Batu Caves





Batu Caves is a limestone hill, which has a series of caves and cave temples, located in Gombak district, 13 kilometres (8 miles) north of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It takes its name from the Sungai Batu or Batu River, which flows past the hill. Batu Caves is also the name of the nearby village.

Batu Caves is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India, dedicated to Lord Murugan. It is the focal point of Hindu festival of Thaipusam in Malaysia. It is also known as the 10th Caves or Hill for Lord Muruga as it is one of the ten most important shrines in India and Malaysia. The Lord Murugan statue at the foot of Batu Caves is the second tallest Hindu deity statue in the world with a heroic height of 42.7 metres (140 ft.).

Dress Code for Visiting

Batu Caves is a religious place, therefore it is important for visitors to be respectful particularly when it comes to what you wear.


History

The limestone forming Batu Caves is said to be around 400 million years old. Some of the cave entrances were used as shelters by the aboriginal Temuan / Besisi people (a tribe of Orang Asli). As early as 1860, Chinese settlers began excavating guano for fertilising their vegetable patches. However, they became famous only after the limestone hills were recorded by colonial authorities including Daly and Syers as well as American Naturalist, William Hornaday in 1878.

Batu Caves was promoted as a place of worship by K. Thamboosamy Pillai, an Indian trader. He was inspired by the ‘vel’-shaped entrance of the main cave and was inspired to dedicate a temple to Lord Muruga within the caves. In temples dedicated to Lord Murugan, Vel, a divine javelin (spear), is an object of worship.

The history of Batu Caves started in 1891 when Mr. K. Thamboosamy Pillai, who also founded the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple Dhevasthanam, Kuala Lumpur, sent his very close associates, Sri Thiruvengadam Pillai and Sri Kanthapa Thevar to survey for an ideal and suitable place of worship for Lord Sri Murugan.

It was in that year, that the influential descendant of Indian immigrants from Tamil Nadu, India, Mr. K. Thamboosamy Pillai installed the ‘murti’ or consecrated idol of Sri Subramaniar Swamy (Lord Murugan) in the 400-ft. high Temple Cave. From 1892 onwards, the Thaipusam festival in the Tamil month of Thai (which falls in late January/early February) has been celebrated there as the annual festival of Batu Caves. Wooden steps up to the Temple Cave were built in 1920 and have since been replaced by 272 concrete steps.

Religious Site

Rising almost 100 m above the ground, the Batu Caves temple complex consists of three main caves and a few smaller ones. The biggest, referred to as Cathedral Cave or Temple Cave, has a 100 m-high ceiling and features ornate Hindu shrines. To reach it, visitors must climb a precipitous flight of 272 steps.

At the base of the hill are two more cave temples, Art Gallery Cave and Museum Cave, both of which are full of Hindu statues and paintings. This complex was renovated and established as the Cave Villa in 2008. The story of Lord Murugan’s victory over the demon Soorapadam is narrated by many of the shrines. An audio tour is available to visitors.

To the utmost left, as one faces the steep wall of the hill, stands the Ramayana Cave. The Ramayana Cave depicts the story of Rama in a chronicle manner along the irregular walls of the cave. On the way to the Ramayana Cave, there is a 50-foot (15 m) tall statue of Hanuman and a temple dedicated to Hanuman, the noble monkey devotee and aide of Lord Rama. The declaration ceremony of the temple was held in November 2001.

Festivals

Batu Caves’ mainly focuses on the Hindu community’s annual Thaipusam festival. It has become a pilgrimage site for Malaysian Hindus as well as Hindus worldwide from countries like India, Australia and Singapore.

The festival starts off with a parade in the wee hours of the morning beginning at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur leading up to the Batu Caves as a religious vow to Lord Muruga lasting for eight hours. Devotees carry containers containing milk either by hand or in huge colourfully decorated carriers on their shoulders called ‘kavadi’. The ‘kavadi’ can be either simple wooden arched semi-circular supports holding a carrier foisted wit clay or brass pots of milk known as ‘kodam’ or humongous, heavy ones that come up to two metres, built of bowed metal frames which hold long skewers, the sharpened end of which pierce the skin of the bearer’s torso. Some kavadi can weigh up to a hundred kilograms. It is normally decorated with peacock feathers and flowers imported from India.

Upon reaching Batu Caves, devotees must first bathe in the nearby Sungai Batu then proceed to the Temple Cave where devotees must climb the sheer flights of stairs to reach the temple inside the cave. Even a kavadi bearer must take the journey up the stairs no matter how heavy the kavadi is as it is part of the vow. Priests attend to the kavadi bearers. Consecrated ash is sprinkled over the hooks and skewers piercing the devotees' flesh before they are removed. No blood is shed during the piercing and removal of hooks and skewers.


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