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Thaipusam Festival Photographs - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 2012

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Pilgrims climb past the 43m high statue of Lord Murugan Thaipusam devotees carry their elaborate Kavadi burdens Woman with skewer through her mouth carries statue of Lord Murugan Thaipusam pilgrim with statue of Lord Murugan decorated with flowers

The colourful Thaipusam festival is a Hindu celebration by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (January or February). Though festivities are primarily held in Tamil Nadu, India, they are also a special event in other countries wherever Tamil communities are found, such as Mauritius, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Thaipusam pilgrim with tiny jugs of milk hooked to his back Pilgrims in holy yellow outfits carry pots of milk on their heads Thaipusam devotee with hooks in his back Thaipusam pilgrim anoints baby with sacred ash

Thaipusam, who's name is derived from 'Thai', the month name and 'Pusam', a star that is at its highest point during this period, is a festival that commemorates the occasion when the goddess Parvati gave Lord Murugan, the God of the Tamils, a spear so that he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadam, a tormentor of all the good souls of the universe.

Devotee has his flesh pierced with spears to honour Lord Murugan Thaipusam pilgrim with skewer through his cheek Thaipusam pilgrim is garlanded with flowers and sacred Rudraksha beads A skewer pierces the cheeks and tounge of this Thaipusam pilgrim

In Kuala Lumpur on the day of the festival, devotees of all ages will shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage from the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in the heart of the city to the Batu Caves, a natural rock formation and Hindu pilgrimage site some 15 kilometres to the north. During the journey, which can last over 8 hours, they take part in various acts of devotion, notably involving the carrying of various types of burdens, collectively known as Kavadi.

Woman with mobile shrine to Lord Shiva Thaipusam devotee with skewer through his cheeks Boy looks at Thaipusam devotee with elaborate Kavadi burden Thaipusam devotee gives holy prasad sweet to a baby

Whilst for some pilgrims this ceremonial burden may be as simple as the carrying of a water-pot of milk on the head, for others their burdens can be unwieldy affairs of metal cages and chains carried on the shoulders and decorated with flowers, peacock feathers, and religious symbols. These Kavadi are carried through the city streets in a great procession to the Batu Caves, where passing the huge 43m golden statue of Lord Murugan they will climb the final 272 steps to the caves at the top and journey's end for this year's devotions.

Pilgrims with their helpers Thaipusam pilgrim drips blood from his mouth on to floral garlands Thaipusam pilgrims slowly approach the Batu Caves with sacred burdens Pilgrims rest during the long walk to the Batu Caves

Lord Murugan's spear is also commemorated in a most gory fashion as the more extreme of pilgrims practise the mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue, or cheeks with skewers to gain religious merit. Alternatively, hooks are stuck into the flesh of a pilgrim's back. Weights such as fruit, flowers, small cans of milk, sacred Tulsi leaves, or bells may be attached to the hooks. In the most extreme of cases, the hooks are fastened to ropes or chains and tensioned by another pilgrim walking behind, or used to pull a small cart decorated as a Hindu shrine.

Young boy carries Kavadi burden to take part in the Thaipusam pilgrimage Two Thaipusam pilgrims dance in the street near the Batu Caves Thaipusam pilgrim with shrine to Lord Murugan decorated with flowers Thaipusam pilgrim carries gold-plated Kavadi

The pilgrims move slowly through the crowds of hundreds of thousands of devotees, family members, tourists, and the plain curious. Roads are closed, traffic is stopped, and a festival air of excitement fills the streets. The pilgrims are accompanied by their supporters to help clear the way through the dense crowds, and often have their own bands of musicians to provide encouragement. Babies are presented to the pilgrims for dedication and will be anointed with ceremonial ash or given holy prasad sweets. Though very crowded, the Thaipusam Festival is a happy occasion with a friendly and good humoured crowd. If you are in the Kuala Lumpur area at this time of year, the event should not be missed.

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