This post contains a couple fairly graphic images. If human blood makes you uneasy, you may want to skip it.
It’s a continuation of the post “Thaipusam: Masochistic Mayhem,” which I suggest reading first if you haven’t done so already.
The Thaipusam festival lasts several days and nights, taking place at the Batu Caves about 13km from Kuala Lumpur. I first arrived around 11pm, by which time the crowds were already out in full force.
As far as I could tell I was the only tourist there – or at least the only Caucasian – amongst millions and millions of Indians.
As the festival seemed to be divided into several distinct areas, I decided to explore them one at a time.
First was the main “inside” section right at the base of the cave; it contained all the booths and stalls characteristic of most festivals I’ve been to, selling everything from cotton candy and soda to doormats and haircuts.
Then of course there were the caves themselves; an absolutely enormous chasm atop 272 near-vertical steps, guarded by the world’s largest statue of Murugan.
An ascent to the caves marks the end of the festival’s long procession and the stopping point for its thousands of faithful devotees.
I watched as they’d make their way up the steps – exhausted, sweaty, and bleeding – before finally being awakened from their trances.
This was probably the second most interesting part of the festival; witnessing their glazed-over looks slowly vanish as normal human expression returned. They’d look around, greet their friends and family, and join in for a bit of worship at any of the cave’s many shrines and altars. It was as if nothing unusual had happened. Like…a metal skewer having been shoved straight through the middle of their face 😛
But of course the real spectacle of Thaipusam – and the reason I came all this way – was the procession itself.
Unimaginable acts of pain are accompanied by ornate displays of beauty;
People with spears through their mouths, hooks tearing at their flesh, and thick tridents going straight through their tongues carry big portable shrines, no two quite alike.
I know I’ve said this already – but it was truly one of the strangest and most interesting things I’d seen in my life. And trust me, I’ve seen a lot.
On the first night of Thaipusam I stayed until around 2am, when the crowds finally started to wear me down – some areas were so busy that it literally felt like I’d be crushed by the millions of Indians shoving about.
So after catching a short concert and fireworks display in the shadow of towering Murugan, I decided to pack it up and get rested for tomorrow.
Photo conditions would no doubt be better in sunlight anyway 🙂
And I’m so glad I did – because shortly after returning the following afternoon, I really hit the jackpot.
I mentioned already that the cave marks the end of the processions, where devotees come out of their trances…
Well today, I found where the trances begin.
This is where I first got to witness the descent into madness described in my previous post – human zombies screaming and writhing as they sink farther and farther from reality.
It was just incredible. Think “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
(Click here if you don’t know what I’m talking about – though I really hope you do ;))
I ended up spending nearly 5 hours in this one little area, photographing and videoing, joining various groups for a bit of the procession and returning to once again marvel at the insanity around me.
I didn’t head home until 7pm when the sky suddenly became overcast and rain started to fall. It wasn’t all that intense, but in tropical climates like this I’ve learned that even a single drop of means it’s time to start running; clear skies can transform into torrential downpours in barely the blink of an eye.
Besides, I had already nearly filled up my entire 5 gigs of memory 😉
Note: These posts are behind realtime; the above took place on January 19th and January 20th.