2017 Kuala Lumpur Thaipusam

Pairs Well With...Cultural Awakenings + Respect + Religion

Malaysia is a country of extraordinary fusion: food, culture, religion, and architecture.  The fact that three cultures (Malay, Chinese and Indian) can co-exist harmoniously, despite different values and beliefs, is rare.  The level of multicultural diversity in Malaysia is something I’ve not experienced before, and one that sadly does not exist as seamlessly in the United States.  How noble of a country to be able to put aside differences and treat one another with respect.  Respect.  Malaysia should be proud of what they’ve achieved during their short-lived independence. (This is the part where we give this country a standing ovation…)

For those of you unfamiliar like I was, let me get you up to speed on your Malaysian history as I understand it:

  • 14th Century: Since way back before any of us were born, Malays have been out doing their thing.
  • 1786: British folk weasel their way into Malaysia and start getting all high and mighty by building their tiny empires year over year.  On other people’s turf.  I believe the word stealing held the same meaning back then as it does today.  Just sayin’.
  • 1826: The British (once again) start poking their noses where they don’t belong and take over the Malay’s sh*t.  Not cool guys.  Keep your hands to yourself. Then, they voluntold Malacca, Penang, Singapore and Labuan that they were going to become The Colony of Straits.
  • 1942-45: Japanese Armies started some sh*t – and brought World War 2 with them.  Again, not cool guys.
  • 1957: Finally, finally, the “British Malaysia” becomes just Malaysia.  I’d imagine there was a lot of clapping and celebration, followed by many middle fingers aimed in Britain’s direction.  Take that!
  • 1963: Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore want in and, together with Malaysia, they form the Federation of Malaysia.
  • 1965: Singapore says, “Peace out” and dips.  Mic drop.


And this, ladies and gentleman, may be why I didn’t pursue history as a profession.  (Sources below can lead you to your own interpretation.)

Now, in Malay, “Kuala Lumpur,” translates to “muddy confluence.”  “Kuala” is the point where the two rivers merge together and “Lumpur” means mud.  The city was founded at the confluence of these two rivers in 1857.  Malaysia will celebrate its 60th birthday this year in August.  (Dear Malaysia, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s never too early to start celebrating a birthday.  Get it.)

Within the three cultures, Islam is the predominant religion and is 61% of the practicing population.  There are also large and devoted segments of the population practicing Buddism (20%), Christianity (9%) and Hinduism (6%).

Why am I telling you this?  Because I was able to witness Thaipusam, a Hindu ceremony held each year during the full moon on the tenth month of the Hindu calendar.  Thaipusam is a three-day event that kicks off late in the evening on night one, with a procession leaving from Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur’s oldest Hindu temple.

The procession is led by a beautiful, glowing chariot carrying a statue of Lord Subramanian, The God of War, which represents prosperity and virtue.  Growing larger in size with each mile, thousands of barefoot devotees begin their nine-mile walk down the streets of Kuala Lumpur to the Batu Caves, arriving by noon the following day.

Once the statue reaches the caves, devotees prepare for their acts of penance, followed by bringing offerings up all 272 Batu Cave steps as a form of penance.  Impalings of the skin, including tongue, cheek, and back, are common with the back piercings often decorated with fruit, leaves, spikes, hooks or spears.

This article nicely outlines the delivery of the kavadis:

“Besides impaling themselves, followers also carry giant metal constructions (called kavadis) with offerings such as flowers and milk to the top of the caves. Some kavadis can weigh up to as much as 100 kilos. Once prayers are completed, those with skewers attached to their bodies have them removed and their wounds are treated. The event continues throughout the night and into the next day with many queuing up to carry their kavadis up to the central cavern.”

Thaipusam was an incredible piece of culture to experience.  While deemed a Hindu celebration, to me, it was so much more.  It was a peaceful illustration of religious devotion, but also a gathering of interested bystanders wanting to see, learn and expand their minds outside of their own culture, something I believe we can all stand to do.

Article Sources:
BBC News: Malaysia History Timeline
Hotels.com Feature: Thaipusam in Batu Caves
iExplore: Malaysia: The Cultural Melting Pot of Asia

Photography Credits:  Jay Harrison


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