Taking up milk pots, carrying ‘Kavadi’ and shaving one’s head are just the few things which may be repeatedly highlighted during Thaipusam. However, do we stop and think about the immense energy and time that is invested in carrying out these rituals rightfully during Thaipusam? On the 29th of January 2023, our team of journalists had the opportunity to witness hundreds of individuals & families carrying out the necessary rituals to Lord Murugan at Batu Caves. Much to our surprise, the area was crowded with devotees at 9 in the morning. We were taken aback by their faithfulness as families in performing the rituals. Tents and chairs were set outside of a primary school, where head shaving services were provided for devotees who would like to have their heads shaved before starting the rituals. We were told by a fellow member of Charisma that shaving one’s head signifies losing one’s ego. Think about it for a second, our hair is an extremely valuable asset for us. Would you be willing to lose all of your hair for a loved one, for a dare or even for your God? It’s pretty subjective. Yet, some Hindu devotees were ready to lose their hair to show appreciation to Lord Murugan who has granted them good life & health. Children, women and men were all welcomed to get their heads shaved. However, it is very much important for a woman to get permission from her parents or spouse before proceeding. Similarly, a man would have to get his parents permission prior to shaving his head. Moving away from that area, we crossed a pedestrian bridge and followed devotees dressed in yellow to the river under a flyover where families and individuals come together to clean their feet and conduct prayers. The upbeat sound of multiple groups of ‘urumi melam’ caught the attention of most devotees including our team! ‘Urumi Melam’ is an Indian music instrument that is shaped like an hourglass drum. These groups often travel from different states to perform during Thaipusam at Batu Caves and even at different parts across Malaysia, like Penang and Perak. Witnessing these talented and well-trained players perform in the sun was truly inspiring. Not to mention, you might even come across boys aged 10 or so playing the instrument with much enthusiasm. Based on the little knowledge I have, playing the ‘urumi’ is not as simple as it may seem. It requires months of proper training and guidance.
We came across small, medium and large chariots or ‘kavadis’ which were decorated from top to bottom with flowers, peacock feathers, embroideries, lights and even sculptures of Lord Murugan made out of brass and silver. What’s most interesting when it comes to taking up ‘kavadis’ is the support family members offer to devotees who carry them on their backs tirelessly. Carrying a ‘kavadi’ isn’t as simple as fixing it in the right position to one’s hips, shoulders and back. Rather, it requires time and effort from multiple individuals, especially men, to help devotees balance the weight of it as they begin their walk to Batu Caves and up to the temple within the cave. Throughout my journey of observing rituals and rites performed by Hindu devotees on that day, I only had one thought lingering in my head. It is a known fact that devotees that take part in Thaipusam are there to fulfil their vows to Lord Murugan for a request or prayer made. In the event that their requests have been granted, that’s when they are involved in taking up ‘Kavadis’, milk pots and shaving off their heads. Not to forget, climbing up the colourful 272 steps of Batu Caves itself. Witnessing this auspicious day made me wonder if I would be willing to commit and do the rightful if I were in their shoes. Funnily enough, I am still clueless about that till this day. Regardless of my answer, I am very much amazed by the faithfulness, physical and mental strength of these Hindu devotees. Their hearts are set upon fulfilling their vows to Lord Murugan as a way of saying thanks to Him for granting their requests. Regardless of location and time, I view Thaipusam as a broad path or rather a road of requests that leads to satisfaction and a thankful heart.
Naomi Melissa Mathew,
Charisma Movement 22/23.