Documentary on Thaipusam kavadi porters goes viral

Kavadi porter Raj, 15, carries a kavadi back from the temple at Batu Caves during Thaipusam.
PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

PETALING JAYA - A story, well told, will stand the test of time.

The team at R.AGE, the youth news and lifestyle platform of The Star, was pleasantly surprised when its year-old video on Thaipusam's kavadi porters went viral.

Originally published on Feb 17 last year, The Men Who Carry Thaipusam shares the untold story of Malaysia's kavadi porters, who consider it a sacred duty to help pilgrims at Thaipusam.

The porters' main priority is to ensure the kavadi bearers' comfort during their pilgrimage and carry the kavadis back down for them.

Hindu devotees in Singapore and Malaysia celebrate Thaipusam in 2017

  • Men carrying decorated structures called "kavadi" dance in circles to the beat of drums, as others with their cheeks pierced with skewers pull chariots using cords attached to hooks on their backs during a grand procession.
  • Hindu devotees on Feb 9 marked Thaipusam, a religious celebration dedicated to the deity Lord Murugan.
  • In Singapore, live music is being played at the procession for the second year in a row.
  • About 50,000 people are expected to throng the streets to mark the annual Hindu festival.
  • Thaipusam is celebrated in honour of Lord Murugan, who represents virtue, youth and power.
  • Devotees seek blessings and fulfil their vows by carrying milk pots as offerings.
  • Thaipusam is celebrated in honour of Lord Murugan, who represents virtue, youth and power.
  • Many also carry kavadis - structures of steel and wood - and pierce their bodies with steel rods and hooks.
  • In Singapore, devotees will embark on a procession from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road.
  • Last year's procession was the first in 42 years where live music was played.
  • The chariot carrying Sri Murugan arrives at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road on the evening of Feb 8, 2017.
  • Decorative horses line the chariot carrying Sri Murugan as it arrives at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple.
  • Said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a Facebook post on Wednesday (Feb 8): "For Hindu devotees participating this year, I wish you a meaningful and blessed ceremony."
  • This year's procession expects to draw 569 kavadi bearers and 9,661 devotees bearing milk pots.
  • In Malaysia, the annual festival takes place on a grand scale in Southeast Asia at the Sri Subramaniar Swamy Devasthanam Temple at Batu Caves just outside of Kuala Lumpur.
  • Young boys in Malaysia carrying milk pots.
  • A Malaysian Hindu devotee reacts in a state of trance as he walks towards the Batu caves temple.
  • The exact date of Thaipusam changes each year in the Gregorian calendar, as it is based on the full moon day in the month of Thai in the Hindu calendar.

"We produced it last year when R.AGE was just starting out with videos. But we re-shared it this year, and it has gone viral, with over 100,000 views and 3,000 shares in three days (and counting)," said senior producer Elroi Yee.

The 34-year-old, who led the team of four, said they met with different kavadi porters about two weeks before Thaipusam last year.

"We arranged to follow one kavadi maker and his team around for the entire Thaipusam day. Three of us were filming and one of us was running social media updates on the R.AGE Facebook page," he added.

On the day of the festival, the team took a train to Batu Caves and reached the area at 5.45am, and started finding the right porters to tell their story.

"One of them was selected for his age, being a young 15-year-old, and the others were based on how strongly they feel about their work," said Yee.

The team took four trips up and down the 272 steps that lead to the Batu Caves temple, but Yee said it was "nothing compared to the porters", who also fast 48 hours in advance.

"One of them did 30 trips up and down the stairs! Not just on Thaipusam day, but a few days leading up to it," he said.

When asked to recount his favourite moment of the 20-hour shoot, Yee shared a touching anecdote about one of the teenage boys, Rajvarman Pannir Selvam, 15, featured in the video.

"Raj wanted to carry one of the big kavadis down the steps. He said 'I'm going to help a pilgrim up, and bring his kavadi down, that's my target'.

"But his boss didn't let him, and he was given a small one. Finally, on the second last trip down, his boss let him take a big kavadi. Raj was so proud," he said.

Queried about how the team felt about the video going viral a year later, Yee joked that it should have gone viral the first time it was shared on Facebook.

"The first time, it wasn't published on Thaipusam day but a week after, so maybe there was less attention.

"Still, with this going viral now, I think it's great that people can see how Thaipusam is not so much about flashy kavadis and mounds of coconuts, but it's really about everyday people and their devotion," he said.

To find out more about Malaysia's kavadi porters, watch the R.AGE original documentary The Men Who Carry Thaipusam at rage.com.my/thaipusam and TheStarTV.com.

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