bearing the image of several deities including Lord Murugan) on their shoulders and pal kodum (milk pots) carried above their heads.

 

Over 10.000 tourists visit the Batu Caves during Thaipusam

Skewers through the face

Celebrations at Batu Caves are an amazing experience for tourists; yearly over 10.000 tourists visit the celebrations at the caves. The night before Thaipusam Hindus gather at the Sri Mahamariaman Temple along Jalan Tun HS Lee (Chinatown/Petaling Street area). From there they will leave around midnight on a 15 kilometer (approximately 8 hour) walk towards the Batu Caves where they will arrive the next morning. The long trip culminates in the flight of 272 steps to the cave entrance. It is said that well over a million people visit the Batu Caves during Thaipusam, so be prepared for a very crowded, hectic and sometimes even claustrophobic experience. At some points it can be so crowded that people are pushing the masses to get forward. It is best to stay away from these crowds. The best place to get some great shots of the crowds is by walking towards the elevated highway (which is packed with parked cars anyways).

Millions come to the Batu Caves  

Many devotees are in trance

Devotees are in trance

When you arrive at the Batu Caves on the day of Thaipusam don't be surprised (or rather shocked) to see many people in trance. Some are being carried by their siblings, wives, husbands or other relatives. Many men (and also the occasional woman) have themselves shaved at one of the many barbers. Because of this you see many devotees walking around with a bald head. One of the aspects that make Thaipusam so interesting is the way that devotees pay penance to Lord Murugan. Some pierce their skin, tongue or cheeks with Vel skewers. We even saw a man hanging on multiple hooks while being pushed forward. Some had many small hooks in their backs with small decorations. A few times we noticed that some where blessed by others; which led to great excitement with the devotee expressed by dancing uncontrollably and waving arms wildly.

Man hanging from hooks during Thaipusam  

Everybody goes up the stairs

Huge golden statue at the Batu Caves

Devotees, tourists and locals all are allowed to go up the stairs to the actual caves. There the Hindus will pray and also say thanks at numerous altars. The area around the Batu Caves is filled with small stalls where food, snacks, drinks and also many religious items are sold. There is also a small children's amusement park. Walking through the small stalls can be a bit crowded; same goes for the stairs up to the caves. Foreigners can get real close to the action as there is a special 'press' area where actual press (and tourists) is allowed to take close-up photographs and videos of the devotees that are waiting to start their climb up the stairs that lead into the Batu Caves. We were also allowed up the special 'press platform' that towered over all the people right where the stairs towards the temple start.

 

Location of Thaipusam celebrations

Below you can see a map with the location of the Batu Caves in northern Kuala Lumpur. You can simply scroll through the map with your mouse. Use the markers on the left to zoom in or out of the city map.

 

How to get to the Batu Caves

Train to the Batu Caves

If you plan to go to Batu Caves during Thaipusam you are advised to use public transportation to avoid the anticipated massive traffic congestion. All roads leading to Batu Caves are usually blocked by bystanders and devotees. Cars just park in the middle of the roads; so going there by car, taxi or bus is not the best way to get to the Batu Caves. The easiest way is by the direct KTM Komuter route that goes from KL Sentral to Batu Caves station in less than 20 minutes. A ticket at KL Sentral will only cost you a couple of ringgits. During Thaipusam extra trains will go between KL Sentral and Batu Caves. After your visit to the Batu Caves it will be very crowded at the train station; especially if you leave somewhere in the afternoon. Many tourists, locals and devotees return home after a very intense night and day.

Close-up of the crowds during Thaipusam Took some great pictures from the elevated highway

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