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Thaipusam in Malaysia

Malaysia Thaipusam Festival

Thaipusam in Malaysia is always the festival to witness due to the amazing and stunning culture and heritage of the Hindu people here and also around the world.

And for those planning to visit Malaysia, the Thaipusam festival (தைப்பூசம்) takes place on a very large scale at the Batu Caves in Selangor at the end of January or even early February.

If you should also know, Batu Caves is the main place in Malaysia where it is celebrated on a massive scale with over a million people coming here.

Thaipusam Festival in Malaysia

Celebrated by the Tamil community of Malaysia, there are several other places where Thaipusam is celebrated, namely in Penang and Ipoh in Malaysia if you are nearby there.

The word Thaipusam is actually derived from the month name of Thai and a star name which is Pusam.

Devotees perform vows by carrying containers of milk and even Kavadi's as offering to Lord Murugan, the Tamil God of War all the way up to the temple, climbing 272 steps up as debt bondage.

Some devotees even shave their heads to perform the vows and this can be seen outside the temple grounds.

Devotees performing their vows at Batu Caves
Devotees performing their vows at Batu Caves
Hindu people in Malaysia take a vow for the main purpose of tiding over or averting a great calamity.

An example would be when the devotee's child has a life-threatening sickness, the devotee would pray to Kartikeya also known as Murugan or Shanmuga (One with 6 Faces) to grant the boy a lease of life in return for which the devotee would take a vow and dedicate a Kavadi to the god.

At Batu Caves during Thaipusam, you will have the opportunity to see devotees carry silver urns containing milk as offering to Lord Murugan either by hand or in huge decorated carriers on their shoulders called 'kavadi'. 

Devotee with Kavadi at Batu Caves
Kavadi bearer

The unique structure may be a simple design with wooden arched semi-circular supports holding a carrier foisted with brass or clay pots of milk.

Other more intricate ones are huge and may rise up to two or three meters. These massive Kavadi's are built of bowed metal frames that hold long skewers, the sharpened end of which pierce the skin of the bearers torso. 

The Kavadi's are also usually decorated with colourful flowers and peacock feathers, most of them which are imported from India.

Some of the standard Kavadi weigh about 10 to 20 kilograms while the heavier ones may weigh anywhere from 30 to 100 kilograms. 

The process of carrying a Kavadi can be exhausting and tiring but devotees make it a point to finish the journey which can take hours depending on the size of the Kavadi and also the strength of the devotee.

Thaipusam Photos 2015
A devotee with a pierced tongue at Batu Caves

Usually, the vow starts when the devotee baths in a the nearby called Rock River (Sungei Batu) at Batu Caves.

Then the devotees make their way on foot on the main road towards the entrance of Batu Caves. From there, the head on to the Temple Cave and climb the flights of 272 stairs to the main temple in the cave.

The entire festival is an amazing sight to witness if you are there and also a great opportunity to take photographs. 

However, you should know that some of the devotees go into a trance when they perform the vow and carry the Kavadi.

You can see them dancing or in another world. It is best to give them away when they pass and not obstruct them. 

2015 Thaipusam Malaysia
Devotees at Batu Caves

Thaipusam Photos

Below are a series of Thaipusam photos taken during my many trips to Batu Caves which show the many devotees that are performing their vows by carrying milk urns and Kavadi's.

You will notice that I have left out the more intense photos which can be quite disturbing for some people. Anyway, each photograph here will have a description of what is happening too. 

Batu Caves in Malaysia
The main entrance to Batu Caves in Selangor

Devotees having their heads shaved at Batu Caves

Thaipusam photos 2015
Milk urns being carried by devotees

Batu Caves Photo 2015
A Thaipusam Devotee is held back by hooks

2015 Thaipusam Photography
Mini milk urns hooked to a devotee's back

Kavadi Metal Support
A devotee carrying a Kavadi takes a break, the Kavadi metal support

Thaipusam 2015 Batu Caves Photo
A Thaipusam devotee in a trance is held by hooks and rope

Thaipusam Devotees in Trance Photo
The same devotee in a trance does some rituals on the streets here

Thaipusam Girls Devotees
Female Thaipusam devotees perform a dance with milk urns on their heads

Women carrying Kavadi Photo
A female devotee carries a Kavadi and in a trance at Batu Caves

Thaipusam Vows Photo
Devotees chant as they perform their vows on route to Batu Caves

Malaysia Thaipusam 2015
Thousands of devotees going up and down the stairs at Batu Caves

Thaipusam Photo in MalaysiaVows for Thaipusam
Various vows performed by devotees at Batu Caves

Batu Caves Thaipusam Photo
Some devotees with large hooks and some with small hooks to their bodies

Pictures of Thaipusam 2015
You can see the intense pressure holding the devotee

Kavadi Decorations 2015
Peacock feathers decorated on a Kavadi at Batu Caves

Malaysia Thaipusam Photo 2015
Visitors and devotees make their way up and down the 272 steps at Batu Caves

Lord Muruga Statue at Batu Caves Malaysia
Lord Murugan Statue at the foot of the temple at Batu Caves

Taking Photos at Thaipusam

This is the fun part, getting those incredible shots of the devotees performing their vows during the festival.

Anyone can take photographs there, however, you should always respect the devotee and give him or her their space to perform their rituals and vows.

Here are some simple photography rules for Thaipusam;

► Do not ask them for permission to take photographs (Some of them may be in a trance).
► Do not talk to them or call them to look at you when they are performing their vows. 
► Stay clear of their path or walkway, do not block them and give them away.
► Do not flash them in the face with your camera flashes. From a distance is alright.
► When devotees start dancing with Kavadis or Milk Urns, stay clear of them as they move around in large circles. You do not want to be hit by them or the Kavadi. 
► When you see a devotee taking a break, do not approach them or talk to them.
► One of the best places to take photographs of Thaipusam devotees is from the main overhead bridge leading to the temple main gate. Most of the devotees pass this way and the space is wide here. 

How to go to Batu Caves?

For those planning to visit Batu Caves in Selangor, you are advised to head there as early as possible to avoid the midday heat.

The devotees start as early as 5.00am but it is recommended you be there at around 7-8 in the morning and stay for a few hours. You can also refer to my previous article on Batu Caves

Batu Caves is located in the Gombak district of Selangor and is about 13 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur city. Some buses go there while taxis will take you there.

Note that due to the massive celebrations, grabbing a bus or taxi back can be a little difficult. However, you can walk about 1 kilometre away from the temple and catch public transports. 

Driving there is also tricky - What I did was I drove there early, but I parked my car about 3 kilometres away and walked to the festival. This is simply because, by late morning, the traffic comes to a standstill and getting in and out of Batu Caves area can be quite difficult. 

You can also check out the Bus To Batu Caves from this website with a google map that can scroll in and out. 

The best option is taking the train from KL Sentral. Take the Commuter Train (KTM Komuter Train), the Sentul - Pel Klang train to Batu Caves from KL Sentral Station. Alternatively, you can also take the monorail service to the Titiwangsa station. then alight and take the bus to Batu Caves.

The Food at Batu Caves

I would suggest you eat before going there and most important, bring lots of water as the humidity can be really high.

There are vendors selling food, water and cold can drink around the festival, but at double the price. However, you can bring packed food like burgers or power bars if you must. 

Batu Caves Thaipusam 2015
The large crowd outside Batu Caves on Thaipusam Day

Being Careful at Thaipusam

As always, you should be very careful here. Huge festivals like this will attract pickpockets and petty thieves so keep your belongings well secured.

Like for me, I carry my backpack in front of my body. I don't even have my wallet or phone in my pocket, everything in my backpack and secured in the front. 

Another thing is getting in the way of devotees during the rituals and vows, sometimes the devotee members may yell at you for obstructing them, so give them their space as you would not want to be shoved aside by them.


Overall, Thaipusam will attract over a million people to the festival and tens of thousands of travellers, photographers and visitors throughout the day here at Batu Caves.

If the weather is nice, hot and humid, it can turn into a sweat bath so bring a towel or tissue. Nothing beats being here and seeing what goes on during this incredible and amazing festival.

Any questions or comments about Thaipusam in Malaysia, please leave them in the comment form below.


Henry Lee said...

Great tips bro. Will u be there? I think i was there about 4-5 years back. Indeed it was a good celebration for photography enthusiast. Probably gonna drop by if i'm free :)

Malaysia Asia said...

Hi Henry, I think I should be there, but early about 8-9am. We'll keep in touch for this, but I may have to travel out of KL during this date too. :)