Photo Opportunity: Thaipusam, a Hindu Celebration in Malaysia

Celebrant at Thaipusam with pierced cheeks

Althought the majority of Malaysia is Muslim, the country’s population includes more than two million ethnic Indians, most of whom are Tamil Hindus.

Every year, these Hindu communities celebrate Thaipusam. A public holiday, Thaipusam is a thanksgiving to Lord Subramaniam (also known as Lord Murugan) for answered prayers, and is also a day of penance. This important Hindu festival is held in the tenth month of the Hindu calendar (usually the end of January).

Sunrise In Batu Caves during Thaipusam festival

In celebration of Thaipusam, over a million Hindus converge on temples nationwide – the most famous being at the Batu Caves (an important religious site for Tamil Hindus on Kuala Lumpur’s outskirts), where hundreds-of-thousands gather.

Participants prepare themselves for the occasion by cleansing their bodies through fasting and abstinence, and usually observe a vegetarian diet for a certain period of time prior to the day of the festival.

Participants at the Thaipusam festival

But the feature of Thaipusam that makes it so fascinating for photographers is the way that the celebrants display their penance.

Skewered devotees at Thaipusam

Many devotees pierce their skin, tongues or cheeks with long skewers in a form of penance, or bear elaborately decorated frames called ‘kavadi’ – typically attached to their body using sharp metal spikes dug into the skin.

Tamil man paying penance at Thaipusam

If you plan on taking photos of Thaipusam, be prepared for a very crowded, hectic and sometimes even claustrophobic experience. However, the shots you get will make it well worth your while.

Hindu devotees at Thaipusam festival, Malaysia

Although Thaipusam is also celebrated in India and Singapore and other countries with large Hindu Tamil communities, in Malaysia it’s marked with a particular zest that makes it special.

Hindu man with skin pierced at Thaipusam

Author: Kana Kukui

Part Asian/part Western, and having lived almost my entire life in Asia, photography, particularly photography in Asia, has been a major interest in both my personal and professional life. Over the years I’ve noticed that there’s a huge pool of talented photographers in Asia that generally goes unnoticed outside their local country. I’ve also found that there is a great interest in Asia by photographers based outside the region. The purpose of this site, and my Twitter (@KanaKukui) is simple: 1) to share some insights about photography in Asia – introducing talented photographers shooting in Asia, and subjects and locations to shoot in the region. And 2) to provide a little inspiration to everyone interested in photography – from the hobbyist to the emerging professional.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s