The ‘skylight’ of the Temple Cave
The chalk rock formations in which the caves are found are approximately 400 million years old. The caves are named after the Batu River, which flows through the Gombak district north of Kuala Lumpur. Until the official discovery of the caves, they were mostly inhabited by bats. In the 19th century Chinese migrants frequently entered the caves to harvest guano (bat faeces) to fertilise their fields. Traces of Malaysia’s original inhabitants have also been discovered in the caves. Only at the beginning of the last century did the caves become popular with the general public.
Indians were especially drawn to these caves. Large numbers of Indians had moved to Malaysia during British colonisation. They brought their Hindu religion with them and found in the caves the perfect spot to worship Murugan, the god of war and victory. Since then, the Batu caves have been mostly dedicated to this deity.
A kavadi pierces the tongue and cheeks
The colourful Thaipusam festival
Once a year, as hundreds of thousands of Hindus gather at the Batu caves to celebrate the Thaipusam, the site is literally crawling with pilgrims. In addition to the devotees, this exceptionally colourful occasion also draws many spectators. Most unique are the kavadis: ‘burdens’ that are carried up the stairs by devout visitors. As proof of their devotion, people attach the kavadis to their body with hooks that pierce the skin, cheeks and tongue. In exchange for this painful dedication, devotees hope for the grace of God Murugan. A 43-metre-high golden statue of the god towers over the throngs.