Sunday, February 11, 2007

Thaipusam Celebrations Batu Caves 2007 Part 1


One of the earliest shot I took, consists of a picture of some of the non Indian participants who took part in the procession. Really muhibah.

Thaipusam must surely be one of the most enthralling cultural events in our yearly calendar. Being away from KL for the past five years I really missed the chance to photograph the event and had to contend with reading about it. Year by year, its fame and scale had grown exponentially to the point that its fame is well known even far from our shores, luring tourists and locals alike each year without fail. When it was announced that nearly 1.5 million people would be here throughout the week of celebrations I knew I couldn't miss it and luck would have it this particular year Thaipusam fell alongside Federal Day which means my office in KL would be closed. Visitra from KL Flickr meetup organised a mini Flickr meetup and a few of us took it up be join up to shoot the event.


The fellow was in a trance but which diety was possesing him I couldn't find out the name but I noticed for the first time that the people in trances consists of several variants and the diety that took possesion of them determined their behaviour.

We knew the event would be big, even more so as it is being promoted as one of the major events for Visit Malaysia Year resulting in an increase in expected visitors. We planned to meet up at 7 a.m. in the morning but some of us eager beavers arrived as early as 4 a.m. (thats you Amkay) to get a head start. Visitra was kind enough to give me a lift as I wasn't familiar with the roads and also to avoid the congestion. Setting off from Sentul at 530 a.m. the roads weren't too jammed as we took the old Batu Caves road instead of thr MRR II which we later found out from Amkay was jam full. Parking was hazardous as even tis early the devotees were already there in droves throughout the night. The parking touts directed us to park in front of one of the shops and charged us RM10 but under the circumstances it won't be considered too extroberant.


Various stalls were selling Indian sweetmeats and I loved the sweet tasting morsels though it would play havoc on my colesterol levels.

Our plan was to meet up at the blood donation stand located at the archway into Batu Caves. The earliest of the arrivals were of course Amkay who had already been there and shooting away wantonly. The rest of them that confirmed their participation came later near 7 a.m. consisting of Eka, Tini, Jeremy, Abetam were already there by then and the last member to arrive was Kenmin who was late on account of his bike dying while enroute. Magnus joined us later since he said he wanted to sleep in and didn't particularly want to see the kavadi piercing. With everyone gathered and the first light of dawn arriving out group set out to meet up with Visithra's friend who will be participating in the kavadi procession.


The kavadi procession was already in full swing before we even got there. Visithra told me the place had been packed for the past few days with non stop devotees carrying out their vows throughout the day and night.

While waiting for the rest to come I noted that the place was already jam packed with people. A stage built nearby was taken up by various groups giving talks or chanting prayers. It seems that each has been given a slot to say whatever they planned with a time limit before the next group goes on something like '30 seconds to fame' on TV. The sidewalks were all lined with stalls selling clothings, prayer tapes, food and other assortment of items. The entrance arch to the Batu Caves area was full of people. Hordes of photographers were camped at the entrance to capture the devotees as they moved along their route, some even climbing onto the arch for a better vantage point. Kavadis were making their way up the steps as their entourage consisting of music bands, chanters yelling out prayers and others possessed by one diety or another enacting their roles for the crowd.


Small pots of milk hang by sharp hooks from this devotee's back as he made his way to the temple.

The entire area was like a sea of people, some were hanging about to view the procession, others were lying on makeshift beds and litter trying to catch some sleep, others were busy making preparations for their turn in the procession. Every square inch was a hive of activity and you could literally be consumed by the endless human tide and truly at times I felt as if I was just dragged along with the flow, without any means of moving independently from the crowd. The day was still dark but floodlight and the various torches and flame pots carried by the devotees added the extra illumination to the place. Amkay was busy shooting near the river where the devotees were bathing before the prayers and blessings by the priests and Visithra was waiting for the others. I just went around nearby to catch whatever shots I could but a point and shoot works hard in such low light and fast paced conditions and I didn't really take much at this point.


A kavadi bearer takes a rest as he makes his way along the route. The kavadi may weight as much as 50 kg from what I was told and the more eleborate ones even more.


This man is carrying the more compact version of the kavadi, a wooden shoulder held kavadi without the hooks and chains of the larger kavadis.

When the others finally arrived we all gave introductions since many of us have never met each other before and we all made plans with Visitra through Flickr. As mentioned Kenmin was the last to arrive as his bike died on the way here so he was huffing and puffing when we finally saw him. We headed out as a group initially, stopping to snap whatever took our fancy. The processions never ceased and with so many human interest subjects to shoot it was overwhelming.


Woman holding to a pot of fire as she makes her way with the other entourage.

The kavadis came in various forms. The milder types consists of carrying milk pots which many of the women and children were seen holding above their heads. Wooden archway kavadis without the hooks and piercings were also the norm. Others also carried high piles of carefully arranged articles like statues, fruits, leaves etc which could be double the bearer's height. The more extreme forms of kavadis consists of carrying huge structures with decorations ranging from stone idols, decorative fixtures, peacock feathers and more borne by the devotee on his bare shoulders and waist. Some were fitted with sharp hooks which were inbedded into the bearer's body. Others were often in a trance and possesed by various dieties of which the human host takes upon their characteristics and manerism.


A small shrine with offerings near the road side.

Often these kavadi bearers are accompanied by an entourage of followers, most often family, friends or associates. Some will be playing traditional instruments, others chanting and dancing alongside the bearer while other smaller kavadi bearers would follow suit in the procession.


Preparations before receiving the blessings from the priest, this Kavadi bearer (his first) has a long way to go from here.

We made quite a number of stops and at one of the stopovers we saw a family preparing for the kavadi. Talking to one of the people there we found out that it was the bearer's first time carrying a kavadi. This was our real first photo opportunity and everone didn't waste much time to get into the flow, snapping the stationed kavadis, filming the preparations, and so forth.


A couple of devotees taking a rest before they begin accompanying the kavadi bearers.


Music and dance accompany the kavadis along with loud shouts of 'vel' to encourage the kavadi bearers.

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