Thaipusam - something about spilt milk?
Trip Start Oct 19, 2006
55Trip End Apr 05, 2007
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We read some other traveler's blogs about their experiences last year, and talked to some folks about it. The advice we got seemed to be that we should go in the middle of the night for the best views of devotees getting ready for a big climactic event at dawn on February 1st or sometime later that day. So, though we felt less than wholly recovered from our two sleepless nights on the trains, we set off at 12.30 for Batu Caves, the end of the devotees pilgrimage
Getting into the crush of other people was a little like going back to India for the night. We had just gotten used to the mix of Muslim women in their headscarves, Chinese faces, and Indian faces that we see everywhere in KL, here we were - the only white people we saw for hours in crowds of Indian-looking Malaysians.
We took two crowded trains out to the caves, arriving around 2.30. I didn't know exactly what to expect, but a ferris wheel was not on the list. There it was, though, right when we got off the train. Someone told us they recently added the carnival rides to try to spread the people out some from the main path of devotees and devotee-watchers. Wild. There were also all kinds of booths selling Bollywood films on DVDs and blasting music in the ears of the crowd. Being in a crushing crowd of people is usually something that I really have a hard time dealing with, but for some reason, I was in a good mood, laughing about being at a complete standstill with hardly enough room to breathe, pleased to see that the crowd actually could part a bit to let out the lady who was fainting. Whoever pinched my ass did try my patience a little, but it only happened once, so OK
We wandered through the crowds, not really sure where we were going, until we stumbled upon the path. The devotees walk (maybe all the way from KL) to the caves and then up 272 steep steps to the entrance of the caves. They give their offerings (mostly the milk in the pots they've carried on their heads, in their hands, on their kavadi, or on their backs) inside the cave, remove their spikes and hooks, and eventually go back down the steps and into the crowd again.
Since we were there in the middle of the night, lots of our pictures didn't turn out well, but we still got a lot of intense ones. Being there was even more intense - lots of devotees pierce themselves with spikes and hooks. They are apparently entranced and don't bleed or feel pain. They have bands, or sometimes boomboxes, that they listen to and dance to as they progress toward the caves. They smoke something mysterious. They have all kinds of supporters and some devotees had a ring of folks who surrounded the devotee, since the devotee was unaware of their surroundings, and unable to really control himself or herself. As the night turned into morning, it did seem that there were some more intense shows of devotion - people with hooks on their backs that had just been holding fruit (just!) were now attached to ropes that someone else (a handler?) held the ends of, reining in the devotee and pulling their skin, often at the devotee's request
Once the devotees came down from the caves, they seemed to join the rest of us watchers on the sidelines. Out of their trances, lots of folks took naps, changed out of their yellow outfits into normal clothes, and watched the parade.
We've read in the paper that there were 1.3 million people at the caves, but I'm not sure if that number refers to just that night (of the full moon), or to the two days before that, or to the rest of the week while the vendors apparently stayed open.
What an amazing thing to see.