Malaysian barber has shaved heads for 18 years during Thaipusam at Batu Caves


Shaving heads during Thaipusam is part of Saravanan's (right) service to honour Lord Murugan. Photos: The Star/Sheela Chandran

For the past 18 years, barber and grocery store owner Saravanan Ayasamy, 44, has embraced a sacred duty – shaving heads for Thaipusam at the Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple in Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur.

"It’s more than just a job for me. I have been shaving heads at Batu Caves for many years because it’s part of my service of honour to Lord Murugan. I feel it's part of my responsibility to use my barbering skills to help others who have taken their vows for this religious festival," said Saravanan during an interview in Batu Caves recently.

Thaipusam is a Hindu festival predominantly observed by the Tamil community. It occurs when the Pusyam star radiates its brightest light in the Tamil month of Thai, typically falling in either January or February.

This festival almost always aligns with the full moon's presence during the same month.This religious festival – one of the biggest Hindu festivals in the country – is dedicated to Hindu god Lord Murugan and takes place today.

'I've shaved so many heads for Thaipusam. It's a humbling experience,' says Saravanan. 'I've shaved so many heads for Thaipusam. It's a humbling experience,' says Saravanan.

The kavadi, a ceremonial sacrifice that devotees carry for Thaipusam, can come in many forms. For example, many devotees shave their heads, while some people take milk pots and others carry the mayil (peacock) kavadi up the 272 rainbow-coloured steps to the temple in Batu Caves.

Every year, tens of thousands of Hindu devotees make their pilgrimage and offer prayers for Thaipusam in Batu Caves.

In the last 18 years, Saravanan estimated that he has shaved the heads of close to 8,000 devotees.

Achieving a smoothly shaved head requires concentration and a steady hand. Achieving a smoothly shaved head requires concentration and a steady hand."I've shaved many, many heads for Thaipusam and it's a humbling experience. The trust they place in me to carry out this ritual is something I will always cherish," explained Saravanan, who co-owns a barber shop in Bera, Pahang. He also runs a grocery store in Batu Caves.

The father of three is among 51 stall operators providing head-shaving services at Batu Caves since last Friday (Jan 19).

This year, there are 290 stalls operating at the annual Thaipusam bazaar in Batu Caves. They include flower garland vendors, food and beverage operators, and henna painting services.

Smooth blessings

Barbers are an indispensable part of the annual ritual for Thaipusam.

Saravanan's customers sit on a plastic stool in front of him with their heads bent forward.

For hygiene purposes, barbers dispose of used blades after shaving each head. For hygiene purposes, barbers dispose of used blades after shaving each head.First, he sprinkles water on the crown to moisten the hair. Next, he takes his razor blade and slowly starts to scrap at the skull.

It takes between two and five minutes to shave a person's head, depending on the hair length. For hygiene purposes, barbers dispose off used blades after shaving each head.

Last Saturday, graphic design student Shatisvaran Saundrajan, 22, was among the many devotees who underwent the head-shaving ritual by Saravanan.

'For Thaipusam, I pray for guidance in my studies, my family’s well-being and good health for my parents,' says Shatisvaran (seated).'For Thaipusam, I pray for guidance in my studies, my family’s well-being and good health for my parents,' says Shatisvaran (seated).He sat down quietly during the process, almost as a sign of respect, humility and submission to the sacred act. In the foreground, the pounding sounds of urumi melam – comprising a set of traditional Indian drums and cymbals which are played during Thaipusam – fill the air.

For the college undergraduate from Puchong, Selangor, the process of shaving his head reflects a meditative state, allowing him to focus on the spiritual significance of the ritual.

"I have been shaving my head for a few years during Thaipusam. I pray for guidance in my studies, my family’s well-being, and good health for my parents," said Shatisvaran, the youngest of three siblings.

Urumi melam performers contribute to the excitement during the Thaipusam celebrations at Batu Caves.Urumi melam performers contribute to the excitement during the Thaipusam celebrations at Batu Caves.

His father, lorry driver Saundrajan Murugesan, also shaved his head for Thaipusam this year.

In the last few days, Saravanan has shaved between 200 and 400 heads daily for a fee of RM20 each. Often, he doesn’t accept payment from the poor and people with disabilities.

"It’s part of my contribution to the community," he shared.

For years, Shatisvaran and his father Saundrajan have been participating in Thaipusam rituals. For years, Shatisvaran and his father Saundrajan have been participating in Thaipusam rituals.Similar to fellow devotees, the friendly man observes a 30-day vegetarian diet leading up to the religious festival.

"As a barber who shaves heads of these devotees, I believe in adhering to some of the spiritual and religious customs associated with Thaipusam."

However, his job is not without its challenges. The sheer volume of people seeking his services during Thaipusam presents logistical and physical challenges.

"It's demanding, both mentally and physically. At times, kavadi bearers might walk into our tents with sharp tools, posing an extreme danger, considering we are in the midst of shaving people's heads. The long hours and the pressure to ensure every shave is done with utmost precision can be exhausting," he shared.

Despite the challenges, Saravanan remains committed to his role, viewing it as a form of spiritual service rather than a mere profession.

"The satisfaction I derive from being a part of this sacred occasion far outweighs any challenges I may face."

Barbers engage in this service with a sense of responsibility and dedication, understanding the significance of their role in the religious practices of the devotees.Barbers engage in this service with a sense of responsibility and dedication, understanding the significance of their role in the religious practices of the devotees.

Throughout the day, Saravanan and other barbers sweep up bags of shorn hair. These bags are later discarded along with other trash.

Saravanan also makes it his personal mission to give back to the community. A sum of RM10,000 from his earnings during Thaipusam goes towards supporting the building fund of the Sivan Hindu temple in Bera.

"I am president of the Sivan temple and I want to contribute to the Hindu community in my hometown," Saravanan shared with a warm smile.

Through the swish of razors, this dedicated barber continues to play a vital role in shaping the spiritual transformations that unfold during this significant Hindu festival.


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Thaipusam , Batu Caves , Barber

   

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