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

Where to shoot in Kuala Lumpur

KL Night scene

Visitors to KL (Kuala Lumpur) will find that the city has several places that are of interest to photographers – ranging from towering skyscrapers and colonial architecture, to lush greenery and stunning religious structures.

Petronas Towers at Night 2

Arguably the most photographed locale in Kuala Lumpur, shots of the iconic 88-story Petronas Twin Towers are a must. In particular, photos of the towers at night are guaranteed to be worth the effort. And, if you want to take breath-taking photos of the city, take the elevator up to the double-decked Skybridge, situated on the 41st and 42nd floors.

Flower stall in "little India" or Brickfields of Kuala Lumpur

If you’re in the mood for color, Little India in Brickfields is an ideal location to shoot. This bustling street is lined with pastel-hued buildings, filled with stalls and shops selling traditional Indian goods such as saris, flower garlands, spices, and more.

Busy food street = happy

For photos of KL’s local’s, a visit to Jalan Alor in Bukit Bintang in the evening is worth considering. Packed with hawker stalls and seafood restaurants, you’ll find throngs of locals sitting outside enjoying local foods under bright fluorescent restaurant signs and red Chinese lanterns.

Bird Park KL

A visit to Kuala Lumpur’s Bird Park gives you a chance to get some great shots of tropical birds. The 21-acre aviary contains over 200 different species, giving you a wide variety to photograph.

Mosque - Kuala Lumpur "Masjid Jamek"

No visit to KL would be complete without shots of Masjid Jamek, the city’s oldest mosque. While the red and white mosque is picturesque on it’s own during the day, silhouettes of the minarets and domes against the dawn sky can result in some dramatic photos.

Many first-time travellers to Asia, particularly those on business, have asked about easily accessible photo opportunities in the cities they visit. This post is part of an ongoing series, each on a different Asian city, introducing a few photo locations for visitors with limited time.

Talented Malaysian Fashion Photographer Is On The Rise

Bibo Aswan - freelance fashion photographer
Bibo Aswan – freelance fashion photographer

A self-confessed introvert, Malaysian photographer Bibo Aswan is modest about his successes as a fashion photographer. However, his photographs – edgy, loud, and bold – are in complete contrast with his quiet personality.

P_KanaKukui_Bibo Aswan_2

Bibo’s says his preferred subjects are models as he finds something compelling and interesting about human movement, as well as the dynamic shapes and strong features of the models.

P_KanaKukui_Bibo Aswan_3

While pursuing a diploma in photography at Limkokwing University, Bibo created his initial portfolio by using the other students as his models. He then used social media to post his photos and expose his work to the masses. This successfully led to people contacting him asking for quotes and requesting him to shoot their collection – launching his career.

P_KanaKukui_Bibo Aswan_4

Having his work featured in a number of renowned local publications quickly gained him industry-wide attention and built his reputation as a hard-working photographer with a creative flair.

P_KanaKukui_Bibo Aswan_5

Bibo has become one of Malaysia’s preferred photographers to shoot fashion editorial spreads.

P_KanaKukui_Bibo Aswan_6