KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 25 — As every year, thousands of devotees and visitors thronged Batu Caves a few days ahead of the Thaipusam festival.
While some had come to enjoy and soak in the atmosphere, many had come to offer prayers and fulfil their vows to avoid the crowd today.
Bala Murugan, 39, who was accompanied by his wife, Uma, 36 and their two kids were among the worshippers who chose to carry the kavadi two days earlier to ensure peaceful and unhurried vows.
“We carried the kavadi two days earlier because we have small kids, and on Thaipusam day, it will be very crowded, so we won’t be able to fulfil our vows peacefully, and they will feel tired easily as well.
Bala Murugan, 39, who was accompanied by his wife, Uma, 36 and their two kids were among the worshippers who chose to carry the kavadi two days earlier to ensure peaceful and unhurried vows. — Picture by Raymond Manuel
“We wanted to avoid the crowd when fulfilling our vows but we will still come again to Batu Caves Temple on Thaipusam day (today),” he said.
Thaipusam is observed by Hindus in the month of “Thai” in the Tamil calendar to commemorate the act of Goddess Parvati presenting the “vel” (lance) to her son Lord Murugan as an embodiment of her “shakti” or power to vanquish the evil and restore peace and well-being.
Hailing from Sentul, he expressed gratitude for the manageable rain, saying, “We didn’t expect it to rain today, but with Lord Murugan’s blessings, it’s not heavy rain, still bearable.”
“Actually, we planned to start at 4pm, bald our heads, and then carry our kavadi to Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple but because of the rain we had to start a bit later,” he added.
Anbukarasi, 39 from Batang Kali, fulfils her vows with her four children ahead of Thaipusam at Batu Caves, January 23, 2024. — Picture by Raymond Manuel
Helping her son to carry the Thol Kavadi which consists of a short wooden pole surmounted by a wooden arch, pictures of Lord Murugan and shiny dangling ornaments attached to the arch and a small pot of milk attached to each end of the pole, Uma explained the personal effort and dedication involved in preparing their kavadi.
“We did our kavadi all by ourselves with our children’s help as well. We did all the decorations by ourselves. It takes us approximately two hours to complete both kavadi,” she said.
Carrying the kavadi up 272 steps from the foot of the cave beneath the shadows of the imposing 42.7 metre-tall statue of Lord Murugan is believed to bring peace and good luck.
Despite having carried the kavadi since childhood, 24-year-old Shastishh has developed a deeper appreciation for the practice in adulthood, transforming his devotion into a unique service for fellow worshippers.
Shastishh said that his grand kavadi weighs between 25kg to 35kg, adorned with additional elements such as Lord Murugan statues, LED lights, peacock feathers, flowers, and milk for idol bathing. — Picture by Raymond Manuel
“I have been carrying the kavadi since I was eight years old, and in 2018, I started a kavadi rental service.
“As a Lord Murugan devotee, I embrace Thaipusam as a profound day of devotion, dedicated to fulfilling vows we made to him. My love for him was what motivated me to start the kavadi rental service,” he said.
The term kavadi translates to burden and is carried by devotees during Thaipusam as a ritual offering to seek divine intercession.
The kavadi can range from a simple pole to intricate works of art, serving as a symbolic representation of the devotee’s dedication and sacrifice.
Shastishh said that his grand kavadi weighs between 25kg to 35kg, adorned with additional elements such as Lord Murugan statues, LED lights, peacock feathers, flowers, and milk for idol bathing.
Hindu devotees carry milk pots ahead at Batu Caves temple. — Picture by Raymond Manuel
He said that the meticulous process of creating these intricate structures takes almost two weeks for a single kavadi.
“Starting with sketching the design, cutting, assembling, and decorating with adornments will take almost two weeks to complete for one kavadi. It takes that long because we need to do the lighting, carve the cardboard, styrofoam, and wooden planks, and prepare the electric motor and Murugan statues.
“However, the statues depend on the individual; some people will provide their own statues, and some will ask to stitch the statue with cloth, a practice we call ‘Kattu Silai’. All the statues are our own, and we have only Murugan statues,” he added while showing his collection of kavadi at Batu Caves.
When asked about preserving the peacock feathers, he said that he stores them in a room specially designed to keep the feathers.
Devotees carrying the kavadi in conjunction with Thaipusam at Batu Caves temple. — Picture by Raymond Manuel
“From time to time, the feathers are kept under a fan to prevent them from falling. For two of my kavadi, I have been using the peacock feathers for six years now. It all depends on how well you take care of it,” he said.
Shastishh said that he operates a kavadi rental service with a total of five kavadi available for rent, all of which were already booked for the day.
“I will usually carry kavadi on Thaipusam day, the remaining kavadi are entrusted to my family and friends, ensuring that each of them can express their devotion in a unique and meaningful way,” he said.
The crowd watched in awe when the devotees arrived bearing colourful kavadi while others had their cheeks and bodies pierced with spears and mini pots.
Supporters were also seen walking alongside the kavadi bearers shouting “Vel! Vel!” and singing and dancing to religious hymns or Bhajans to motivate and encourage them to complete their walk.
Saravanan said he reuses his ‘Iduman’ for Thaipusam every year. — Picture by Raymond Manuel
Many were also impressed by the sight of the Idumban Kavadi, which had gold-plated Vel statues attached on both sides of the long and thick wooden pole and two pots of offerings suspended from each side of the wooden pole, as devotees carried it up the colourful steps.
Saravanan, a dedicated devotee residing on Jalan Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur, marked his sixth consecutive year at Batu Caves yesterday for Thaipusam.
The 37-year-old, bearing the weight of a 40kg Idumban Kavadi after fulfilling his vows for Thaipusam, shared his commitment to reuse the same kavadi each year, reflecting his tradition of devotion.
“This kavadi I did last time, so every year I will reuse it again because it only has to be screwed again. I will unscrew everything and store it properly, and then on the day I’m fulfilling my vows, I will screw it back,” he said.
Kavadi bearers also take special care to condition their minds and bodies beforehand so that they may safely perform their rites of devotion, while other devotees prepare themselves spiritually with prayers, fasting, and acts of penance.
“I will only break my fasting after Thaipusam because there are still prayers to do for Lord Idumban,” said Saravanan, adding that he plans to return with his family to Batu Caves on Thaipusam day to enjoy the livelier experience.
Hindu devotees carry milk pots ahead of the Thaipusam festival at Batu Caves temple in Kuala Lumpur, January 23, 2024. — Picture by Raymond Manuel