Ever feel like smashing a coconut midweek? How about walking for 6 hours in a trance with hooks in your back pulling a silver chariot? Me neither. But for many Hindu devotees, this spiritual undertaking is an integral part of Thaipusam festivities.
The Hindu festival of Thaipusam is celebrated on the full moon of the Tamil month of “Thai” (January/February) which happened to be Wednesday. According to Wikipedia, the festival celebrates the goddess Parvati giving her son Murugan a spear to get rid of an evil demon. And Batu Caves just outside KL happens to have the world’s largest statue of Murugan with his spear in hand. What better place to celebrate the vanquishing of evil?
Since I had the day off work, I figured I would squeeze into public transit and check it out first hand. The experience was one for all the senses.
“Whether insensible, outmoded, stimulating or amusing, Thaipusam is that festival that doesn’t care what you think about it. It will dance to no end and have you watch” (Ragavan).
And watch in awe is exactly what I did. Engulfed in a sea of people dressed in vibrant colours, I made my way to the limestone caves. Bollywood tunes blared through scratchy loudspeakers, drumming troops joined into the cacophony, and entranced followers moved to a mysterious beat.
I did see a few coconuts thrown to the ground but later learned coconut crushing numbers were down as authorities had urged people not to get overzealous and competitive losing the true meaning of the ritual (Nambiar).
“The breaking of the coconut is a symbolic act. The shell of the coconut represents the ego and the white within represents the pure nature of the divine within every human. Breaking the coconut represents the breaking of one’s ego and the attempt to attain purity, or the divine, in life” (Nambiar).
But the day did not disappoint. Thousands of people were there. Some had made a 6-hour pilgrimage and were finishing the final 272 steps into the cave temple. Many were carrying 30kg kavadis (giant shrines) and pierced their skin with hooks or spears to show devotion. To the devotee this act is not painful, rather it is joyous. Spiritual preparations for the day have begun 48 days prior. All things that an outside observer cannot fathom (Ragavan).
Others were there to send off a few prayers, eat some Punjabi sweets and ride the impromptu Ferris wheel. Regardless, bringing people together in celebration in the fight against evil can’t be a bad thing.
One of the things I love about Malaysia (besides all the holidays) is the blending of cultures. At Batu Caves, you could see people of all races and ethnicities intrigued by the celebration. After all, the selfie knows no racial or religious boundaries!
Nambiar, Predeep. “Thaipusam: Don’t Turn Coconut-Breaking into Contest, Says CAP.” Free Malaysia Today, 26 Jan. 2018, http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2018/01/26/thaipusam-dont-turn-coconut-breaking-into-contest-says-cap/.
Ragavan, Surekha. “The Real Thaipusam.” Time Out Kuala Lumpur, 24 Jan. 2018, http://www.timeout.com/kuala-lumpur/things-to-do/the-real-thaipusam.