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Pacific Asia Watch
Thaipusam - Penance as an Act of Devotion
Thaipusam took place on January 30, on the full moon in the month of Thai in the Tamil calendar, which lands in the month of January or February.   More than 1.6 million devotees and visitors gathered at the Batu Caves in Malaysia to celebrate this religious holiday and cleanse their bodies of sin. The festival is celebrated in several states, including Selangor, Penang, Perak, Negri Sembilan and Johor. Thaipusam is a Hindu religious festival where devotees praise Murugan, the God of War. Worshippers pierce their cheeks with vels, or long and shinny steel rods; pierce their backs and chest with hook-like needles; and carry large kavadis, or ornate frames as acts of devotion and penance. While some worshippers slip into a trance, others walk quietly while reciting prayers. This annual religious holiday draws the largest gathering in multi-racial Malaysia, more than one million devotees.

"Thaipusam is by far one of our most significant and unique cultural celebrations in Malaysia celebrated by Hindus. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people march to temples in unison and peace. Among those people, you can spot hundreds of devotees, often with piercings on their upper body and face, carrying Kavadis (metal structures) on their shoulders. There’s dancing and colorful decorations everywhere. People of all religions and cultures join in this splendid celebration, and this year was no exception,” said Mazlan Araju, vice president of Tourism Malaysia Los Angeles.

Worshippers flock to one of the world’s most popular Hindu shrines at the Batu Caves, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. The shrine is dedicated to Murugan and is the focal point for Thaipusam in Malaysia. Devotees must climb a steep flight 272 steps before reaching the temple. The Batu Caves has a ‘Cathedral Cave’ that rises more than 300 ft. above the ground and is decked out with ornate Hindu shrines.