OVERWHELMING scents, sounds and sights once again filled Batu Caves yesterday, as Hindus embarked on the 272-step journey up to the Sri Subramaniaswamy Temple to fulfil their vows during Thaipusam.
Thousands of foreign and local visitors also attended the religious festival, alongside the Hindu devotees who observe the day for thanksgiving, endurance and penance.
Many of these visitors could be seen with cameras, capturing the elaborate decorations, trance-like worship and sacrifices to Lord Murugan.
For devotees, Thaipusam is the climax after a period of abstinence and fasting to cleanse their bodies of sin. Some carried enormous, decorative kavadis, complete with bodily piercings as a symbol of their sacrifice, while others carried the smaller paal kudam (milk pot).
Zhila Amadian, 26, who arrived in Kuala Lumpur from Iran on Monday.
She said Thaipusam was the first cultural event she had observed while being in Malaysia.
“It’s a true celebration of life, you can feel joy among the people,” she said.
Other international visitors, such as Veronica Baterina, 40, from Australia found it more of a cultural shock than celebration.
She said it was one of her first major religious events outside of her own Christian faith, and was surprised by all the bodily piercings.
“The statue is huge! The colourful parade was fascinating and the Hindu people should be proud. I was also amazed to see the plethora of food,” said Baterina.
Two sisters from Wales, Ria, 19, and Kelsey Wilson, 22, were watching in awe as dozens of devotees proceeded past them in trance-like worship with kavadis and milk pots. They had returned to Malaysia specifically to witness these events during Thaipusam.
“I study at the University of Nottingham, Malaysia campus,” said Kelsey, 22.
“We were on vacation in Thailand but came back for Thaipusam as everyone said it was one of the largest human gatherings. They were correct,” she added.
Ria said she and her sister had used the KTM Komuter to get to Batu Caves and although there was a huge crowd, she enjoyed the festival.
“I’m not sure if we will make it up the stairs today but I think we’ll come back later for that,” she said.
One devotee was having a particularly lonely Thaipusam. B. Krishna, 32, from Kuala Lumpur said this was his 30th Thaipusam at Batu Caves but it was the first to be celebrated on his own.
The history lecturer had taken his milk pot up to Batu Caves by midday and it was the first time he was away from his family during Thaipusam.
“My father is not here and my mother is also very sick, so I am on my own.
“It has become a tradition for me to devote myself during Thaipusam,” said Krishna.
A number of market stalls had been set up around Batu Caves, selling everything from footwear and refreshments to DVDs of Bollywood films.
One food store was donating all the profits to two orphanages in Rawang and Malacca and was expecting to sell more than RM10,000 worth of nasi lemak, nasi goreng, vegetarian burgers and cold drinks.
A worker at the food stall, Nirmala, 52, said most of her workers volunteered in the name of charity.
“It’s our way of helping these orphaned children,” she said.
Batu Caves is the largest location for Thaipusam in Malaysia, with organisers expecting up to two million people over the four-day public holiday weekend.
The devotees and visitors had their thirst quenched with a free flow of moru, a blend of traditional yoghurt, water, salt and spices. Think of it as a diluted version of the lassi.
Sri Hang Kasturi Enterprise project manager K. Raja and his team were engaged by Fernleaf to supply moru to the devotees during Thaipusam.
“This is the 10th year we have been providing our own homemade moru drink during Thaipusam. Moru is a good thirst quencher and also aids digestion,” said Raja.
Over 200 buckets of fermented milk is processed into moru by adding a mix of honey, cumin, chilli, salt, and pepper and mustard seeds.
“It is very refreshing to drink moru during the hot weather. In previous years, we only supplied it for the devotees but now it is free for everyone who visits Batu Caves during Thaipusam,” he added.