Massive crowds descended on the stunning Batu Caves temple complex on the outskirts of capital Kuala Lumpur to participate in the festival, which commemorates the day when the goddess Parvathi gave her son Lord Murugan a powerful lance to fight evil demons.
Armed with gifts including milk pots and coconuts which are eventually smashed as offerings, worshippers walked barefoot up 272 steps to reach the temple — an important religious site for Tamil Hindus in the country. Many displayed their fervour by carrying heavy, decorated kavadis, affixed to their bodies with sharp metal spikes that are hammered into the skin. Some devotees appeared to be in a state of trance as they carried the kavadis, which can weigh as much as 100 kilogrammes. Others pierced their faces with tridents or hung multiple hooks and chains from their bodies in an act of penance.
“My brother is carrying a kavadi today to help the family and also for our other brother who is suffering from a neurological disorder,” said A Yuven as a group of men chanted prayers and percussionists gave encouragement.
Prior to Thai poosam, devotees will typically hold daily prayer sessions, practise abstinence and stick to a strict vegetarian diet for weeks. “I have no special demands. I am just here to offer my prayers,” said Aiyya Valmundi, who has been taking part in Thai poosam festivities for more than a decade.
Most of Malaysia’s roughly 31 million people are Muslim, but the country also has around two million ethnic Indians. Most are descendants of labourers brought from ethnic Tamil areas of southern India by Malaysia’s former British colonial masters. Lord Murugan is revered in southern India and among ethnic Tamil communities in South East Asia, with Thai poosam also celebrated in India and Singapore.