Extreme Piercing – The Hindu ceremony of Thaipusam – Malaysia
Wandering around KL looking at the amazingly complex and colourful visages of hindu temples I met a Indian Malaysian lady who informed me that I had arrived in time for the hindu ceremony of Thaipusam. Very interesting – you should go, she said then added there was free food and drink. Sounded good so off I set in search of the tourist information office to find out more. After being directed to several different offices we discovered that none of them had any idea what we were talking about and the literature was devoid of a single scrap of information on the subject. However, we knew it was on because the next day at midnight hundreds of people filed past our hostel in a candle lit procession carrying an idol from one of the temples to the holy caves where the 3 day ceremony was taking place.
Now according to legend this ceremony came about as a result of a battle triumph. The Devas, who were the underdogs in a series of clashes against the Asuras, decided as a last ditch resort to pray to Shiva for deliverance. Shiva was either in a benevolent mood that day or the Devas had pissed him off, because he granted the Devas wish and created a warrior that inspired and led the battle weary people to victory. Hence the celebration.
On Thaipusam Hindus undertake a kavardi (a physical burden) as a request to God to grant their prayers. The Kavardi is a dance and can range from the devotee carrying a pot of milk on their head to varying degrees of self-mutilation. Being a little squeamish I was in two minds as to whether I should attend as I was convinced that there would be blood everywhere from the hooks and spikes stuck through various parts flesh. However the thought of delicious Indian food for free was tempting and I figured that if the blood was flowing I would retire to the food tents and observe from a distance. I set off in search of a bus that would transport me to the caves.
After fasting for a number of days action starts with a ritual head shave, prayers and cleansing of the body in the river nearby.
Next is the sticking, pinning, spearing and hooking of sharp pieces of metal into various parts of the body and hanging weights from them. Those who prefer a something a little more showy will don heavy headdresses and metal cages from which hooks hang from chains and are then inserted into the flesh.
If that was not enough of a penance the devotees would pull decorated carts behind them attached by hooks in their backs.
Look carefully - no blood – just this red powder they put all over themselves – someone told us it stopped the bleeding.
Once kitted out the participants totter, dance or labour down a long road to the caves at the end, whilst cameramen from all over the world jostle for position getting in the way to take the shot that will be beamed across our TVs.
Look closely at the eyes – I think they smoke something to take away the pain and put them in a trance.
At the end of the walk there are hundreds of steps to climb up into the caves. Before commencing the journey up the contraptions of torture are taken off.
in the caves and the devotees are blessed by the priests.
It was a fascinating day.