Piercings, incense, drumming: Malaysia marks Thaipusam festival

Piercings, incense, drumming: Malaysia marks Thaipusam festival
Kumaraguru Kunalan was among huge crowds who thronged Malaysia's Batu Caves complex at the Thaipusam Hindu festival.
PHOTO: AFP

Hundreds of thousands of Malaysian Hindus, some piercing their skin with hooks and skewers to show their devotion, gathered in temples across the country on Monday to mark Thaipusam.

The annual Hindu festival sees believers carry offerings to places of worship to the deity Murugan and marks the day when his mother -- the goddess Parvathi -- gave him a powerful lance to fight demons.

It is observed mainly in countries with significant populations of ethnic Tamils -- descended from people who originally came from southern India -- including Malaysia and neighbouring Singapore.

Massive crowds thronged the Batu Caves complex outside Kuala Lumpur as incense and drums filled the air.

Kumaraguru Kunalan said he took part in the festival for his health and his children's education.Photo: AFP

Many had trekked for hours to reach the popular pilgrimage site before the final arduous climb up 272 steps to reach the temples set in caves.

This picture taken on January 20, 2019 shows Kumaraguru Kunalan (C), 38, climbing 272 steps to a Batu Caves temple carrying "kavadi" offerings on his shoulders for a religious pilgrimage during Thaipusam festival celebrations at a complex of temples outside Kuala Lumpur. Photo: AFP

A huge variety of offerings, known as "kavadi", were on show -- from simple pots of milk balanced on pilgrims' heads, to poles slung across shoulders, and large portable altars decorated with feathers and flowers.

Kumaraguru's father, Kunalan Nadarajah, pours milk over himself as part of his religious pilgrimage to a Batu Caves temple.Photo: AFP

With a metal skewer piercing his tongue and a heavy wooden pole hoisted on his back, Kumaraguru Kunalan said he wanted to give thanks to the god Murugan.

This picture taken on January 20, 2019 shows Kumaraguru Kunalan, 38, in a state of trance, his tounge pierced with a steel skewer as he makes his religious pilgrimage at the Batu Caves temple during Thaipusam festival celebrations at a complex of temples outside Kuala Lumpur.Photo: AFP

"For me, it's about asking for good health, my children's education," the 38-year-old father-of-four told AFP.

Prior to Thaipusam, devotees will typically hold daily prayer sessions, abstain from sex, refrain from cutting their hair and stick to a strict vegetarian diet for weeks.

Despite the extreme shows of devotion, the Thaipusam festival is very much a family affair, with elders joining their grandchildren as they make the annual pilgrimage.

Kumaraguru (L) received a blessing from his father the day before the festival.Photo: AFP

There are no rules on what kind of kavadis devotees are required to carry on their pilgrimage, and the choice is a personal preference, Kumaraguru said.

This picture taken on January 20, 2019 shows hundreds of Hindu devotees making their pilgrimage a Batu Caves temple during Thaipusam festival celebrations at a complex of temples outside Kuala Lumpur. Photo: AFP

Most of Malaysia's roughly 32 million people are Muslim Malays, but the country is also home to more than two million Indians, most of whom are descendants of labourers brought from southern India during British colonial rule.

This picture taken on January 20, 2019 shows hundreds of Hindu devotees making their pilgrimage to a Batu Caves temple during Thaipusam festival celebrations at a complex of temples outside Kuala Lumpur. Photo: AFP
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